The iPad as a Productivity Device

Last week I wrote about how I’ve switched from a laptop to an iPad with a Bluetooth keyboard while I’m at school.  This got me thinking about the iPad as a productivity device.  When the iPad came out, it seemed like a lot of people thought that this device was going to forever change the way we do work.  However, five years down the line, this doesn’t seem to have quite materialized.  Sure, we’ve got every bit as much potential as we started with, but for some reason it hasn’t come to fruition.  Why?

For starters, let’s start with what the iPad is: a consumption device.  This is one of the biggest criticisms I hear about the iPad.  People say, “Oh, sure, it’s a great consumption device, but if you want to create content or get work done, you’ve got nothing.”  Let’s just examine the first part of that statement for a second.  The iPad is a great consumption device; what’s wrong with that?  If all you want to do is sit on the couch, surf the web, and watch YouTube, the iPad is a great device.  I’d argue that it’s the greatest media consumption device ever made.  Is that a failure?  What’s wrong with creating a device that does one thing really well?

But I think there is a point to be made about the iPad as a work device.  What’s really interesting is why people condemn the iPad in this way.  The only reason people say the iPad isn’t a good productivity device is because it has so much potential to be one.  Nobody has ever looked at a TV and said, “Man, this TV is great for watching shows, but you can’t use it to create your own TV shows, so it’s a failure!”  The TV never had any potential to be a content creation device, so no one held it to that standard.  However, when one sees an iPad, it’s almost natural to say, “Wow, could I replace my laptop with that?”  The iPad has such huge potential to be a real productivity device, but we’re just not there yet.

So why aren’t we?  Frankly, I don’t know for sure.  I’ve got a few thoughts, though.  First, the iPad isn’t as good for productivity as a computer because it doesn’t have a mouse.  Don’t get me wrong, the iPad is better for lots of other things because it doesn’t have a mouse.  But when you’re using a word processor (or any number of pro apps), there are simply too many functions and buttons to make a touch interface that works well.  A mouse allows you to have more, smaller buttons.  If Apple releases an iPad Pro, with a larger screen and a stylus, this could change dramatically.  For now, though, the mouse remains a problem.  The second issue with using the iPad for productivity is the fact that every app runs full screen, and you can only run one at a time.  Sure, extensibility helps this problem some, but I think that, in order for the iPad to truly mature, it will have to run two apps side by side.  Thing is, this raises all sorts of other problems.  Will developers have to add more screen sizes for their apps to work with (Yes)?  Will the apps be too small?  Can you drag and drop between apps?  There’s a lot of hard questions to answer.  Like the mouse, this is more an inherent problem with the device, rather than simply a missing feature.

So will Apple solve these hurdles?  Will the rumored iPad Pro be a competitor to the Surface Pro 3?  I don’t know.  It seems like there’s two paths here: either the iPad evolves towards the desktop, or desktop software evolves towards the iPad.  The first option sounds like a step back, but the second option seems like the way forward.  It’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out.  ••