Flaky Goodness

A Consumption Device

November 18, 2012

For as long as the iPad has existed it has faced criticism about what it could and could not be used for. Legions of bloggers tripped over themselves labelling it “a consumption device,” while an equally vocal contingent relentlessly pointed out examples of the iPad being used in well known and respected art and literature, music production, construction, medicine, and so on.

The myth of the iPad as a consumption-only device was thoroughly debunked, at least in the eyes of many Apple enthusiasts. It might or might not replace your MacBook, but you could certainly use it for more than watching movies and reading iBooks.

This was an exciting time, the birth of the “Post-PC” era, and I, like many others, wanted to experience the wonder. I was inspired by articles by Mark O’Connor, who talks about ditching his MacBook in favour of an iPad to do bonafide software development on a 200,000 processor system. I dreamed of a world where I could do most, if not all, of my work on an Internet-connected iPad.

My day-to-day work responsibilities are a grab bag of operations, support, sales, customer service, and development, so I had no illusions about being able to dump my 15” MacBook Pro on Day 1. But gradually, I started pushing more and more of the systems and processes I used into the cloud. My vision was to be able to do everything except actual software development using an iPad, and from anywhere in the world.


Source: Mark O’Connor, Yield Thought blog

You don’t need to hold the iPad mini for long to realize that it is something special. In fact, some Apple writers are proclaiming that it is what the iPad should always have been. Careful not to take anything away from its big brother, they are choosing the mini for themselves in favour of the larger option.

But for what use?

From what I can tell, to consume rather than produce. MacBook Airs or Pros are for doing work, and the blissfully light, thin, and compact iPad mini is for e-mail, Twitter, reading and surfing. Choosing the mini as your iPad seems to be an admission, perhaps more of a realization, that if you’re working, you’d rather be doing it on a MacBook.

My fear is that treating the iPad as a primary production device is going out of favour. That there is a growing belief that although it is possible, it is rarely optimal, and almost never preferable to using a MacBook for the same job.

There will always be exceptions of course. Some applications are so amazingly well suited to a tablet form factor that you’d never want to be using them on a laptop if you could avoid it. But something as simple as web-based surfing and research feels like swimming upstream when you factor in the need to jump to 1Password, excerpt and annotate the research material, clip and edit images, create the occasional PDF etc. Weak interapp sharing mechanisms, the prohibition of system-wide 3rd party productivity utilities, no split-screen capability, and no centralized file store all conspire to make the experience clunky and unpleasant.

Surprisingly, it is Microsoft that seems to be holding up the banner of tablet productivity highest. The Surface is a flawed product, with a half-baked OS, and a weakening team behind it, but Microsoft, bless them, is trying so hard to make Surface your primary work device. It’s a shame they’ve got so far to go.