Apple has been talking about the post-PC era ever since the original iPad launch in 2010, with Steve Jobs suggesting that PCs would be the ‘trucks’ of the computing world while most people would be happy with ‘cars’ aka iPads.
I think if you’re looking at a PC, why would you buy a PC anymore? No really, why would you buy one? Yes, the iPad Pro is a replacement for a notebook or a desktop for many, many people. They will start using it and conclude they no longer need to use anything else, other than their phones.
It’s a stance I agree with … to some extent …
I’ve noted on several occasions that when non-tech friends ask for my advice on which laptop to buy, it’s not unusual for me to ask them what they want to do with it then end up recommending an iPad with keyboard. If all you want to do is email, web, video call and chat, an iPad is a perfectly capable device that offers a lot of advantages over a laptop.
An iPad is even easier to use than a Mac, is ultra-portable, offers a genuine 10-hour battery-life, provides the option of built-in mobile data – and the flexibility of switching between laptop mode with a keyboard and tablet mode without.
I’ve also argued that the old idea that iPads are for content consumption while Macs are for creation is outdated. A lot of us use iPads to create content. But that’s not the same as viewing it as a laptop replacement.
Cook wasn’t claiming that an iPad – Pro or not – can replace a laptop for everyone, and he even stopped short of using the words ‘most people.’ My own conclusion when I tried the iPad Pro was that it does push further into laptop territory than other iPads, but it’s still not a complete substitute.
Powerful as the iPad Pro is, there are still a number of tasks that need the additional power offered by a Mac. Video, audio and photo editing are obvious examples: you can do them on an iPad, but it would be a poor choice of primary device. Software developers, too, need Macs.
But even if you need neither the power nor the specialist apps of a Mac, there’s still one area where I think the iPad falls down when comparing it to a Mac: the lack of a user-accessible file-system.
Steve Jobs, of course, argued that a file-system was an outdated concept. Why should a user have to either know or care where their files were stored? They simply open the app and do whatever it is they need to do.
That works fine for simple tasks, but not for complex ones involving multiple apps. If you’re remodelling your home, for example, you’ll probably have photos that you’ve collected as inspiration. Web pages with products and ideas. Contractor quotes supplied in every file format imaginable. Costing spreadsheets. You may have created sketches in one app and floor plans in another. The various documents are likely to span at least half a dozen different apps, perhaps many more.
If you don’t have access to a file-system, this creates two problems. First, the pain of having to figure out which app contains the document you’re looking for. Did that quote from the electrician arrive as a Word document or a PDF? Did you save that cool idea for understair lighting as a photo or a webpage? Having to open up multiple apps in search of the one thing you need is very far removed indeed from a system that Just Works.
But there’s also the notion of the project being organized on our device the same way we think of it in our head. If you are tackling the project one room at a time, you may have a top-level folder called Home Remodelling and second-level folders for each room: Living-room, Kitchen, Bathroom and so on.
Alternatively, if you are approaching the project in several phases, your second-level folders might be Phase 1 Teardown, Phase 2 Construction, Phase 3 Decoration and so on. The ‘physical’ map of the project on your device should mirror your mental model of the project – and that requires a visible file-system.
I do completely understand that iOS was designed around the KISS principle. If a user doesn’t need to see something, keep it hidden. For a great many things I do on my iPhone and iPad, that approach is perfect.
When I open up the Photos app to show to a friend that photo I took yesterday, I don’t need to know where on my device that photo is stored: I can just open the app and tap on the photo. If it was a while ago, the tags created by the app mostly do the job.
But it’s less easy to find that photo I took in Hong Kong ten years ago. And I’m not going to use an iPad for any kind of project – even one as simple as planning a vacation – and a large part of the reason is the lack of a visible file-system. If Apple really wants to present the iPad as a true alternative to a PC, it needs to finally allow iOS to have one.
That needn’t mean making the existing iOS UI any more complex than it is today. I don’t need access to a System folder or Library folder. I don’t need folders to be front-and-center on the homescreen. I’d be completely fine with Apple tucking a visible folder structure away inside an iOS Finder app. But, in my view, an iPad isn’t ever going to replace a Mac without it.
Do you agree? Or are you happy to tackle even complex projects without a visible file-system? Please take our poll, and share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.