At WWDC 2024, Apple needs to give the iPad better software.

At last month’s iPad Pro M4 launch, Tim Cook said it was “the biggest day for iPad since its introduction.” That was pretty clearly not the case: it was a day of really nice incremental hardware updates to a tablet that already had more power than most people know what to do with.

But Cook’s proclamation could still be true, at least in retrospect. Apple just needs to stick the landing and use WWDC to show us a powerful operating system that’s worthy of the new iPad Pro’s powerful hardware.

The pain of glass

Let me get it out of the way up front: the base iPad, running today’s iPadOS, is fantastic for the things most people use an iPad for. Nobody should spend more than $500 on a tablet that they’re mostly going to use for reading, checking email, and watching stuff, and the OS is already great at that.

But Apple spent a lot of money creating the iPad Pro with an M4 processor, tandem OLED screen, and a bunch of RAM and storage. And Apple has spent a lot of money trying to convince people that it’s a real computer for doing real work, too — smushing the entirety of human creative expression into it, things of that nature.

The iPad is a computer. The iPad Pro especially is a computer. You can pick the processor, RAM, and storage. It has a keyboard — now with a trackpad and function row — that’s “more like a MacBook than ever.” It has a $130 stylus that you can squeeze and barrel roll. You can spend more on it than a comparable MacBook Pro. But if you try to use it like a computer, the operating system will fight you every step of the way.

That has been the case for the iPad’s entire lifespan, and even more so since the launch of the iPad Pro. But as the gang discussed on The Vergecast and David Pierce mentioned in his reviews of the new iPad Air and iPad Pro, the hardware now seems like it’s gone as far as it can go. Without a meaningful change to iPadOS, the iPad Pro is not going to be the thing Apple wants you to believe it is.

So what’s missing?

If you’ve never tried to do work on an iPad, I am genuinely happy for you. I’m writing this story on a Bluetooth keyboard connected to an 11-inch iPad Air M2. It’s a very nice keyboard, and the Air is a very nice tablet, but this would have been so much faster and easier on a convertible Chromebook. And I could still have watched Andor on the plane.

It’s still way too annoying to do any kind of work on an iPad that doesn’t involve staying in a single full-screen app the entire time. Even something as simple as writing a blog post while pulling in photos and links from other articles takes way longer and involves way more jumping around than it would on any other screen this size. Stage Manager has come a medium way, but it’s still not great, especially without an external monitor. And the iPad still doesn’t have good multiwindow support — no way to snap app windows to specific portions of the screen or save window configurations.

Try to do anything slightly advanced, and you’ll run into all kinds of basic issues. The iPad version of Final Cut Pro will fail to export a video if you switch away from the app, even just to the homescreen, because the operating system doesn’t have proper support for background processes. There’s also no task manager, no good file manager, no clipboard manager, and no way to fill the gaps in iPadOS’s functionality with third-party apps and utilities. These are all things the iPad’s excellent hardware could support.

Federico Viticci at MacStories has the definitive catalog of all the ways iPadOS still falls short, but you don’t have to be Federico to get the drift; you just have to try to use the iPad like a computer for 10 minutes.

The other Pro

Apple has been clear from the beginning that an iPad is an iPad and the MacBook is a MacBook, and if you want a touchscreen computer and a laptop, you’d better buy both. That argument makes sense for the regular iPad (and for Apple’s quarterly earnings reports). But it’s pretty threadbare when the iPad Pro costs as much as a MacBook, runs on the same architecture, and has a keyboard Apple pitches as “just like using a MacBook.”

It might sound like I’m asking for macOS on the iPad. I mean sure, yes, if that’s what it takes, but Apple has the opportunity at WWDC to reveal an iPadOS that’s as powerful and capable as the hardware deserves while still being distinct from macOS.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the Surface Pro is right there. Admit it or not but Apple has been chasing the Surface Pro since it first gave the iPad a USB-C port and a keyboard.

Hey, look, it’s a Pro tablet with a real operating system (operating system not shown).
Photo: Allison Johnson / The Verge

The Surface Pro has a new Arm processor Microsoft claims is a match for Apple Silicon. It has an OLED screen. It runs Windows 11, which, my complaints aside, is a real operating system, with a task manager, file manager, proper window tiling, background processes, you name it. It also has a bunch of AI features of uncertain utility, just like Apple is expected to announce at WWDC.

We’re a few weeks out from knowing whether Microsoft has pulled it off, but there’s very little distance now between the device Apple wants you to believe is the iPad Pro and the one Microsoft wants you to think is the Surface Pro, although they’re coming from opposite directions.

I doubt too many iPad diehards are going to switch to a machine that runs Windows, regardless of how good the Surface Pro is. But the more I bang my head against the limitations of iPadOS, the better that Surface Pro is looking. And the folks who buy into Apple’s hype and get the M4 iPad Pro should have an operating system that’s worthy of the hardware.

Source link