Apple’s Vertical Integration Shines with the New iPad Pro Line
This week at an event in Brooklyn, Apple launched a new MacBook Air, a new Mac Mini, and two new iPad Pro. It is interesting to me that these devices came to share a stage because in a way they represent key products in the history of Apple’s computing offering. The Mac Mini reinvented the desktop computer, focusing on a minimalistic design yet without sacrificing performance. The MacBook Air took the MacBook line to a higher degree of mobility and introduced an all Flash architecture. And finally, the iPad Pro started to lay the foundation for what Apple calls the “future of computing”. I want to focus on the iPad Pro because to me it is certainly the product with the most fascinating but also the most complex story to tell.
The iPad’s Journey
When the first iPad came to market in 2010 the easiest way to explain it was to describe it as a big iPhone. Users were in love with their iPhones and they were spending more and more time on mobile devices to the detriment of many other things including their computers. At least at the start of the whole tablet market, these devices, including the iPad, were seen as a companion to a computer as well as a companion to a smartphone. Back then the four biggest shortcomings that people listed as reasons why the iPad could not replace their computer were: the operating system, the keyboard and screen size, and the performance.
Since then, the iPad has grown in size, power and brain in particular with the iPad Pro. So much so that the latest additions to the line are, as Apple pointed out, faster than 92 percent of the PC sold over the past year. You might argue on this number but the fact of that matter is that the new iPad Pro models are as powerful as many PCs.
What has also grown is the numbers of apps that have been designed for the iPad to take advantage of both a touch and pen-based workflow. At the same time, we have also seen workflows shift more and more to apps which are helping to see less of a difference between what an iPad and what a Mac could do, especially as a consumer.
The latest iPad Pro models and their increased performance push apps further like Adobe demonstrated on stage. Adobe was an early believer in the iPad, designing a mobile version of its Photoshop app with touch and pen in mind. At the event this week, Adobe was on stage showing what they referred to as the “real” Photoshop which will arrive in the App Store in 2019 and offers a full desktop app still optimized, of course, for touch and pen. What was interesting to me, as Adobe went on to show Project Aero, their AR focused creativity suite, was that now on the iPad Pro you can do what you do on a computer and more. More importantly, you are not necessarily bound to do it in the same way you used to. You can be creative or productive in similar or different ways, the choice is really yours.
The Future of Computing is not for Everybody…Yet
I said several times that I was looking forward to an event where new Mac and iPad models were introduced side by side because I wanted Apple to tell a story. A story of where computing is going and which device is for whom. Apple did not tell a story, but it certainly tried to shape our thinking around the iPadPro by talking about sales and performance compared to notebooks. This is where Apple believes the iPad Pro is competing. But Apple realizes that this transition is not going to be as simple as the kind of change they introduced with the MacBook Air. This is because with mobility the biggest change in workflow was where you could work not how. Embracing new workflows will take a while.
It was fascinating to have people point out to me after the event that the only thing that the iPad Pro is missing now to be a computer is mouse support. This to me is a symptom that shows how these people are not ready to transition all their computing needs to an iPad Pro. Either because of comfort or because of the kind of tasks they perform, a touch and pen first workflow would not suit them. This is why Apple continues to update its Mac line. But also, this is why Mac OS, while remaining a separate OS, will allow for apps to look and feel more like they do on iOS so that workflows could seamlessly go between an iPhone or an iPad to a Mac. The more you will be able to do that the more you will be able to consider an iPad Pro as your main computing device.
Build it and they will come
For Apple, there is no question that the future of their computing experience is in the iPad Pro rather than the Mac. You just need to look at the latest products to see how much Apple owns the experience on iPad Pro from the silicon for both performance and intelligence, to the ecosystem of apps and services, to the accessories, pretty much everything they need to control the end to end experience.
It is interesting that when I look at Surface Pro, the sole iPad Pro competitor in my mind, I see clearly that the lack of that vertical control is what is holding them back especially in the consumer segment. Ironically Microsoft is better than Apple at first-party apps that take advantage of what the OS and the hardware have to offer to drive their vision of new workflows, but the lack of custom silicon and the much weaker App Store makes it much harder for them to compete on equal footing.
Apple has been known to drive change even when the market does not seem to be ready. With the future of computing, they have the luxury of not having to rush. They have built a strong platform and they will continue to lead people to it without yanking away the safety net that Mac products provide to many.