An Apt Analogy

With WWDC this past week, I've spent some time sitting – stewing, somewhat – about the iPadOS 15 announcements and the subsequent sessions that have highlighted everything coming in the fall. As I watched the Keynote, I couldn't help but be slightly disappointed in what we didn't get.[1] At the time of writing this, and for at least until the public betas, I don't have anything installed. I'll let everyone else fall on that sword. But I'm still monitoring and saving bits of information that I see which are relevant to me, noting the things that will change for me once I get it loaded on my devices, and what it possibly means for the future of this device.

For a long time, I had the 11" iPad Pro in a Smart Keyboard Folio (when it wasn't paired with my monitor, external keyboard, and the Magic Trackpad). I wanted to move up in size, but I had been burned by not upgrading at the right time before all the way back to the 10.5" iPad Pro and was determined not to make that same mistake again. But I'm sitting here on the other side of WWDC wondering if buying the 12.9" M1 iPad Pro with 1TB of storage and the Magic Keyboard was the right decision: Apple gave us nothing with iPadOS 15 which requires it and there is no differentiation (yet) to warrant that much power. It's a device that is so capable from a hardware standpoint yet is missing so much in the software. And I'd be lying if I said I didn't have thoughts of what the hell Apple is thinking with the iPad and how it's not going the way many of us want. Ultimately, I do believe it was the right decision based on how long I keep my devices, and I'll do my best not to complain further.

When people start to complain about computing devices, they often turn to their favorite car analogy. But most of them get the wrong vehicle type when it comes to the iPad Pro. It's not a V8 sports car. It's not a motorcycle. It's not a bike. It's a modular computer which can do a lot of things well, makes trade-offs in certain areas to maintain flexibility and portability anywhere you want to go. So if you are going to target the iPad in this way, use an apt vehicle analogy:

The iPad is a Wrangler.

It does a lot of things well. It has different configurations to give you different experiences. It's not the smoothest on-road vehicle, but it's unmatched in the places you can take it anywhere in the world. The iPad Pro is not a powerful laptop, but it's a powerful, capable modular computer. It can be more than a laptop, but there are also trade-offs that Apple is currently making to keep it modular. A great example on a Wrangler is that they don't have power seats. There's an assessment of trade-offs as to why this isn't done, but I'm sure it's something assessed for future incorporation. It's not as easy as people would think: the Wrangler has other requirements to keep, and every change made requires an assessment of what it takes to implement the change. The engineers are forced to think differently when approaching these problems.

You can buy a ton of accessories for the Wrangler to change what you want it to do: you can lift it, put different tires on it, get really wild and put a tent on it, and more. And just like the Wrangler, you can buy different keyboards, input, and output devices which transform the use case. You can order a more powerful chip with more RAM (engine) and cellular connections (NAV system) directly from the factory to allow you to travel anywhere with ease. You can lift it on a stand and use it with an external monitor and keyboard to go more places, just like a lift kit. You can also use it in tablet mode, which feels like taking the top off and feeling the open air when you shed the confinement of the surrounding case. It's precisely this modularity that makes both the iPad and the Wrangler great. There are people out there that have lived out of a Wrangler, which to some seems like it's crazy – but just like a power user of the iPad Pro using extra accessories to get the job done, this is their preferred way to live. These types of people are pioneers of a new experience, and can open new ways of living which you never thought possible before.

At the end of the day, you have to choose the right vehicle/device to get what you want done in the way you want to work and what trade-offs you're willing to live with to get your work done. I wish they would add more. And I think they will start to do that. After listening to Upgrade[2], Jason had some great points about the groundwork that's been laid for the future (some of this is quotes, some paraphrasing, but you get the idea):

When I look at what they did in multitasking, I start to think that they're on to something, and that they're headed in a direction that could do more. But that the first thing they did in this release was get it functional and give them room to advance it later. They put a multitasking menu at the top of a window, which is similar to the traffic light dots on the Mac. Also, not mentioned in the Keynote, if you build [universal] apps with the menu bar for Mac, the iPad app has an icon in the toolbar containing your entire menu structure. And the Quick Note feature is literally a floating window. They also added a window that opens up that floats above other windows that you can also add to the Shelf. I look at all of this and I am disappointed that there isn't proper external display support, but literally every piece to do that is there. What that makes me believe is that Apple wanted to walk before it ran. When iPadOS 15 ships, they could literally turn this on at any point.

Am I disappointed that this isn't available now? Of course I am. But I do think that it will be here sooner rather than later. Apple added the external pointer support and released the Magic Keyboard, knowing that users would take this one step further. My own personal setup includes a 27" monitor, which looks comical right now with the pillarboxing and letterboxing. Yet, if I play a movie on just a 1/3 split-screen app, it plays in full 4K on my monitor like it's a native screen. The pieces are all there and Apple needed to fix their mistakes before they can really make it possible. Even with the faults, it can become a completely different experience to what a traditional laptop or computer experience can be if you're willing to put in some effort or follow the guide of those before you. The experience of using an iPad Pro is one that I appreciate and I feel that, despite the limitations of iPadOS, I can do more for the way that I work.

Like many, I'm disappointed in this moment that I effectively have a Hemi in my Jeep but the roads I'm forced to travel are limited in speed, have twists and turns creating indirect paths to my destination, and might even contain speed bumps so that I can't really open it up to its full potential.[3] But when it gets there, when Apple adds those pieces to the iPad Pro – hopefully in a point release – it's going to afford me a different computing experience which I can make my own and really open this up. There are a LOT of people that don't understand the Wrangler experience. It's not something that most people understand how to use in the full capacity unless you've taken trips and put it through its paces, especially when rocks, sand, and water are involved. But when you do understand the capability, it can open up a whole new horizon of exploration for you. And the iPad Pro is just like the Wrangler. It's no surprise that I love both of them.

  1. Hey, look. COVID happened. It likely influenced a ton of what happened this past year in the development of the new features. The fact that anything shipped is good, and what we got is really good. But I think the M1 suggested that more was coming. But I digress… ↩︎

  2. Time Stamp: 1:46:16 into the show, or the chapter on iPadOS 15. ↩︎

  3. Yes, I do know that the Wrangler 392 exists. I've driven one. It's a monster, and it's fantastic. But that's not my point here. ↩︎