During this ongoing pandemic crisis, I made the jump to upgrade my 2014 Retina MacBook Pro to a new model. I was a bit disappointed there wasn’t an upgrade to a 14 inch model MacBook this year, but my older computer was beginning to hit the wall of usability and I needed to get something better able to handle the needs our streaming world were imposing. So I took the plunge and ordered a top shelf 2020 13 inch MacBook Pro, the day it was released. It’s been a joy.
But that isn’t why I’m writing this post. I’m writing because using this 2020 MacBook feels very similar to using my 12.9 inch iPad Pro, and I thought it would be fun to explore why.
There are vast differences in the operating environment and interface. iPadOS is touch based, though keyboard support is has been strengthening for a while and mouse support beginning to find its footing on the platform. MacOS is mouse and keyboard based, with only the beginnings of a touch interface finding it’s way on to the platform via the Touch Bar. So the way I use these two devices is different, but they feel well-paired. Back when spinning disks were replaced by SSD’s the portability of MacBooks shot up ten fold. The “instant wake/sleep” expectation of tablets found its way to a “real” computer, and the experience of using the device became snappier as a result. At the same time, HiDPI displays matched the crispness of the retina iPad lines which made immersion into the interface more pleasant. Features like full-screen apps and launch pad brought some iOS 1 features to the Mac, and Apple has been working on tools to create true iPadOS/MacOS cross platform apps for several years. Apple’s initially-Controversial rewrite of the iWork apps took a while to bear fruit, but the combination of feature parity and feature set eventually bore fruit. This year Apple stopped playing catch up between the two platforms 2 and began adding features to both platforms simultaneously. Apple signified that their cross platform iWork tools are ready to take simultaneous steps into the future with the recent announcement that iBooksAuthor is being shut down—because along with that announcement came the promise that ePub export is going to be expanded in Pages.
This shift to making MacOS feel more iPad-like has been going on for years, but it wasn’t until I obtained my 2020 MacBook that I understood just how much it has transitioned. The inclusion of touchID gives me access to a tool iOS had for years, and it is a welcome addition to the Mac Platform. This also opened up things like Apple Pay to the platform, which means the purchases I make on my Mac no longer feel like I’m being forced to step back in time. I’m getting used to the Touch Bar, but for things like scrolling through an eBook or video clip, I already love it. And the added context features in apps like Zoom, Scrivener, or the iWork suite are most welcome 3. But it’s the shift to USB-C that makes it feel like my MacBook and iPad are just extensions of the same device. Yes I’ve got side car, and that is a wonderful feature, but the ability to exchange peripherals between the two devices without batting much of an eye is that way things always should have been. 4. It’s because my first USB-C device was my 12.9 iPad Pro that I find it’s inclusion on my new MacBook to be so iPadOS-like 5. I’ve already got all the cables and connectors and peripherals 6, so now I just throw whatever device in my bag when I go out and, unless there is a specific application I need on either device 7, I’m good to go.
It’s not a perfect crossover yet. Perhaps the biggest change I’d like to see brought to the iPadOS platform is support to use the same external drive for an app’s library as its desktop counterpart. This may not be an Apple problem, however, as I believe this is possible with iPadOS’s current external drive support. It falls to application developers need to find ways to make this a practical reality, and it’s the “race to the bottom” pricing of App Store apps that’s probably making them leery 8. To me the holy grail of the MacOS/iPadOS crossover would be the ability to use my external SSD as my default library source for my photo cataloging/developing software of choice. I know companies like Adobe, Apple, and On1 are setting up cloud syncing systems to handle this type of crossover, but I’d love to be able to skip them all and just plug in my drive and go—no worrying about cloud storage limits, or internet speed, or not having the right folders set to sync. I just plug in my drive, and go. If this happens my iPad Pro really will be my “mobile computer.”
- Now, iPadOS. ↩
- As well as the web, on iCloud.com. ↩
- Though I do miss the function keys for volume control. I’m just old that way. ↩
- And I do realize iOS was deliberate in adding peripheral support over years so it could be done right. But now that I have it, wow. ↩
- It’s been around for a while, granted. So have the touch-bar and TouchID features. But I wasn’t ever going to buy a butterfly keyboard MacBook. Ever. ↩
- Though I am interested in getting some Thunderbolt 3 stuff. Because… yummy bandwidth. ↩
- Which is not the case 90% of the time. ↩
- Though making features activate behind an unlock key seems a reasonable compromise to me. I dunno. ↩