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What About the iPad Use Case?

While recording this weekend’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, I had to wonder just how long it would be feasible for Apple to build Macs. As it stands, sales are down, but in large part that may be due to the fact that there were very few upgrades through the September quarter. Indeed just one, the MacBook. The MacBook Pro and the Touch Bar didn’t make their debut until late October, and didn’t start to ship in quantity until the following month.

True, it does appear Apple may be right in saying that sales are high. That was confirmed by Stephen Baker of the NPD Group in his recent appearance on the show. We’ll know more at the end of January, or when IDC and other industry analysts have their say. While their numbers aren’t perfect, they are usually in the ballpark, more or less, so you can see the trends.

So it may well be that Mac sales will improve somewhat over last year. If there are, as expected, some Mac updates early next year — and even the conservative estimates mention the iMac — sales could hold up for a while. But the overall trend will be the same, the regular erosion of PC sales.

True, Apple looks back at the history of the PowerBook over 25 years, and sees a similar form factor 25 years hence. That may be possible, but I can also see where such “pickup truck” computers will continue to fall into disuse. Maybe not for me, but for many people.

Already younger people appear to be untethering themselves from use of a personal computer. My son Grayson is a millennial who has worked on Macs since before kindergarten. Well, then it was more about dragging his dad’s files to the trash. For years, he worked side by side with me on Macs as we wrote books together. But when cell phones were brought into the home, he soon learned how to text flexibly on the old fashioned numeric telephone keypad. With his iPhone 5c, his thumbs move real fast across the touchscreen and he does a lot of things on it.

He has a tablet — a small-screened Amazon Kindle — for watching Netflix videos and other stuff. But he still has a Mac, a 2015 13-inch MacBook Air that he uses for heavy-duty work. When he came home for his annual 2.5-week visit, he didn’t take the computer, but he did use my 2010 17-inch MacBook Pro to handle the heavy-duty chores, such as preparing material for his students in Madrid in Microsoft Word. He also asked me to print a load of documents that he needed for the first day of class.

Now as a practical matter, nothing he did couldn’t be accomplished fairly well with an iPad with Microsoft Word; it would be too much for an iPhone. But he also has tons of files he’s built up for nearly half his life that he needs to access, and that still requires a Mac.

But he’s not terribly far away from being able to do most of his work, and manage most of his files, on a properly equipped iPad, and there’s the rub.

Now the only reason I keep that MacBook Pro around is to be able to duplicate my workflow, more or less, on the road. I cannot do that yet on an iPad for several reasons.

The first is the inability to get iOS versions of the apps I require for recording my shows. I rely heavily on Rogue Amoeba’s Audio Hijack to capture audio from Skype, and combine it with my studio mic which is connected to an outboard mixer. Audio Hijack can be set up to manage that task, with a few preprocessing filters activated, in minutes. It never misses a beat, week after week, and each update only makes it better.

While there are audio editing apps on the iPad, there’s nothing comparable to Audio Hijack. It’s not that a publisher isn’t willing to build one. It’s the result of Apple’s sandboxing limitations that make it impossible for one app to capture audio from other apps and input sources. This is my key workflow scheme and I need my Mac to make it happen. During the editing process, I use Sound Studio and Amadeus Pro, plus ready access to large audio files that are deposited in different folders.

The biggest limitation of the iPad is the limit imposed by Apple in iOS. Some day, I expect Apple will make a greater push to make the iPad more of an indispensable tool for business, and that would mean that audio capture apps and other software that’s currently prohibited will be allowed in some form. There would also have to be a flexible way to manage large numbers of assets for editing, and perhaps more storage, though 256GB ought to be enough for remote work.

When it comes to long text, such as this column, I am totally disappointed by the present-day crop of iPad keyboards. I’ve tried a few, including Apple’s Smart Keyboard, and I cannot type at the same speed or as comfortably as I can on my iMac with a Magic Keyboard and Magic Mouse 2. Just docking that keyboard via Bluetooth would require a way to prop up the iPad on a stand or in a case, but it would be an awkward setup.

All this will be resolved someday, and perhaps I will be able to give up the pickup truck. But that’s still a few years away, and I hope I’m not too old to move on to the next great thing.

Do I think a MacBook Pro or its successor will retain the same general form factor 25 years from now? I’m a sci-fi writer, so I enjoy projecting our future. My answer: No way!