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The iPad

I originally created the placeholder file that would become this post in November of 2014. I can point you to the Brooks Review article that originally made me want to write about the then-current state of the iPad, but that has little bearing on the now-current state of the iPad and what made me finally pick back up my proverbial pen to start writing again. The fact of the matter is that less than a year ago, the iPad was in a very different spot than the one in which it now finds itself. A year ago, the tech news industry was worrying about how Apple had continued to support devices running years-old A5 chips. A year ago, there was speculation about a mythical MacBook Air with a retina display, which would never materialize. And a year ago, I still had hope that this year's iPhones would have a 4-inch counterpart to replace my aging but beloved iPhone 5's form factor.

So what made me pick that pen back up? The iPad Pro and Apple Pencil.

A lot has already been said about these new technologies, so I really don't need to delve into their merits, but I have read a few posts that I felt compelled to share. In addition, I have to say that, for myself, these technologies are infinitely tempting due to the potential superiority of an Apple-built stylus solution to anything that has existed before it; and talk about a gorgeous design! I am really looking forward to seeing if this hardware persuades on-the-fence developers to finally get their software onto iOS or start building new and interesting solutions for the platform because I think this hardware could push the iPad past what I will call the Lukas Mathis conundrum, which states:

Right now, for most of its users, the iPad is a consumption device. It’s not a PC replacement, and it’s not really much better than a phone for gaming or watching movies or reading. That puts it into an awkward position. But it doesn’t have to be. There’s no reason the iPad couldn’t replace most PCs in people’s homes, and be better than those PCs at most tasks people currently use PCs for. No reason — except for Apple’s lack of willingness to make the iPad into that device.

-Lukas Mathis, "iPad: A Consumption Device, After All?", ignore the code

I think the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil might be that turning point where Apple is showing that it believes in what the iPad could be. Not that Mac OS X is the answer in terms of the software running on the iPad, but that iOS can and will be that software in the future. Another clue to this effect is the commentary from Tim Cook himself that the introduction of 3D Touch in the iPhone is a natural and important evolution of the multitouch interaction paradigm:

[Tim Cook is] most excited by 3D Touch. “I personally think 3D Touch is a game changer,” he says. “I find that my efficiency is way up with 3D touch, because I can go through so many emails so quickly. It really does cut out a number of navigational steps to get where you’re going.”

Even with just a quick demo, it’s easy to see his point. It’s a major new interface feature, one that threatens to upend the way we navigate through our phones, especially once third-party developers begin implementing it in their applications. Apple has engineered the hell out of this 3D Touch to ensure they’ll do just that.

-John Paczkowski, "20 Minutes With Tim Cook", BuzzFeed News

I bring up 3D Touch because I think it is a natural counterargument to the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil combination. In my mind, the Apple Pencil is to the iPad Pro—a more powerful means of interacting with the elements on the screen—as 3D Touch is to the iPhone. That is not to say that 3D Touch will never come to the iPad, but the Apple Pencil will provide the extra input complexity and pressure sensitivity that is necessary in a Pro device and in a way that is both technologically and fiscally feasible now. In addition, I believe that the Pencil will never come to the phone form factor.1 Of course, one need look no further than the current state of the pen display industry to see how the Apple Pencil could be a game changer in its own right.

Linda Dong posted a great look at what will make the iPad Pro/Apple Pencil combination a better solution than other major players in the design-based pen display realm, such as the de facto ruler in the space, Wacom's Cintiq. Having formerly worked at a for-profit higher education institution that was heavily reliant on Cintiq technologies for their animation and design curriculums, I have a personal understanding of how drastically Apple could disrupt that space. I especially like Linda's breakdown of the costs associated with the various options available; click the link to see the details. Here's Linda:

So my advice to anyone trying to decide between buying Apple Setup vs. Cintiq is run far far away from the Cintiq. Especially if you're a student. Specialized professionals that have their Cintiqs hooked up to PC's running SolidWorks, C4D, CAD, yeahhhhh.....I guess cross your fingers they make iPad apps.

-Linda Dong, "Apple Pencil vs. Wacom Cintiq"

Fraser Speirs also wrote his initial thoughts about the iPad Pro and they were possibly the most inspiring thing I have seen written on the subject. He also shares Linda's enthusiasm for the student as the iPad Pros target market.

I see the iPad Pro not so much as a laptop replacement for anyone who has invested 20+ years in being a laptop user. No, the iPad Pro is the "laptop" for people who, today, are 12-16 years old who will graduate from High School in the next few years and look for the next-level iOS device to take them to college and beyond into a career.

The iPad Pro isn't so much about the iPad Pro today as it is about what it and iOS will become by 2020: Apple's vision for the future of personal computing.

-Fraser Speirs, "Initial Thoughts on iPad Pro"

I find it exceedingly interesting that he considers the iPad "Apple's vision for the future of personal computing" when that is basically exactly what Apple said about the MacBook being their future vision of the laptop computer. I have no doubt that the iPad is the future of computing as Apple sees it and I have no doubt that tablets are the future of computing overall, even in light of the issues that current developers seem to have with the long-term viability of Apple's approach to software distribution. Nevertheless, as Linda suggested (as, in spirit, have so many others), cross your fingers that your favorite and/or necessary PC applications are brought to iOS.

For me, I could get away with using iOS for the majority of my work, but ironically, as a systems administrator, the development company holding me back is Apple.

  1. I hope to be able to discuss this belief at length in another post in the future.