The iPad Pro Just Launched — But Don't Ditch Your Laptop Just Yet
In Apple's vision of the future, the personal computer is a giant screen and little else — a single, powerful window into the world, capable of any function you need. It looks like an iPad.
At the Sept. 9 Apple Event, Apple announced the iPad Pro: a giant, powerful tablet with a high-resolution 12-inch display and some advanced capabilities. It can show multiple apps in split screen, and it has a peripheral keyboard and stylus — something Steve Jobs probably would have hated.
If you think the iPad is just for consuming media, Apple would like to change your mind. The iPad Pro is meant to be as heavy-duty as a laptop, adept at performing tasks like word processing, illustration and photo editing.
And it's large: the size of a laptop screen.
So, if you're in the market for a new computer, which do you choose?
Generally, if you're sitting down to work every day and juggling multiple tasks that use a lot of memory and processing power, there's still no question: You want a powerful desktop machine (like an iMac) or a laptop (like the MacBook) plugged into an external monitor. The iPad Pro, like anything running iOS, isn't as robust as a personal computer.
If you want total control over what you're using, don't get an iPad. "The iPad shifts the emphasis from creating content to merely absorbing and manipulating it," Lev Grossman wrote in Time magazine around the launch of the first iPad in April 2010, according to Steve Jobs. "It mutes you, turns you back into a passive consumer of other people's masterpieces."
With a more powerful iPad in 2015, that sentiment might have shifted. But iPad users are still operating in a closed loop that Apple has control over.
As computer scientist and futurist academic Jaron Lanier argues in his book Who Owns the Future?, tablets transform their owners from masters of their own destiny to mere observers of entertainment media:
A tablet doesn't really enable one to fully run one's own affairs on one's own terms. A personal computer is designed so that you own your own data. PCs enabled millions of people to run their own affairs. The PC strengthened the middle class. Tablets are instead optimized for delivering entertainment, but the real problem is that you can't use them without ceding information superiority to someone else. In most cases, you cannot even turn them on without giving over personal information.
Lanier goes on to say that personal computers, which in their early days were billed by Apple as "bicycles of the mind," were slowly relegated by Steve Jobs to be more like "trucks" — useful and sturdy, but unsexy compared to the luxury-sports-car appeal of today's tablet. At Wednesday's keynote, Apple CEO Tim Cook called the iPad "the clearest expression of [Apple's] vision of the future of personal computing."
But even saying tablets are like a sports car is a stretch. A Jaguar can drive wherever you tell it to go. Modern tablets are more like cozy bullet trains, or perhaps just a roller-coaster car, providing a thrilling ride to take you to only the places Apple's rigid tracks allow.
The absolute power of the App Store: When you're using an Apple iOS device, the only way you can get your apps is through the App Store: the one location that holds the tools that make your device useful. But the App Store isn't a democratic marketplace. It's a carefully controlled, highly planned ecosystem. Apple holds the keys and has final say in all decisions.
Several developers told Mic that they plan their updates, releases and testing around Apple's schedule. They delay launches, withhold updates and shuffle their release schedules in hopes of getting featured in the App Store or even just approved.
Apple also has no problems censoring apps with little explanation or chance for appeal, like in the case of the Confederate-flag purge that led to a host of educational apps getting cut from the store, along with dystopian games like Papers, Please, which features border guards sorting refugees.
"[Jobs'] genius is that he knows how to make things simple, and that sometimes requires controlling everything." — Steve Wozniak
Desktops and laptops are all about personal freedom. Whether you're using Windows, Linux or even an Apple laptop or PC running OS X, you'll run into none of these limitations. Sure, Apple's operating system is built to privilege its own software — Safari is built to integrate seamlessly with Apple's core computing structure — but you can still install programs from outside Apple's control without rewiring the operating system.
It's possible to "jailbreak" a phone or tablet, a process where you alter the iPhone's operating system so that it can accept additional software, customization, hacks and modifications. Back in 2010, Apple wanted jailbreaking to be completely illegal under federal law. But even if it doesn't void your warranty or put your device in jeopardy, a jailbroken iPhone is unstable and can open you up to hacks, loss of data and buggy apps.
That's the benefit of remaining in Apple's tightly controlled, walled garden: Apple can guarantee your safety inside, unless you break the wall, in which case you're out of luck. In exchange, you get convenience and a sleek user experience — the feeling of digital luxury. A smooth ride.
"Apple gets you into their playpen and keeps you there, but there are some advantages to that," Steve Wozniak, the actual brains behind the engineering of the first Apple computers, said in Walter Isaacson's biography Steve Jobs. "I like open systems, but I'm a hacker. But most people want things that are easy to use. Steve's genius is that he knows how to make things simple, and that sometimes requires controlling everything."
For now, tablets still don't have the capability of PCs. The iPad saw a giant boom when it was released, but sales have since crashed. Given the global sales numbers until now, it's actually more likely that "phablets" and large smartphones will kill the need for tablets before tablets render laptops obsolete.
Personal computers have more processing power for less money. Even in 2015, the mobile Web is still ugly and slow. Whereas mobile devices can flip between tasks one at a time — checking email, writing in Notes, playing music on Spotify and browsing Facebook — only on a laptop can you do all four simultaneously.
PCs can run robust software for editing photos and video, writing stories and poems and blog posts, managing social media profiles, monitoring databases, running businesses — professional things that need more than the word "Pro" to accomplish.
Of course, not everyone who watched the Sept. 9 Apple Event on Safari was also using TweetDeck to monitor real-time reaction, Slack to chat with co-workers and Chrome to compose stories, with every app present on multiple monitors. Many people will head home after work and select just one app, focusing on a single video or project without any other distraction. That's what the iPad is perfect for.
Personal computers, however, are not as convenient, sleek and status-signifying. For that, you can purchase a glossy new iPad Pro. Just ask what you're willing to trade for it.