I’ve been holding off talking about this, because it sounds insane – but the din in the tech scene won’t go away because it is largely a massive echo-chamber. Everyone is reporting ‘rumours’ that Apple is planning an iPad (possibly a 12″ iPad) that runs Mac OS. Now, perhaps I’ll look back on this post in a few weeks and regret it, but I’m certain that this rumour is complete and utter nonsense.
The source of the rumours is the notoriously hit-and-miss DigiTimes, a Taiwan based outfit that to us in the west has some credibility because it is geographically closer to the factories where iPads are made. But trying to read the runes of what plastic shapes are being pumped out misses the point: Putting OS X on to a tablet would be a fundamentally stupid thing for Apple to do. And Apple have to have lost its collective mind to do it.
The rumours obviously evoke thoughts of Microsoft’s Surface tablets, like the recently launched Surface Pro 3 – which rather than be exclusively a tablet or a laptop, attempts to straddle the two categories, working with both touch and with a fold-out keyboard embedded into the case. Similarly – it can run both big-buttoned tablet-style apps, as well as more precise desktop apps.
This though is fundamentally different to Apple’s strategy. Whereas Microsoft is (unwisely, in my view) looking for “the same experience on all devices”, Apple builds devices and apps that are customised to match the form factor. There’s a reason why iOS and Mac OS, though they share some “visual grammar” – with familiar icons and so on – are still distinct. iPads are optimised for touch input, and Mac computers are optimised for keyboard and touchpad/mouse.
It isn’t a coincidence that with the forthcoming Apple Watch the company hasn’t simply shrunk down an iPhone screen – it has created something new. Less design-focused companies like Samsung are happy to try to jam on-screen keyboards awkwardly into devices they are simply not designed for (“>like this stupid keyboard on the Gear S smartwatch), whereas Apple in its watch has instead opted to create a new, optimised means of communication – using taps, and one-fingered doodles to send messages – as well as voice, of course.
So why would Apple do something so stupid with tablets? Because customers are asking for it? Steve Jobs once said “You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.”
Whilst Apple probably shouldn’t be in thrall to its departed founder, would it really throw away its fundamental design principles, which have proved wildly successful and put out a device that is poorly optimised for a tablet? Again, Jobs once said on design and user experience: “People think it’s this veneer — that the designers are handed this box and told, ‘Make it look good!’ That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”
How would it even work? A terrible on-screen keyboard? With awkward button pressing as our fingers are too fat for the small icons? Can you honestly imagine such a terrible user-experience on an Apple-branded device? Do Tim Cook and his team really misunderstand what it is that marks Apple out amongst other companies, and why despite premium prices people pay big money for Apple design?
There’s another huge reason why this rumour is utter nonsense. Take off your designer’s beret and put on your business man’s bowler hat.
Mac OS, as essentially a continuation of the operating systems that have gone before it is a largely ‘open’ system. It can run any code that developers write for it – and there’s no layers of security, or crucially, payment gateways people have to go through to run code on Mac OS. Piracy is possible on this platform.
iOS on the other hand is something completely new: A platform on which Apple has complete control. It is the gatekeeper: If you want apps, you have to download them from Apple’s app store. Apple has your payment details, and by carefully moderating what content it allows, it controls your entire experience. This means that if you want a custom keyboard you can’t just download one from The Pirate Bay, you have to pay Apple money. And the only custom keyboards available are ones that Apple has approved, and ones that will not fundamentally break the system, giving you a good (if restricted) user experience.
Apple is slowly bringing these aspects of iOS to Mac OS – with the launch of the Mac App Store and restricting “unidentified developers” software – but users don’t have to use the Mac App Store, and unidentified software can be run with the tick of a box in settings. Any attempt to force users to exclusively use the app store would end in outrage, a PR disaster, customer exodus and inevitable backtracking.
If Mac OS was also an option on tablets Apple would essentially be throwing money down the drain: Why would it want to release a more open platform that it can monetise less easily? Why would it give up that amount of control? Why would it destroy its business model?
I will be absolutely stunned if Apple announces anything like this next week at its big press event on Thursday 16th. Don’t believe the rumour, don’t expect it to happen. If they announce a big “iPad Pro”, it’ll just be running a jumbo iOS. I know Tim Cook is inexplicably a fan of U2… but I don’t think he has gone completely insane.