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Apple could make the iPad a true laptop replacement if it just had these 2 simple features

Dave Smith

Apple made a lot of things clear this week: It will strive to do better at making computers geared towards professionals, but it will keep those pro desktops separate from its touchscreen devices like iPhones and iPads.

In other words, don’t expect Apple to release a touchscreen Mac anytime soon.

new retina imacs

(These 5K iMacs are pretty, but you can't touch 'em.Skye Gould/Tech Insider)

Here’s Apple’s reasoning, according to a company spokesperson in an email to Business Insider (emphasis ours):

“Here's how we think about this. Others have taken a traditional PC and tried to build touch into a single catch-all product, but the results are full of compromises. Those products provide neither a good laptop experience, nor a good tablet experience. Apple has pioneered the use of Multi-Touch technology across our product lines from iPhone and iPad to our trackpads. We’re focused on delivering a great customer experience and for some products, a touchscreen does that, but for others we think touch is implemented in better ways. That's why we invented the Touch Bar for MacBook Pro.”

Aside from that last sentence — I personally don't think the Touch Bar is all that useful for pros or anyone else — I am totally okay with Apple’s philosophy here, with regards to keeping its traditional desktop Mac line separate from touch interfaces.

Microsoft is doing its own thing — BI's own Matt Weinberger loved the Surface Studio, an iMac-like desktop you can also draw on like a giant canvas — but Apple is very content with keeping these products separate and encouraging customers to buy multiple items.

microsoft surface studio

(If you want to draw on your desktop monitor, Microsoft has you covered. Apple, not so much.Darren Weaver/Business Insider)

So while you can argue about which philosophy is better, there’s no doubt Apple’s strategy is business-savvy. If you want a computer, buy a Mac. If you want a touchscreen, buy an iPhone or iPad. Apple wants you to buy both separately, assuring you they will work better together than a single all-in-one product.

That’s where I disagree.

As someone who’s owned an iPad for many years now, I really believe the iPad could be that killer all-in-one product that blends the best of iOS with a solid desktop experience. And I really think it's that close to being a laptop replacement. For a couple of years, I actually used my iPad as my main computer for trips or going out on assignment, as it was the best portable device for taking notes, thanks to a great Bluetooth keyboard from Logitech that also served as a screen protector. But all these years later, the iPad, particularly the higher-end Pro, is still not a pure laptop replacement, even though that's how it's been advertised the last two years.

Frankly, all iPads — mini, normal and Pro — would be much more useful devices, and actual laptop replacements, if they just had two simple things:

1) A proper file system, a la Finder

apple icloud drive

(iCloud Drive on iPhone and iPad is nowhere near as robust as Finder on the Mac.Dave Smith/Business Insider)
It boggles my mind that iOS still lacks any sort of meaningful management system for all your files and documents, in the way you can search for literally anything on your computer’s hard drive using the built-in Finder app.

Mind you, Apple introduced iCloud Drive in 2014 as a way to access your saved files across your iPhone, iPad, or Mac, but it's nowhere near as robust or customizable. You can't create new folders, rename folders, or organize documents in a way that makes sense to you from your iPhone or iPad — some folders can be renamed or organized to your liking, but all of that must be done on a PC or Mac computer. Also, Apple files everything in separate folders based on the app it uses, so you can't create your own organizational methods.

Meanwhile, there's Finder, the Mac's one-stop shop for everything from search to file management. Finder is easily the most-used app on my Mac. It keeps me organized: I’m always able to find any documents I’ve created, and put documents of varying types in one folder so I can easily find everything later. I can easily create and delete files and folders, and rearrange them to my liking. To me, Finder is essential, and I still have no reason why there’s no comparable version on iOS — this kind of organization is probably less important on an iPhone, but it's probably the biggest aspect keeping the iPad from being a true laptop replacement. You should be able to reorder and reorganize your files as you see fit on any device, especially an iPad.

2) Mouse and trackpad support

Apple loves its multi-touch technology, but if Apple really wants people to buy more iPads, it should allow people to use more input methods — particularly the mouse, one of the most-used and traditional methods in the history of desktop computers.

Granted, I spend most of my days on a laptop, but that has a separate trackpad below that mimics the actions of a mouse. Using the touchscreen is simply not the same. It is not nearly as precise, or as efficient. You’ll also get tired after constantly raising your arm just to touch different parts of the screen, which is particularly bad if you're doing something time-intensive like photo or video editing. A touchscreen alone is just fine on a tiny five-inch iPhone screen, but not nearly as great on a 10-inch or 12-inch iPad screen.

Apple Magic Mouse 2

(Apple's Magic Mouse 2Apple)
Please, Apple, let me use a Bluetooth mouse, or a Bluetooth trackpad. Apple even makes these peripherals! But neither of them works with the iPad.

I would love the ability to rest my iPad on my lap or a coffee table, and be able to use it effortlessly from my couch with my Bluetooth keyboard and mouse/trackpad. Heck, I’d be okay if Apple only made it work with its own Magic Mouse or Magic Trackpad, as long as the iPad supports some solution.

It's strange to me how Apple embraced accessories with the iPad Pro, but only to some degree. Apple says the $170 Smart Keyboard and the $100 Apple Pencil make the iPad Pro a more complete "pro" experience, but curiously didn't support its own Bluetooth mouse or trackpad on that device. 

When I asked Apple about this on the phone, the company had a great answer for why the iPad supports keyboards: "People want a great typing experience, and it helps people get to where they want to go faster." But by that same token, mice and trackpads help users get to where they want to go faster, too, and they're much easier to use and more satisfying than spending hours lifting your arm to touch a part of the screen. Apple didn't have a good response for that — they suggested one could use an Apple Pencil for touching parts of the screen, but the reason I own an iPad/iPhone/Mac is so I don't have to constantly use a pencil and pad in the first place.

I really do hope that Apple will consider adding these features to the iPad, which is already a great device but not quite a true laptop replacement. I can't reliably use my iPad for working, although it's better with a keyboard. With mouse/trackpad support, and a proper file system, it would be that much better.

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