The Refrigerator and Toaster Oven Argument Heats Up

November 17th, 2015

After Tim Cook suggested that we no longer needed a PC, and an iPad was just the ticket, some people took his words out of context. So was he telling us that Macs or PCs were now passé? Yesterday’s news? Certainly that fact that Cook boasts that he no longer takes a Mac with him on his travels was compelling. This is a busy executive who asserts that his iPad Pro and his iPhone (presumably an iPhone 6s Plus) were all he needed when he left his office.

As a practical matter, perhaps he’s correct, for him at least. But it is hard to dismiss the clear marketing connection. Maybe he is just trying to salvage falling iPad sales, even if it comes at some level of inconvenience to him. Sure, he can crunch numbers in Numbers, and even use Microsoft Excel if he’s a mind to, if only to see how the other half lives. With the Smart Keyboard, he should be able to conveniently manage all his emails and messages to his staff, and the Apple Pencil can surely suit if he wants to jot down a quick note.

You see, I am trying to explain the reasons for his decision. What bothers me, however, is why the media seems to want to take him at his word and not consider the all-too-obvious ulterior motive. Again, I’m not disputing his contention, just raising an obvious but unprovable point. It’s not we’re going to force Cook to take a lie detector test, but I am concerned over the fact that the media seems to be afraid to ask him tough questions. Well, maybe it’s because they don’t want to lose access, since he grants so few interviews, and publishing one is guaranteed hit bait!

But is that the end of it? Not by a long shot.

You see, the media was so ready to jump on Cook’s statement about the death of the PC industry that they failed to realize the entirety of what he meant. For some people, yes the iPad is a practical PC — or Mac — replacement. For others, it’s not.

In a recent interview, Cook also dismissed suggestions that Apple might be working on a so-called convergence device, one that would bridge iOS and OS X. His response is that it wouldn’t happen, which expands upon his remarks some time back about the folly of merging a toaster oven with a refrigerator. Cook believes that the so-called convertible note-books offered by some PC makers, which combine a traditional portable with a removable touch display, are compromises that do not satisfy the needs of the customer.

In short, Apple is interested in building the best iOS device and the best Mac. He admits there will be features that are available for both platforms that perform similarly, and he cites such integration features as Handoff that allow you to start a task on one Apple device, such as your iPad, and continue working on it with your Mac.

Indeed, the feature, part of Continuity, debuted last year on iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite. Supposedly Handoff works more efficiently on iOS 9 and OS X El Capitan, but it’s not quite perfect. What’s more, Macs released before 2012 are excluded because they lack the required Bluetooth LE hardware. So you get what’s essentially half a loaf if you want the full capabilities of Continuity — unless you buy a new Mac.

Regardless, it’s clear Apple’s strategy is to offer a selection of devices to cover a variety of customer needs, not just some sort of compromised product that sacrifices usability just to fit someone’s unproven marketing plan. Besides, it’s not at all clear that large numbers of people are clamoring for this tablet/note-book offshoot, although there are plenty available. At the very least, you have something that costs extra because of the extra capability.

Also, it doesn’t mean that Apple won’t someday find the need for convergence. Quite often Apple executives disparage someone else’s product at the same time they are working on their own solution.

It’s also true that the operating systems themselves will move closer together, even if they don’t merge. The new Split View features of iOS are more or less matched on OS X. iOS is taking on more productivity features, and it may well be that it will seem more Mac-like while optimized for both touch keyboards and physical keyboards. It may also be that, as Apple suggests, the iPad is a viable PC replacement for many users.

So the market itself may inevitably move Mac users to iPads. This goes back to the statement by Steve Jobs that likened the PC to the truck. Of course, in the real world, trucks and SUVs, utility vehicles, tend to outsell passenger cars. But when it comes to personal computers, perhaps customers will over time value the convenience of a tablet, perhaps with an attached keyboard, and migrate. Maybe the iPad Pro, which actually offers performance that matches at some traditional note-books, is a major step in that direction.

Again for some people.

But not for me, since I cannot handle my workflow, which includes recording and editing my two radio shows, on any iPad. A key reason is lack of a suitable app to capture Skype audio, such as Rogue Amoeba’s Audio Hijack. Apple’s sandboxing feature is required on iOS, and it blocks audio capture schemes of that sort. Even though Audio Hijack doesn’t make it to the Mac App Store for the same reason, you can still get it from the publisher’s site. If and when iOS allows such apps to be accepted, things might change. The lack of direct access to the file system — without a clumsy third-party app — is also a huge impediment.

If such changes occur in the next few years, I might have reason to give up on the 27-inch iMac and embrace some sort of iPad of the future. But not yet, and it’s clear Apple isn’t in favor of shotgun marriages between the two platforms.

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4 Responses to “The Refrigerator and Toaster Oven Argument Heats Up”

  1. Peter says:

    As I’ve said before elsewhere, you will not see a converged Mac/iPad.

    What you will see, at some point, is the padBook–a touchscreen laptop running iOS with a keyboard. Think eMate.

  2. dfs says:

    I may have said this before in a different context, but it may bear repeating. Broadly speaking, and ignoring a whole lot of qualifications and nuances, people who use computers can be divided into two categories, content consumers and content providers. Since the introduction of the personal computer, all of us have shared the same devices, but I think we’re rapidly coming to a fork in the road. Content producers have needs far beyond those of consumers concerning such things (depending on the kind of content they are creating) as processing power, memory, and display real estate. For consumers, the kind of computers used by the producers involve absurd degree of overkill: even the most modest and cheapest desktop and laptop models are far more powerful than they’ll ever need, and are much more expensive and often a great deal larger than they need be.

    I doubt that the kind of sophisticated rigs the producers need will ever disappear from the marketplace. The producers create the various kinds of content consumers consume, and when you come right down to it it’s all this content that creates the demand for the devices purchased by the consumers. I doubt if Apple and any of the other major players would fail to appreciate that if they don’t give the producers the gear they need, pretty son the demand for all their mainline products would soon begin to tail off. Put simply, continuing to make gear for producers, even if these are to be made in relatively small quanities, is in their best interest.

    I’m pretty sure this is what Steve Jobs had in mind when he talked about trucks and autos. Yes, they are different vehicles and there are no doubt a whole lot more autos on the road than trucks, but each performs a necessary function and you can’t maintain a viable economy if you don’t have both.

    So I wonder if Tim Cook is wrong to write off the idea of a “converged” Mac. It may well be the case that such a device is all that most content consumers want or need, especially since cloud computing obviates the need for a great deal of ready-at-hand data storage. This is one of those cases where it’s troubling that Apple seems to rely so little on market research when it makes its plans. Once the possibilities of “converged” devices become familiar to the purchasing public, it may well be that Tim is greatly underestimating the potential appeal of such products.

    • @dfs, Just remember that Apple is notorious for writing off a product category before they come up with their own solution.

      So, while this might not happen today, that doesn’t mean things won’t change some time in the future in unexpected ways.’


  3. DK Jones says:

    I’m a creative professional–Audio, Video, Photography and Graphic Design. For me, my 13″ MacBook Pro is the lightweight, portable and convenient device that works. Each computer user, being unique, will have some specific and particular requirements. I still have and use a desktop and even use an older iMac as a media server at home. So, while I get Mr. Cook’s contention that the iPad Pro with accessories, or any of the other iPad versions may be what works for him and might work for others–I’ve seen the long-form Bentley ads, shot on iPhone and edited in the car on an iPad, quite remarkable and cool, actually–for what I do, I still need the power of a full-blown computer when I have a pro-level page layout app, a couple of vector graphic apps, a photo edit app along with a presentation and movie edit app all open at the same time. I still want an iPad, but mostly for the additional screen real-estate I’d get with the Duet app and I’m intrigued by the potential and possibility of the iPad Pro with Pencil and see it as a cheaper option for on screen drawing than a 13″ Wacom Cintique for Pen & Touch and I’m pretty sure Tim’s not using one of those nor the all of the pro-level media creation apps I use, in his professional life.

    And, I applaud MicroSoft for creating the SurfaceBook, it may be or signal a new paradigm and be all some users require, but I have no interest in using Windows.

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