I have so many thoughts about the iPad and the new Magic Keyboard. Since 2010, outside of the role smartphones are playing on our daily computing lives, iPad has been one of the hardware products I have spent the most time thinking about.
I go back to the day Steve Jobs launched iPad. It was there Steve Jobs framed the iPad in a way that has stuck with me. He said the iPad was unique because it was more intimate than a notebook and more powerful than a smartphone. So perfectly succinct, and it was this description that was his answer as to why iPad should exist.
iPad has evolved much through the years. It has become more powerful, more capable, and added an array of iPad only apps. But there has been a continuous debate as to if it can—-or should—-replace a notebook. I’ve long believed the iPad was the most approachable computer Apple has ever made. But as it has evolved, so has my thinking and I would now consider iPad the most versatile computer Apple has ever made.
This distinction is important and it is outlined in this video by SVP of software Craig Fedhereighi where he doubles down on iPad’s value as being its versatility. It can be used in computer like ways and it can be used in smartphone like ways that are unique to its form and the iPadOS platform. It’s only limitation, until now, has been the types of input it supported.
What has been fascinating to observe, was how iPad has increased in function to eek closer to a full-fledged productivity device as the core OS has adapted. But one of the main struggles has remained the lack of a cursor. Many in the “iPad can’t do real work” camp use the touch input as a main criticism. They seem content a keyboard exists, but their complaints show what they really wanted was a cursor. Apple may have hoped more applications from a work based standpoint would adapt to support or even innovate on touch inputs but that did not happen. Now that iPad has mouse/cursor support, and I have been spending time with the Magic Keyboard, it has become glaringly clear one of iPad’s struggles is that it had been battling an uphill existence in the mouse/cursor-based world of productivity, collaboration, and enterprise software.
Frankly, there are just some times when a mouse/cursor is the superior input mechanism.
When it Comes to Work, It is a Cursor Based World
I have long fought the idea of iPad supporting a mouse/cursor. I hated the idea in fact because I felt it would take away from the original vision and be a compromise. Part of me still wishes the software world of productivity would have evolved and innovated around touch instead of cursor but it did not.
This is where the interesting approach Apple took to the cursor comes in. Apple took the initiative and didn’t just duplicate the Mac/PC cursor and trackpad but rather innovated upon it uniquely for the world of iPad and iPadOS.
While the iPad supports a mouse/cursor it is unlike any mouse/cursor input you have tried before. It is context-aware whether it is clicking or dragging, or selecting text, etc., the shape and state of the cursor intelligently changes. Apple has created a software situation where innovation can now come from both the touch-based input as well as the cursor-based input as developers now have more choices of which input mechanisms to support at their disposal.
What has always differentiated iPad from a product like Microsoft Surface, which is the only real tablet/computer competitor to iPad, is the world of iOS apps. I love my Surface Pro but the app ecosystem lacks compared to the world of iPad apps. Apple now has blended the best of two worlds from an input standpoint of mouse/cursor and touch/pen and the world of iPad apps, desktop productivity apps, creativity apps, entertainment apps, games and more and created a truly versatile computer and as of now that versatility is truly unmatched.
The evolution of the iPad has always been to be whatever you want it to be. It is, at its core design, a slate and on that canvas can be whatever the user wants it to be. What I had not appreciated in my criticism of mouse/cursor support was how adding it took the iPad one more step deeper toward this vision. By supporting every type of input, and truly excelling at all of them, iPad now meets that true vision of a blank canvas and a platform that will allow the product to do anything and everything.