Speculation on Apple Silicon in upcoming Macs

Ever since WWDC, we’ve been eagerly awaiting Apple’s first Macs running on Apple Silicon. Will they be drastically redesigned? How well will Apple Silicon Macs perform?

Along with announcing the transition in June, Apple provided a Developer Transition Kit to help developers prepare for building their apps for the new architecture. It was provided as a Mac mini enclosure running an A12Z chip, the same in the latest iPad Pro models. While (presumably) designed just for the iPad, the chip worked well enough to run macOS Big Sur. From developer chatter on Twitter, it seems to run fairly well. The benchmarks were decent, outperforming the MacBook Air in a device that isn’t intended to showcase the power of Apple’s Mac-intended silicon.

Apple builds a lot of custom silicon. Even the S-series chips used in the Apple Watch are based on A-series designs. Might this basis allow for a clearer understanding of macOS support on Macs?

This morning, a post by MacRumors shared information about an iMac coming in 2021 running an “A14T” chip. If true, what might this mean for Macs on Apple Silicon? While we are less than a month away from knowing details about the first available Macs with Apple Silicon, here are some thoughts I have.

Stronger Tie to iOS Devices

When Apple announces a new version of iOS, by announcing the devices that support it, they also clearly signal what devices can’t. Occasionally, a release will drop support for one or more devices, typically devices with the same chipset. For instance, iOS 11 dropped support for the A6, and iOS 13 dropped the A7 (and devices with 1GB of RAM running on an A8). If Mac chips are based on A-series designs, we may see similar drop offs with devices. Instead of saying an OS release requires Macs from some year and up, they could just say Macs with a particular chip.

With this change, I also suspect that we will see Macs and iOS devices from a particular year, running on the same chip, to lose new OS support at the same time. For instance, should iOS 20 drop support for the A14 (announced this year in the iPad Air 4 and iPhone 12), the macOS release of that year could also drop support for the Macs running the Mac-equivalent chip.

Now, why would that happen? Why can’t Macs, with higher specs, support OS releases for longer? They technically could. But I think one thing to consider is a big feature of running Big Sur on Apple Silicon: Running iOS and iPadOS apps natively on a Mac. When an iOS app is built with a minimum supported version of iOS 14, for example, the Apple Silicon Mac must also support the APIs required to run that app. That means a stronger tie between macOS and iOS. It also implies a strong connection between the hardware.

Apple devices already are known for incredible support when it comes to OS updates. No other manufacturer ensures their smartphones get as many major releases as iPhone. And this isn’t anything new. Even the second generation iPad supported 6 major versions of iOS during its lifetime! Right now, the average for iOS devices seems to be between 5 and 6 years. However, macOS Big Sur is available for some Macs that are 7 years old. So, I see this tighter relationship between Macs and iOS devices to culminate in one of two changes:

  • Macs start supporting only 5-6 major OS releases, in line with iOS/iPadOS devices – I don’t see this as likely, as Apple would not want to be seen as reducing support of their most expensive computing product line. Then people might say, “When it ran Intel, they would support 7 year old Macs. Now they barely can last 5 years!” I think Apple would want to show that their Macs have better support on Apple Silicon than Intel.
  • iOS/iPadOS devices start supporting OS releases for more than 6 years – Should macOS stay at supporting Macs that are 7-8 years old, perhaps one day we’ll have an iOS device that can be said to have supported 7-8 major OS releases now. They support 5-6 now, and the A14 in this year’s products is so far ahead of the A8 and A9 currently supported at the low end with iOS 14 that I can see it easily lasting to iOS 21, 22, or beyond.

Performance vs Battery Life

Already, Apple is comfortable with making variants of their chips for different products. This has been true ever since the A5X in the third generation iPad. Apple continues that trend to this day, with the iPad Pros running the A12Z (virtually identical to the A12X, with one additional core). These improvements typically are for the benefit of the iPad while retaining great battery life.

General expectations are that Macs running on Apple Silicon will have better battery life and better performance than their Intel counterparts. How will that be delivered?

I’m curious if we’ll see trade-offs made between the portable and desktop lines. For instance, perhaps we would find the A14T (the rumored Mac chip) in both the MacBook Pro and iMac. This chip might be the Mac-specific version of the A14, given additional cores to power what people expect from a Mac. It may even be an offshoot of the A14X (if one such chip launches later this year). So you would see an A14, A14X with improved graphics, and A14T with additional changes for the Mac.

This same chip might be able to scale across Apple’s entire Mac line. On the MacBook Pro, it would be tuned for better battery life with moderate performance. But for the desktop, with constant power and better cooling, it might be tuned for higher performance. Pair it with additional RAM and Apple’s custom GPUs, and you’d have a singular chip to track for Apple’s Macs during any given generation. Gone would be the days of choosing to buy a new MacBook with an i3, i5, or i7 processor. Instead, you’re buying a Mac with an A14T. You just are choosing how it’s tuned.

Is this how it’ll all turn out? Again, we will have to wait and see. But however it ends up, I’m excited to see what this new generation of Mac will bring.

Future App Development on iPad

With less than 24 hours until Apple unveils iOS 14 and a slew of software updates at WWDC 2020, I wanted to briefly get my thoughts down regarding something that has been in my head.

Many feel that, with the iPad positioned as a computing platform, the iPad itself needs to do more things like a Mac can. One of those is app development. While it’s not a totally useless platform for development, there are limitations. But I think there will be some lingering limitations for a while, and in a way, those limitations might help us see the direction Apple is taking their platforms.

Current State

Right now, the iPad has a limited availability for development. This is in the form of the Swift Playgrounds app, which is a great way to learn Swift within a playground environment. Since last year, it has supported SwiftUI, Apple’s new declarative UI framework.

Swift Playgrounds is useful but comes with some obvious limitations:

  • No actual app creation
  • IDE only – No Interface Builder/SwiftUI Preview canvas
  • Missing some SwiftUI functionality when running your code

It’s not totally useless. If you’re a fan of playgrounds like me, then you may already be used to building a lot of Xcode playgrounds to test various ideas and concepts. Doing the same on the iPad is no different.

iPad as ARM Mac?

With Apple’s rumored transition to ARM processors for their Mac line, some were speculating that the iPad Pro would be a good test device until actual ARM Macs ship later this year. However, this was shot down as the iPad Pro has only 6 GB of RAM, while the typical Mac starts with 8 GB.

From John Gruber at Daring Fireball:

iPad Pros only have 6 GB of RAM — no Mac has shipped with less than 8 GB in many years, and developers aren’t buying machines with 8 GB of RAM. Honestly, I think the RAM is a deal-breaker on the iPad Pro-as-ARM-Mac-dev-kit idea.

I also agree with this point. I don’t think the iPad Pro is itself a good candidate for testing macOS on ARM hardware. However, if we take the above limitation into account, let’s reason on some possibilities.

The Future of iPadOS

Why did Apple break out iPadOS from iOS? Sure, there are differences at the UI/UX level. For instance, you can drag and drop items between apps on the iPad, but on the iPhone this is limited to within the scope of a single app.

Even during the iOS 13 timeframe, the builds for iOS and iPadOS were similar in terms of foundation. There’s no surprise there. But this begs the question: is iPadOS just a marketing term?

With the recent release of the Magic Keyboard for the iPad Pro, I wonder if we’ll truly see the iPad move into more of a Mac-like direction. It will never become the Mac. It will never replace the Mac. But we might see some additions to the iPad that make it more compelling to use with something like the Magic Keyboard.

For one, let’s consider the initial transition in bringing iOS apps to the Mac. This was done by bringing UIKit from iOS to macOS. Last year, Apple announced Mac Catalyst as a way for iPad apps to easily come to the Mac, and improvements were made throughout iPadOS 13 to support mouse cursors and keyboard input.

The next stage in that transition is supposedly bringing support for iPhone apps to the Mac.

But that sounds so trivial. Why is that a separate stage in the release? If someone can easily make an app that supports iPhone and iPad now, what does this bring for developers?

iPadOS Windows

Last year, Apple added support for multiple windows (called “Scenes”) of the same app to exist at the same time. What this means is you can have two windows from the same app side by side in multitasking. Or have multiple windows from an app paired with multiple other apps. Example: You can have two Notes windows side by side, or two Messages windows, or two Safari windows.

However, there are still limitations on how windows can be arranged. Right now, you can have an app (or two, paired) take up the full display, and have an app visible via Slide-Over on the side.

What if the idea of iPhone apps coming to Mac is really intended for iPhone apps to come to the iPad? Imagine Slide-Over but refined and expanded, allowing iPhone-sized apps to live on your iPad screen, perhaps even when you’re on the home screen. With cursor and keyboard support, this would bring some added capabilities to iPadOS, bringing it closer to the Mac without actually running macOS.

I have no knowledge of future roadmaps, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the direction iPadOS takes.

Now, what does this have to do with developing apps on the iPad?

The Future of App Development on iPad

Right now, app development is done on the Mac. Xcode lets you build apps for iOS, watchOS, iPadOS, tvOS, and macOS. And the Mac can simulate all of those environments.

If we were to expand iPad to be able to develop apps, we have to ask the question: What platforms can we simulate on an iPad?

If iPhone apps will soon be able to run on an iPad, I’d argue that being able to develop iPhone apps on an iPad version of Xcode is a possibility. And much like the Xcode for Mac is capable of building Mac apps, Xcode for iPad will be able to build iPad apps. In fact, I can see Watch and tvOS apps just as easily.

But what about Mac apps? While it could be possible, how would you test it? Mac apps have the most access to their platform than any other Apple OS, by far. Would you simulate a Mac environment to test a Mac app?

While not impossible, I find it highly improbable that you would be able to simulate a Mac environment on an iPad to test a Mac app.

Then you have the question of UI development. While you can programmatically build UI, Apple wouldn’t want to leave that as the only way to do so. And while many apps are still built with UIKit/AppKit and Interface Builder, Apple has showed us a new way to build UIs: SwiftUI.

With SwiftUI, we’re able to build apps for all of Apple’s platforms (including the Mac). With SwiftUI, I also think Apple is slowly laying the foundation for eventually supporting a version of Xcode for iPad.

While the iPad won’t be able to build everything Xcode for Mac can, it’ll eventually be able to build apps for the iPad, iPhone, Apple Watch, and possibly tvOS. But you would have limitations: SwiftUI would be your only route for UI.

If this ends up being true, it also shows Apple’s priorities: Enable developers to build apps for their more popular platforms with limited, more specialized tools, and leave the larger development picture to the Mac.

So will Xcode come to the iPad? I think so. Will it replace Xcode for Mac? No. Will the iPad replace the Mac? No.

But what we will definitely see is a separation of iOS and iPadOS. Last year was just marketing. This year and beyond, we’ll see it in practice.

WWDC 2020 Expectations

Everyone has their own expectations when WWDC comes around. Here is what I’d like to see come from Apple and their various platforms.

SwiftUI improvements

Whether they call it SwiftUI 2, or just say they’ve made it better, I fully expect to see a “What’s New in SwiftUI” session this year, including some much needed additions. Of those, I’m hoping to see:

  • First party support for two-dimensional data grids. If List is to UITableView, then I want whatever is the equivalent of UICollectionView. There are a few interesting third-party solutions out there, and I’m not against using them, but I feel something like this would benefit from being provided by Apple themselves.
  • Fixed TabView. Right now, while you can easily create tabbed navigation, the SwiftUI TabView doesn’t behave like a normal UITabViewController. Specifically, if you navigate to another tab and come back, it’s up to the developer to maintain the hierarchy. So if I’m 3 views deep in tab 1, go to tab 2, then go back to tab 1, I’m back at the root by default.
  • Fixed NavigationView. This is more-so when it comes to master/detail on iPad. If I navigate a layer deep in a detail, then rotate the iPad, it resets the detail view while retaining the navigation stack. So I can push a view, rotate, push again, rotate, push again, and end up with what seems to be a navigation stack three or four views deep when in reality my hierarchy is just one or two.

What I do not expect to see is a complete replacement of everything available in UIKit or AppKit. What I mean: I don’t think we’ll see SwiftUI versions of WKWebView, MKMapView, or similar views. The current SwiftUI<->UIKit/AppKit functionality seems to cover situations like this.

“Swifty” Core Data

In Swift 3, Swift gained a huge improvement when it came to JSON Serialization: Codable. Codable is really two protocols: Encodable and Decodable. But together, they take the concept of serializing data, such as to/from JSON, and made is super easy to support.

I would love to see something similar done with Swift classes and Core Data. Could we make a data model conform for Core Data storage by just adding a protocol conformance? If that were possible, I know I’d love to use it.

I’d also hope that any such improvements would allow us to make a Core Data managed object that automatically conformed to Codable without requiring a custom init/decoder.

A Gamer’s GameCenter

I think GameCenter was one of Apple’s squandered opportunities. They offer a powerful Apple TV box that, if powered by newer iOS chipsets, can rival console performance. Yet they have nothing on their platform that resembles the social interactions and networking like you’d see on Xbox or Playstation. I keep hoping they’ll wisen up, revive that platform, and provide a better way for people to find their friends and game together.

An Improved Development Experience on iPad

Swift Playgrounds shows that it’s possible to do coding on the iPad. I’d like to see this turned up a notch, even if it isn’t a full-blown Xcode for iPad. With SwiftUI, perhaps we’ll see some middle-ground. Use your iPad to develop a SwiftUI app? Great. Want to integrate legacy components? Take your project to your Mac.

Even if that doesn’t happen, I’m curious to see what new features and enhancements come to the Swift Playgrounds app this year.

I’m sure that, with whatever Apple announces, I’ll be eager to install the latest betas and try things out. Even if none of my expectations are meant, I’m going to enjoy WWDC 2020.

iPhone SE performance versus Android Flagships

Jerry Hildenbrand at AndroidCentral:

Apple has updated the little iPhone SE for 2020, and even an Android fan has to see that it’s a great phone at an even greater price of $399 for the base model. It’s essentially an iPhone 8 with one big difference: it has Apple’s A13 Bionic chip buried inside. And that’s a big deal for a number of reasons.

I expect that some people are going to tell me about single thread versus multi-threaded performance and how the A13 GPU isn’t that great or how iPhones have much lower resolution screens so the chips don’t have to work as hard. All this is true, but another thing is true: the A13 is a stronger chip than the Snapdragon 865 for daily use in every category — we’ve seen this applied in real life in the iPhone 11 already.

Jerry does a nice job summarizing the performance of the A13 Bionic in the iPhone SE against the Snapdragon 865 found in many Android flagship phones. While it’s not been a specs game for many years, in terms of raw specs, the iPhone SE outperforms top-of-the-line Android phones at a third to a half of the price.

What sounds less crazy, and great to consumers, is that by using the A13 Apple can support the iPhone SE for years — and this phone will outlive the iPhone 8 it is slated to replace for a handful of extrayears because of the new chip. Basically, if the iPhone 11 can get updated, so can the iPhone SE. This is cool to hear today, but it will be really important in three years when another version of iOS is released and your $399 iPhone gets it on day one.

Android devices, typically, still get less than 3 years of updates. And it can take months between the time a new version of Android is released and it is made available on supported devices. And many devices, especially lower priced ones, may barely see one major software update.

And yet, the $399 iPhone SE is likely to get 5 years of major software updates, including new features.

John Gruber, at Daring Fireball:

And on the flip side, what do you get for $400 in Androidtown? Amazon sells the Motorola Moto Z4 for $500. Let’s just spot the Android side $100. The Moto Z4’s single-threaded Geekbench 5 score is about 500. That falls short of an iPhone 6S, a phone from 2015.

For the same price, you can buy an Android that performs about as well as a 5 year old iPhone. An iPhone that still supports the latest version of iOS.

Where are the popular Android phones from 2015 now?

  • Samsung Galaxy S6 – Last software update was 2016’s Android 7 Nougat, made available in 2017, with the last security patch in September 2018.
  • Sony Xperia Z5 Compact – Latest supported version is 2016’s Android Nougat.
  • Google Nexus 6P – Google’s flagship for the year, it got its last update at the end of 2017 with Android 8.0 Oreo.
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 5 – Last update, Android 7 Nougat, in 2017

It’s pretty clear to see: If you need a phone on a modest budget, the iPhone SE is the smartest choice. Best performance with the longest support means you’ll get the most for your money.

‘Frolicking around in excess’

Matt Birchler, writing about what matters in a phone:

So when I see the $399 iPhone SE with 5 years of likely updates, with a really good single lens camera, and with it’s processor that’s faster than all 2020 $1,000+ Android phones, and will likely still be faster than all 2021 Android phones…well, it just looks like a good phone, and it makes it look like we’ve been frolicking around in excess for years now.

I’m one of those people with an iPhone 11 Pro. I enjoy Face ID. I like the ways I can interact with my phone without a home button. I like the triple camera system. I don’t regret owning it. But I also know it’s not for everyone.

For everyone else, people that are just looking for the best deal on a smartphone in general, Matt hits it right on the head: The new iPhone SE is likely the best purchase you can make right now. Maybe even the best purchase next year.

Portrait Mode and the Neural Engine on iPhone SE

Apple finally announced the successor to the iPhone SE. Also called the iPhone SE (and from here, the one I am referring to with that name), it built on the expectations that many were thinking: A reuse of an existing design with newer internals. This is exactly how Apple approached the first SE model. So it made since that the new iPhone SE followed suit.

Design wise, the iPhone SE is identical to the iPhone 8 that it replaced. But internally, it contains a lot of technology found in the iPhone 11: A13 Bionic chip with the third generation Neural Engine, support for WiFi 6, Gigabit class LTE, etc. It also made some changes from the iPhone 8 in line with the iPhone 11, such as the removal of 3D Touch.

But there are some camera differences with the iPhone SE, especially when compared to the iPhone 8, that made me really think.

Portrait Mode

The iPhone SE, like the visually identical iPhone 8, has a single camera on the back side. If you compare the specs between the iPhone 8 and iPhone SE, you’ll see no difference:

  • Single 12MP Wide camera
  • Wide: ƒ/1.8 aperture
  • Optical image stabilization
  • Digital zoom up to 5x
  • True Tone flash with Slow Sync

The iPhone 8 camera was really good, so keeping that same sensor, especially to reduce cost, makes sense.

But there’s something the iPhone SE has than its predecessor didn’t have:

  • Portrait mode with advanced bokeh and Depth Control
  • Portrait Lighting with six effects (Natural, Studio, Contour, Stage, Stage Mono, High‑Key Mono)

The iPhone SE adds Portrait mode, something that initially came to the iPhone 7 Plus because of its dual cameras. Bringing this to a 4.7-inch iPhone like the iPhone SE is a first.

Now, this isn’t the first time a single camera iPhone has received Portrait Mode. The iPhone XR, released in 2018, had a single backside camera and supported Portrait Mode. If we compare the stats of the XR’s backside camera against the iPhone 8 and iPhone SE, we’ll see that it’s identical. However, there is a notable difference with the iPhone XR:

  • Portrait Lighting with three effects (Natural, Studio, Contour)

The iPhone XR only supports three effects in Portrait Mode on the single backside camera. What gives?

Apple explains in their press release:

iPhone SE features the best single-camera system ever in an iPhone with a 12-megapixel f/1.8 aperture Wide camera, and uses the image signal processor and Neural Engine of A13 Bionic to unlock even more benefits of computational photography, including Portrait mode, all six Portrait Lighting effects and Depth Control.

The neural engine in the A13 is able to do much better with the single camera sensor input to process all of the available effects for Portrait Mode. So much so that it enables all six effects on the single camera!

But it doesn’t stop there!

A First on an iPhone

Let’s compare the front camera on the iPhone 8, iPhone XR, and iPhone SE.

The iPhone 8 and iPhone SE both have identical specs:

  • FaceTime HD camera
  • 7MP photos
  • ƒ/2.2 aperture
  • Retina Flash
  • Auto HDR for photos
  • 1080p HD video recording at 30 fps

Since it doesn’t include the TrueDepth camera system, which uses a camera and additional sensors to detect facial features and depth, the iPhone SE has Touch ID instead of Face ID for unlocking the device. It also makes sense that it doesn’t have Portrait Mode on the front camera.

Except it does.

  • Portrait mode with advanced bokeh and Depth Control
  • Portrait Lighting with six effects (Natural, Studio, Contour, Stage, Stage Mono, High‑Key Mono)

Again, from Apple’s press release, just after the earlier quote:

Using machine learning and monocular depth estimation, iPhone SE also takes stunning Portraits with the front camera.

The iPhone SE is the first iPhone without the TrueDepth camera system with front facing Portrait Mode. It’s using a single camera, like the backside, to enable the same level of Portrait Mode, using the same cameras as found in the iPhone 8.

It’s amazing what the A13 Bionic chip is able to enable. It and the third generation Neural Engine definition power the most powerful smartphones in the world. In the words of Apple SVP Phil Schiller: “It’s a big deal.” And to be able to include their fastest chip in their cheapest iPhone? An easy win for Apple.

iPhone SE 2 Expectations

For months, rumors have circulated that Apple is doing another iPhone SE. But what is Apple’s goal with it? What can we reasonably expect, and why?

Is It Size?

Some think the SE 2 (or whatever it will be called; more on that later) is Apple’s chance to release another smaller phone into the line up. While it does give them the opportunity, that doesn’t seem like the role the SE 2 is to play. The reason for that is because that wasn’t the primary goal of the first SE.

Let’s look back at the original iPhone SE. It launched in the spring of 2016, roughly six months after the release of the iPhone 6S. When the iPhone 6S launched, the iPhone 5S, a then 2 year old phone, was the most affordable option, coming in around $449. The SE ended up replacing it, coming in at $399.

The SE retained the beloved 4-inch screen size that many loved. And while size made it an attractive purchase, there was another benefit. They were able to pack in the same features and specs of the iPhone 6S into the smaller design. But wait: didn’t it cost less than the iPhone 5s? How could they do that?

Reusability

Being based on the older design, it makes sense that, after having manufactured the 5-series for a couple of years, the cost of building the SE, as well as R&D, had been recouped more than a new flagship. The tooling required to build most of the SE were thus already working as a well oiled machine. Savings were easily found there, which could result in a lower price.

The rumored iPhone SE 2 will be no different. It’s likely to look like an existing design (iPhone 8, I’d say), but with improved internals. Yes, that means a newer set of internal components had to be designed to fit into that enclosure. But the cost of producing that enclosure no doubt will allow for a low price.

The one “downside” to people owning such a phone: It won’t look as flash as the iPhone 11 Pro (or whatever phones are debuted later this year). But for the audience Apple is likely targeting with this phone, I don’t think they care so much about flashy. It’s about getting the most bang for your buck.

I know I would love to see another $399 iPhone with the latest specs, and I know many others would, too. Let’s see what happens after one is announced.

Apple Arcade and multiple users

This past Spring, Apple announced a series of upcoming services. One of those is Apple Arcade, a service where users can pay every month to access a collection of exclusive games playable across Apple’s ecosystem.

There is quite a bit of excitement for this, and the games they’ve announced seem like a lot of fun. But there’s something that’s been bugging me.

Fun for the whole family

As an Apple family, it would be nice to have games that play on our Macs, iPhones, and iPads, as well as our Apple TV. But there’s an interesting question: how will that work with family members?

And yes, Apple did say this is for the whole family.

Sure, everyone can access and play these games on their device. But what about those on Apple TV? Right now, Apple TV has to be logged into an Apple ID, and its only one ID. At home, this is my ID. So it has access to my App Store history, and any games supporting iCloud sync up with my personal Apple account.

This would be all I need if I was the only one using the Apple TV. But I’m not. My son plays games on there. But if he wanted to continue playing a game on his iPad after playing on the Apple TV, we hit a snag: How does he do that?

Apple says you can jump from device to device with Apple Arcade. Is this for just ONE of the family members, though? I don’t think that seems fair OR fun.

Rather, I think this implies some other feature that must be coming: multi-user support.

Now, I don’t think iOS requires multi-user support. You typically find people having their own iOS devices in the family. But I DO think Apple TV needs to support the concept of user accounts. When it comes to Apple TV, it’s typically running on the biggest screen in the house, but it’s also likely a single device used by multiple people in a family. It’s time that it fully embraces that.

My son should be able to go from a game on his iPad to the Apple TV in the same way that I can go from my iPhone to the Apple TV. “Jump from [device] to [device]” shouldn’t be limited to specific family members.

If Apple is serious about Apple Arcade, I’d like to take it as a sign that Apple is serious about gaming in the living room. While they aren’t creating a console, the Apple TV can perform very much like one. And like modern consoles, it needs to understand the individual user using the device at the time.

That’s why I wouldn’t be surprised to see multi-user support in tvOS 13. It makes sense that it has to do that to fully embrace what Apple Arcade promises. And if Apple is serious about their Services, this is a vital component.

On iPads Replacing Laptops

The newest iPad Pro seems like a killer machine, and many reviews of it are quite positive. But a lot of reviews that I saw all came back with similar thoughts:

  • Ars Technica – “The iPad Pro raises the bar for performance, but has too many other limitations.”
  • CNET – “It’s got a big, laptop-like screen. It’s more portable than the last version. But it doesn’t solve the final few things I need to make it a true laptop.”
  • TechRadar – “(…)that would help elevate the new iPad Pro towards the level of a real laptop a little more.”

Everyone is expecting iPad to replace laptops at some point in the future. But what exactly are they wanting?

It seems the expectation is that, if iPad is the future of computing, that we’ll eventually not need laptops (and maybe desktops) because iPads will replace the PC category for what we do. Thus, iPads need to eventually do everything current PCs can do and more.

However, Apple itself gave a hint about that. And I don’t think any of that is a good expectation to have.

Here’s what Phil Schiller said in an interview with Charlie Rose for 60 Minutes:

Charlie Rose: Is there danger of one product cannibalizing the other product?

Phil Schiller: It’s not a danger, it’s almost by design. You need each of these products to try to fight for their space, their time with you. The iPhone has to become so great that you don’t know why you want an iPad. The iPad has to be so great that you don’t know why you why you want a notebook. The notebook has to be so great, you don’t know why you want a desktop. Each one’s job is to compete with the other ones.

When I read that, I see each segment in its own tier, competing with the one above it. But it doesn’t imply that one category would eventually eliminate the others. It just forces each tier to keep improving.

Let’s look at the notebook tier. You can split that into two segments: consumer and pro. How am I doing that? I’m basically looking at MacBook and MacBook Air, and comparing that against the MacBook Pro line. They all do similar things, but the Pro line has more power, more ports, and is typically used for a lot more work. But they’re all in the notebook tier.

In the iPad tier, we can simplify it between iPad and iPad Pro. iPad Pro gives you more capabilities and more features to do more work on it. The USB-C port in the new iPad Pro can enable a lot of new functionality now, and it has the potential to open up even more with iOS 13 and beyond.

Yet, it’s still an iPad. It’s on the higher end of the iPad tier, but it’s in no way meant to completely replace the MacBook Pro. Again, looking at Phil Schiller’s comments, it’s competing against the notebook. It’s not replacing the notebook.

This seems confirmed in The Verge’s review of the new iPad Pro:

(…) when pushed on the iPad’s limitations, the company insists that the iPad is still an ongoing attempt to build the future of computing, not a laptop replacement.

Sure, you can review the new iPad Pro against a laptop and see what it can and can’t do. But looking to see if it’s a complete notebook replacement is futile. Sure, it may replace a notebook for some people. If someone just used a laptop for email, news, and staying in touch with family, then an iPad can definitely do all that that person wanted a laptop for. But, implied by Phil Schiller’s own words, there will always be things that a notebook or desktop do better that can’t be done by an iPad. Always.

As the iPad Pro gains more features, I’ll continue to be interested in reviews showing how people can do work on it compared to laptops. I know there are some that live the iPad life already. But I’d also be interested in seeing things from the other angle: How improvements in devices like iPad Pro drive changes and improvements to the Mac line.

The notebook is essentially defending itself from constant attack from the iPad tier. It has been from day one. As each tier improves, so do the tiers they are competing with. iPhone and iPad eventually lead to the inclusion of multi-touch on the Mac line, which I think was a very important addition. Those kinds of influences will only continue.

But whether or not an iPad replaces the notebook tier for you has no relevance to whether or not iPads will replace laptops in general. They won’t. Apple has said it as part of their own intentions. And eight years of iPad history can prove it, too. Notebooks will remain. Desktops will remain. Their differences in UI/UX will remain.

Just like any advancement in iPhone doesn’t threaten the existence of iPad, or any Apple Watch can’t kill the iPhone market, iPad won’t kill the laptop. They’ll just keep getting better and better.

It’s all about survival.

Clips, iOS 10.3, and the future of 32-bit apps

In March, alongside a few hardware announcements, Apple also unveiled a new media sharing app called Clips. Clips was released today. Reviews seem mixed. But I’m not here to talk to you about Clips.

iOS 10.3 was released to a vast majority of iOS devices on March 27. It was a huge behind-the-scenes update that migrated iOS devices to Apple’s new file system.  But I’m not here to talk to you about iOS 10.3.

What I am here to talk to you about is 32-bit app support. It’s definitely coming to an end. And this might affect some apps you like using. For me, some of my favorite games fall into this category. Want to see which of your apps won’t work on future iOS versions? Head to Settings > General > About > Applications to see the list.

You might’ve gotten a glimpse of this even without going to the Settings app. One other change in iOS 10.3 noted by people before and after release: Apps not compiled for 64-bit present an alert to the user upon launch. This alert says that the app in question will not work with future versions of iOS.

Now, why did I mention Clips earlier? Because Clips has some notable requirements. Sure, it requires iOS 10.3. That’s the latest OS release, and its no surprise that Apple will target the latest release with its latest apps. But the hardware requirements don’t include all devices running iOS 10.3. Specifically, Clips only works on 64-bit devices. Don’t believe me? Check the bottom of the Clips site and try to find a 32-bit device in the list of supported devices. You won’t find any.

Another big tip: iOS 10.3.2 is available for developers to test. It is only available for 64-bit devices.

The writing is clearly on the wall: 32-bit apps will soon be unsupported in iOS. But while some think iOS 11 will be the big cutoff, it may be sooner than most people realize. If you see your favorite apps in that list in your Settings app, consider contacting the developers of those applications. Urge them to update their apps.

I know I don’t want to lose my favorite games.