A top Apple executive unwittingly provided a perfect explanation for why the iPad is a bad computer replacement

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
  • Apple’s SVP of software engineering Craig Federighi gave an interesting answer to Wired when asked if we’ll ever see a Mac computer with a touchscreen.
  • “We really feel that the ergonomics of using a Mac are that your hands are rested on a surface, and that lifting your arm up to poke a screen is a pretty fatiguing thing to do,” Federighi said.
  • Federighi’s statement unwittingly explains why the iPad is not a good replacement for a laptop or desktop computer.

Craig Federighi is in charge of two of Apple’s flagship software products, iOS and MacOS. In many ways, he is the face of Apple’s software.

Back in June, Federighi was also the star of Apple’s WWDC keynote, which was 130 minutes long; Federighi spoke for roughly half the time, presenting for a whopping 55 minutes.

After that keynote, Wired’s Lauren Goode asked Federighi about some of Apple’s plans mentioned during the presentation. And then this happened (emphasis ours):

When addressing my question about whether iOS apps moving to macOS is a natural precursor to touchscreen Macs, Federighi told me he’s “not into touchscreens” on PCs and doesn’t anticipate he ever will be. “We really feel that the ergonomics of using a Mac are that your hands are rested on a surface, and that lifting your arm up to poke a screen is a pretty fatiguing thing to do,” he said.

What’s curious here is that while Federighi is attempting to denounce touchscreen PCs by saying that “lifting your arm up to poke a screen is a pretty fatiguing thing to do,” he’s unwittingly explaining why the iPad is not a great replacement for laptop or desktop computers.

Even though Federighi is clearly talking about Mac computers in that quote, you could basically replace “using a Mac” with “doing work” and the phrase still makes sense, since you’re often using a Mac or PC to do work.

Apple wants you to do work on an iPad and iPad Pro, but doing that requires “lifting your arm up to poke a screen,” as Federighi puts it. Even with the Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard thrown in, your main input mode still requires touching the screen.

In recent years, Apple has pushed the idea of using an iPad for more than just passive activities like reading or watching videos. Apple added a ton of productivity-focused features for the iPad in iOS 11, including multi-tasking, a dock, a file system, and drag and drop – very laptop-y features. And if you didn’t think the iPad sounded enough like a work machine after that, consider Apple’s two iPad Pro models, with their fast chips and support of unique work tools that only work with iPads, like the $US180 Smart Keyboard and $US130 Apple Pencil.

And then of course, who could forget Apple’s “What’s A Computer?” ad for the iPad?

Apple ipad what's a computerApple

Maybe you didn’t see the ad. It features a young girl drawing on her iPad, texting on her iPad, taking pictures with her iPad, reading comics on her iPad – you know, kid stuff. At the end of the ad, a friendly neighbour sees the young girl on the grass, with her iPad propped up by a Smart Cover, and mistakes it for a laptop. She says, “Whatcha doing on your computer?” And the little girl says, “What’s a computer?”

Even if Apple doesn’t say the exact words, it’s very clear the company doesn’t want you to think of the iPad as just a big, pretty screen. They want you to know the iPad can also do work – real work. It also costs about as much as a laptop – the new iPad Pro models can cost even more than a MacBook Pro.

Except, Federighi himself says that “lifting your arm up to poke a screen is a pretty fatiguing thing to do.”

Maybe both parties are right. Maybe the iPad can do real work, but it does get fatiguing after a while. If only Apple let the iPad support mice and trackpads, it could be a true laptop replacement; for now, buying an iPad to do work means you’re going to be lifting your arm to touch that screen a lot.

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