The MacBook Air is one of the — if not the — best laptops ever made. It’s light, and powerful, and feels as though it were carved out of a block of metal.
And yet, despite its excellence, Apple is seemingly in the process of replacing it.
Instead of updating the MacBook Air, which Apple is doing in the short-term, the long-term plan is just under the surface: Slowly phase out the MacBook Air in favour of the iPad Pro.
Look no further than Apple’s most recent press conference — Monday’s WWDC keynote — for evidence that this is the case.
An entire section of the two-hour presentation was dedicated to how Apple is turning the iPad Pro into a laptop. Do any of these features sound familiar to you?
- Using multiple apps at once.
- Having a dock along the bottom of the screen, to easily choose between apps you’re using — a “dock” if you will.
- Browsing files.
- Selecting multiple items at once and moving them from application to application.
If an alarm is going off in your head, and you’re thinking, “That sounds an awful lot like the stuff I do on a computer,” you’re dead on.
That was the crux of Apple senior VP Craig Federighi’s presentation on Monday: Apple is using the next version of iOS to turn the iPad Pro into something very similar to a laptop.
First, Federighi introduced the ability to run multiple pieces of software at once on the same screen — so-called “multi-select.” Then he introduced multitasking through the new app switcher. Then, unbelievably, he introduced the concept of “drag-and-drop.”
“The iPad of course is the ultimate multi-handed, multi-touch device. And so we’re so excited to bring drag-and-drop to iPad! You can drag images, you can drag text, you can drag URLs. You can multi-select and multi-hand drag. It’s a drag-fest.”
You might be thinking, “Hey, that sounds like something I’ve been doing on computers literally my whole life.” And once again, you’d be right.
Every one of these concepts is foreign to the iPad line of devices — intentionally. The iPad isn’t a laptop; it’s a tablet. It’s intended to be used as a touch device. Maybe you use yours to read, or watch Netflix, or look through photos of friends and family. Great! That’s what tablets were intended to do.
In the case of the iPad, though, Apple is turning its tablet into a laptop. Worse, Apple is turning its tablet into a laptop that isn’t as good as the laptops Apple already makes. Instead of a real keyboard, you can use the keyboard attachment for the iPad Pro that isn’t as good (or as cheap) as a real keyboard. Instead of using a mouse for precision control, you put your hand directly on the screen, which can get tiring after a while if you’re doing real work. Instead of having USB ports, you use a Lightning port dongle to attach anything external (like, say, a flash drive).
Every one of the new features Federighi introduced, coming later this year in iOS 11, is common to the world of laptops (and desktops). But not quite as good.
Here’s another actual image from the presentation on Monday:
That’s Federighi introducing a new app called “Files.” What does it do? It lets you browse the files on your iPad.
“Files brings together all the files on your iPad. It supports everything you’d expect: nested folders, spring loading, list view, favourites, search, tags,” Federighi says, walking through a list of things that all computers have been able to do since the early 1990s.
This stuff may be “revolutionary” on an iPad, but it’s commonplace on every computer that exists today. Heck, it’s commonplace on every computer across the past 20 years. Apple may think tablets are the future of laptops, and they may indeed be the future of laptops, but the vision being shown so far feels like a step backwards.
If Apple kills the MacBook Air, this is the next best “affordable” option — and it’s a bad one. A lot of people will choose the iPad in that scenario, no doubt, but owning an expensive tablet-laptop hybrid like the iPad Pro just isn’t as good as having an affordable laptop option like the MacBook Air.