For the longest time, Apple has maintained that Macs and iOS gear — iPhones and the iPads — are meant to be separate gadgets. Operating systems, related to one another at the core, are otherwise quite different. Macs are meant to be managed via keyboard and mouse, while iPhones and iPads use touchscreens; well, except when you pair keyboards to them.
In the Windows world, Microsoft has tried for convergence, supposing 2-in-1 notebooks that have touchscreens that can be swiveled or perhaps even removed. Supposedly Windows 10 can adapt. Surface PCs all have touchscreens, and receive a remarkable amount of media coverage even though actual sales are no great shakes. It’s not dissimilar from the outsized publicity the Amazon Echo platform gets even though the supposedly “unsuccessful” Apple Watch has a larger customer base.
Apple tells us that a Mac with a touchscreen would be akin to trying to merge a toaster oven with a refrigerator. Besides, it’s awkward to type and reach up to navigate your desktop by touching the display. It’s even more awkward when you have a Mac with a larger display, such as the 27-inch iMac.
On the other hand, what do you have when you attach an iPad to a keyboard? Remember, those keyboards do not have trackpads, and therein lies a tale.
Since Apple’s A-series chips became powerful enough to nearly match a MacBook Pro in benchmarks, despite being installed in a device that’s very resource limited, some have suggested Apple leave Intel. Do another processor switch for Macs.
While Apple has done this twice before, it didn’t come without some pain. Older apps had to be run in some sort of emulator mode, thus reducing performance. One great advantage of using Intel CPUs is that you can run Windows on a Mac with native performance under Boot Camp, or with pretty good performance via a virtual machine.
If Apple goes to ARM-based processors, unless there’s some miracle hardware-based emulator, that capability will lose its luster. Indeed, does it make any sense at all for Apple to ditch Intel?
At the same time, Apple has added features in iOS 11 that provide better multitasking, something that will help an iPad become more useful as a productivity tool. The Files app provides limited but workable file access. No doubt that can be expanded as needed to incorporate a more traditional file and folder structure, but it’s still largely focused on external cloud-based storage mediums, such as iCloud Drive and Dropbox.
But what if Apple built a convergence device?
Macworld columnist Jason Snell, who once ran the editorial department when it was a print magazine, has written a thought piece suggesting that the time has come for Apple to consider building what is essentially an iPad in a genuine notebook form factor.
He points out that using an iPad with a Smart Keyboard is a poor fit for placing on one’s lap. Third party keyboards manage the task in better form, but there’s still no trackpad, largely because the cases are designed to follow the form of the core product. I have thought of a keyboard with a slide-out trackpad, which would, with OS support, provide a reasonable facsimile of a notebook.
Jason uses the Google Pixelbook, a Chromebook that can run Android apps, as a workable form factor. It’s a device that is meant to serve both tablet and notebook functions with a swiveling display. But how different is that from removing an iPad from a keyboard case, or an alternative that provides a more stable environment for use on your lap.
If Apple is going to build an iOS-based notebook, based on the iPad, why not go the whole hog? Why not turn it into a MacBook-style device with a touchscreen and the traditional notebook trackpad? Why shouldn’t it have a trackpad if you expect to use it as a real notebook? But how different would that be from a Windows 2-in-1 other than the OS? Why not just offer an iOS version of the MacBook with the ARM-based processor and a 12.9-inch iPad Pro display?
Isn’t that what we’re really talking about?
You can argue that a notebook or any PC with a touchscreen is a poor fit from an ergonomics standpoint. The form factor is apt to put extra strain on your wrists as you raise your hands to the screen between keystrokes. But if it also had a trackpad, and a display that can be removed and used as a regular iPad, wouldn’t that resolve such a dilemma? That way, you wouldn’t have to concern yourself with the keyboard/touchscreen dilemma.
Would it be meant as an ultimate convergence device, something offering the best of the Mac and the iPad combined? Is that where we’re going? Does that mean Apple would ever consider something akin to a Surface RT? The Apple iOS-Book or iPad Book— Jason uses the name iBook, once the name of a regular Mac notebook — would strictly run iOS apps. But wouldn’t apps optimized for touchscreens have to be modified to be more Mac-like if a trackpad were offered as an alternative input device?
I’m not against the iPad as notebook, and perhaps there’s a market for a model that comes in notebook form without compromise. I just wonder if this works against Apple’s goal of simplicity. It doesn’t seem all that simple.