The Mac is becoming an iPad accessory

The iPad's improved productivity features will have more people using those devices instead of Macs for work -- setting the stage for Macs to become iPad accessories.

Apple, iOS, iPad, Mac, iPad pro, A series, WWDC

I’ve reached that point in using both a Mac and an iPad when I regularly find myself pointing at the Mac’s screen to get work done. I think that’s a turning point.

The future of the Mac

I’ve been using both Apple’s platforms side by side since the 2010 iPad shipped. At that time, the iPad was more like a large iPhone.

These days, productivity features such as Slide Over mean I’m making much more use of iPads to replace the Mac, and in the future I think we’ll find that Macs become iPad accessories.

Apple is expected to make iPads even more capable Mac replacements at WWDC 2019 when it will introduce Mac/iPad features that current speculation claims will include:

  • Marzipan APIs that let you use iOS apps and Siri Shortcuts on Mac
  • Accessibility support for USB mice on iPad Pros
  • Use an iPad as an external second Mac display
  • Use Apple Pencil on the iPad with a Mac like a graphics tablet
  • Multiple windows for a single app on an iPad and tabbed app windows
  • Better font management and useful tweaks such as automatically downloading the full desktop version of websites you visit on the tablet

Put it together and the iPad is turning into an essential companion for Mac users rather than a luxury item for iPhone aficionados.

Veteran Mac users will probably scream sacrilege that I believe the iPad is becoming the superior platform. One day the Mac will be an iPad accessory.

Why will you use a Mac?

I’ve noticed that when senior Apple people talk about the Mac, they just don’t seem as energized as they once did. I walk away from those conversations with a sense that I’m being undersold.

It is also interesting that with the exception of the butterfly keyboard and new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, most of Apple’s current crop of Macs would seem familiar to anyone buying a Mac a decade ago.

That’s not a complaint – the new Macs are brilliant machines that will help anyone get things done – but Apple does seem to have left itself with a huge amount of wriggle room within which to make huge changes in its computing platform.

Design, processor, and user interface changes all seem possible. They must be. They are being discussed everywhere.

In the great scheme of things, what Apple seems to be changing most is the iPad.

The productivity and UI improvements it has made over the last few years mean the user experience is becoming increasingly similar on both Mac and iPads. You can use the same keyboard shortcuts, access the same files using the Files app, and in most cases, find the same apps on both platforms.

The list of things you can’t do on an iPad continues to shrink, and user interface familiarity is becoming the primary lock to keep people using Macs.

Introduction of mouse support and existing support for external displays mean that lock is now being picked.

We're turning to the Mac for a narrower range of tasks.

What happens next?

At time of writing, you still need a Mac to design an iOS app. You’ll also find high-end users need the horsepower and heat management of Macs in order to engage in truly processor-intensive tasks. 

The thing is, most computer users are not high-end users.

Their needs can be met just as well on a tablet as on a Mac. That’s why the latter platform is becoming an accessory for iPad users, who use Macs for the few tasks they can’t use the tablet to complete.

We’re entering a short transition during which Apple will encourage Mac users to make more use of their iPads by providing them with useful features that supplement the computer. As the user interface paradigms Apple is developing on iOS evolve, the innate flexibility of that platform will mean you’ll spend more time in that operating system than inside anything else.

Eventually, most iPad users will find themselves tapping the display on their Mac to get things done. That post-PC future everyone mocked the company for predicting is being realized, one tweak at a time.

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Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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