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Of Cars and Trucks and iPads and Macs

In response to recent columns about the iPad, some of yous have explained your priorities. You may find valuable uses for your iPads, but others can’t go past a Mac to get things done. It’s very clear you may have different priorities depending on what you need to accomplish, and your preferred methods to perform those tasks.

I’ve made it quite clear where my priorities lie, but the limits I see in the iPad are in large part due to Apple’s decisions about iOS features and App Store limits. So I cannot record and edit my radio shows on an iPad, because Apple’s sandboxing won’t permit one app to grab audio from another app, such as Skype, and an outboard hardware accessory. In my case, that’s a mic mixer. Switching among apps and managing assets present additional problems.

You’ve heard this before.

For now, my iMac can do it all. I use Rogue Amoeba’s Audio Hijack, Skype, and several editing apps to record and edit the shows. While I’m recording an episode, I’m also navigating between Safari and Mail and sometimes Word to look up information. The iPad cannot do that now, but there’s no reason why it wouldn’t work if Apple extended the limits of iOS sandboxing, expanded multitasking to manage several apps and documents, and provided better ways to manage files from different apps, and to upload them to their final destinations.

Years ago, Steve Jobs described the iPad as the car, the Mac as the truck. Perhaps you can mirror that in the real world, but it’s also true that car makers in the U.S. are actually having trouble moving cars. The public has decided to embrace vehicles that theoretically can handle wider hauling chores, such as trucks, SUVs, crossovers and vans.

It doesn’t matter that such vehicles are larger, heavier, more difficult to handle, and do not achieve the same fuel economy as “lesser” vehicles. In this country, gas is relatively inexpensive, so people are willing to put up with using more of it to get the vehicles they want.

In the computing world, I require a truck; the car can’t do it for me, and if you look at falling iPad sales, the public seems to agree.

In the automative world, however, I’ve only driven trucks a very few times in my life. Less than a dozen over the decades, and then only to haul stuff from one place to another that wouldn’t fit in my car. I suppose the comparable iPad would be a mainstream 9.7-inch model, since the cars I’ve owned in recent years are regarded as midsized.

Of course, the comparison is very superficial. But if Apple wants to take us “beyond” the PC, they need to deliver a product that can handle productivity tasks that would satisfy the needs of most PC users. After all, today’s iPad offers performance that is compatible to mainstream notebooks. The next iPads are rumored to have an even faster A-series processor, which will take them even closer to Mac desktops.

If you’re just watching Netflix, surfing with Safari and writing email, most of that power is going to waste. Some games might exploit the advanced graphics, but otherwise no. Yet there are hundreds of thousands of apps optimized for the iPad, and many of them are variations of productivity apps that have traditionally been offered on a Mac and PC.

So you have a version of Office for iOS, along with  graphics apps from Adobe and other companies. Many of the things you can do today in Excel and Word, and perhaps Photoshop, can be accomplished in a somewhat different ways on the iPad. But what do you give up to get there?

The Apple Pencil is a potentially powerful tool for artists and illustrators. Various accessory keyboards supposedly allow you to just sit back and type a blog or a novel on your iPad, but it’s all so clumsy.

I was hopeful about the 12.9-inch iPad Pro when Apple sent me one to review in late 2015. The editorial loan packet included a Smart Keyboard, which I used for one column before giving up. Rather than feel productive, I was handicapped by an especially mushy keyboard with a spacebar that, for me at least, resulted in missing word spaces. Curiously, the smaller Smart Keyboard available for a 9.7-inch iPad Pro offered a slightly better feel, but still not good enough.

One hopes third party iPad keyboards are better suited to actually typing something.

With my 27-inch iMac, I’m using an Apple Magic Keyboard. It doesn’t have the long travel and solid feel of one of those old fashioned mechanical keyboards, such as the Matias Tactile Pro. But it’s smooth, quiet, and I type as fast as I can on any keyboard. Apple knows how to design these things, so why did they go so wrong with the Smart Keyboard?

Apple may want to convince most of you that the iPad is the PC of the future, that it takes you “beyond the PC,” and that the Mac is destined to be consigned strictly to power user status. Maybe.

I’m happy to give up that truck and switch to a sedan. I made that choice long ago with the motor vehicles I’ve driven. But Apple has lots of work to do to show me a way to get there.