Copy cats: How the iPad got where it is

Did Apple copy the Surface? From a certain point of view.


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Time may have slowed down lately but it has not stopped completely as Apple has announced new iPads and the ability to use a mouse or trackpad with your iPad in iPadOS 13.4. As is the custom, we must now judge this feature for its moral clarity.

Writing for The Verge, Tom Warren says “Apple finally admits Microsoft was right about tablets.” (Tip o’ the antlers to Nick.)

Now, now. Don’t try to rip your computer screen in half in rage. First, it’s a lot harder than it looks and, second, if you’re stuck at home like The Macalope, you’re going to need your computer.

If you’re the kind of person who thinks Obi-Wan Kenobi was right, the he didn’t lie when he said Darth Vader killed Luke’s father since he was speaking “from a certain point of view”, then Warren is absolutely correct. If, however, you think that crazy old wizard was lying through his teeth, possibly because “I cut your dad’s arms and legs off and left him to burn to death on this lava planet” might not play well with an impressionable 19-year-old, then it’s less correct.

Anyhoo, no, Apple did not admit any such thing. Fortunately, the headline, as usual, is the worst of it.

The iPad Pro now looks even more like a Surface Pro

Kinda true. They both have touch screens. And keyboards. And styluses. As long as you don’t turn them on, they look quite alike!

The iPad rejected the idea of a keyboard, a trackpad, or even a stylus, and Apple mocked Microsoft for taking that exact approach with the Surface.

Also true. But here’s another way of framing the evolution of these devices: Apple made tablets that were designed to work with touch input first and then added more PC functionality later. Microsoft slapped touch screens on PCs and spent the next eight years trying to make it a decent experience. The Surface is a good computer, but it’s still not as good at being a tablet as the iPad is.

[Microsoft’s] message was clear: touch-based computing would be a first-class input for Windows 8…

The Macalope would agree it was an input. That much is true. But he’s used both Windows 8 and Windows 10 in touch mode and he wouldn’t call it first-class unless you’re comparing it to a flying Aeroflot in the 1960s. Warren complains about the large touch targets on the iPad reducing precision but the reverse is also true of Windows: small touch targets make many touch operations an exercise in frustration.

The Macalope isn’t arguing that everything is perfect on the iPad. Multitasking is definitely a thing you can do on the iPad, but it’s not a thing that’s implemented well enough for you to enjoy the experience any more than an elevator ride with Creed frontman Scott Stapp.

…every big iPad now supports a keyboard and stylus.

In point of fact, every iPad, period, now supports a keyboard and stylus, just not necessarily an attached keyboard made by Apple.

While Apple is finally getting closer to the breadth of user experience one can have using a keyboard and trackpad on a Windows tablet, Microsoft is still not to the level of user experience one gets using an iPad without a keyboard or trackpad.

The Macalope ridiculed the Surface when it first came out because when it first came out it was [insert “Not great, Bob!” gif]. (Macworld is not the “gif reaction” kind of publication. You’re welcome.) And Microsoft took it on the chin by taking a huge write-off on the Surface RT. But it kept at it and has continued to improve the device and, in the process, they managed to turn themselves into a good hardware company, something the horny one would not have predicted. By contrast the iPad was a huge hit when it launched but then stalled a few years into its run until Apple proliferated the number of devices and the use cases.

Did Apple copy Microsoft by making the iPad more like a PC? You could argue that. But now that we’re where we are, you could also ask why Microsoft hasn’t copied Apple to make the Surface a better tablet.

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