Why The iPad and MacBook Will Never Become One

Why The iPad and MacBook Will Never Become One

The idea that the MacBook and the iPad may eventually converge into a single product is certainly nothing new. People make a variety of arguments for why such a convergence is inevitable in some way, claiming that iOS and OS X are becoming more similar, or that the hardware is bound to choose one path or another. I could not disagree more.

The iOS-ification of the Mac? Or the Mac-ification of iOS?

When Apple announced OS X Mountain Lion in mid February, there was no shortage of folks claiming that Mountain Lion was becoming more like iOS (or even that Apple’s ecosystem as a whole is undergoing the process of iOS-ification), in part due to the addition of iOS-inspired features like Notification Center, Messages, and AirPlay Mirroring in Mountain Lion.

The addition of iOS-inspired apps and interface tweaks to OS X Mountain Lion really doesn’t provide much basis for an argument, however. As The Loop‘s Jim Dalrymple rightly points out, the same logic can be used to claim that Apple is making iOS more like the Mac:

  • Calendars: On the Mac first as iCal, clearly Apple added Calendars to iOS to make it look and feel like the Mac.
  • iTunes: There’s this little Mac app that is on iOS called iTunes where you can buy music.
  • Mail: You may be surprised to learn that you can send and receive email on iOS. Guess what? OS X first.
  • Safari: Did you know you can surf the Web on iOS? Yep, Mac first.
  • iPhoto: Photos are huge on iOS devices, but they were huge first on OS X.

As Dalrymple states, Apple did not add previously Mac-only apps to iOS to converge the two platforms, and they certainly aren’t trying to Mac-ify iOS. They’re simply adding apps and features that makes sense, and that will improve the overall experience for their users.

Different in Purpose, Different in Price

Even if you ignore the above logic problem, the fact remains that iOS and OS X are very different from one another, and iPhones and iPads simply serve a different purpose than Macs. More than that, they also serve a very different market (New current generation iPads start at $499 – half the price of a MacBook Air!).

While the iPhone and iPad are mainly designed as content consumption devices (although they can be useful for things like photo and video editing, sketching, and so forth), excelling in simple web browsing, watching movies and playing music, or quickly looking up information, Macs are designed for more complex tasks, and for multitasking.

If I were to choose a device for doing research, for instance, I’d have to side with the Mac. The iPad’s browser can handle a maximum of 9 concurrent tabs. If I’m researching any given topic, I frequently bounce between more tabs than that.

Add to this the fact that Macs are capable of a much higher level of multitasking, provide more screen real estate, offer a more comfortable typing experience, are capable of handling virtual machines or running installations of Windows, authoring DVDs, processing high definition video, handling multiple displays, and so forth, and the functional distinction between Mac and iOS becomes more clear.

That’s not even counting the fact that developing for the iPhone and iPad requires a Mac (except in the case of very simple apps and games).

It may  be the case that Macs are the “trucks” of the computing world, while the iPhone and iPad resemble something like the Toyota Prius – but a lot of people need trucks. And a lot of people like trucks. Besides, trucks are essentially required for carrying heavy loads.

Reading Between the Lines

Beyond addressing the differences between OS X and iOS, I also take issue with the very nature of the assumption that Apple is “iOS-ifying” the Mac, and especially that they would consider discontinuing the Mac.

It may be the case that Apple is adding elements of iOS to the Mac (and vice versa), but I think many people are mistaken about Apple’s motivation here. Giving OS X and iOS a similar look and feel is about unifying the user experience. It’s about doing what makes sense for users.

The Toyota Prius has leather seats, a speedometer and power windows, just like all new trucks. A Prius also shares a similar interface – a steering wheel, a turn signal, gas and brake pedals, a gear shift, and so forth. Yet a Prius and a truck, while they serve some of the same purposes, are very different from one another.

Add to that the claim that Tim Cook made during Apple’s recent conference call (available on iTunes):

Anything can be forced to converge. But the problem is that the products are about tradeoffs. You begin to make tradeoffs to the point where what you have left at the end of the day doesn’t please anyone. You can converge a toaster and a refrigerator, but you know, those things are probably not going to be pleasing to the user.

Even Tim Cook admitted that the two devices serve different purposes, and that Apple has no plans whatsoever to converge the two devices and produce a “toaster fridge” (although he also admitted that the iPad is somewhat cannibalizing Mac sales).

In short, it simply doesn’t make sense to suggest that Apple will eventually converge the Mac and the iPad, or even to suggest that they are “iOS-ifying” the Mac. Apple making Mac and iOS share a look & feel is about unifying the user experience and offering the best solutions for their entire user base – not about discontinuing the Mac.

In the end, Apple is doing what’s right for all of their customers by unifying the user experience.

That’s a very different matter than “converging” their product lines or platforms.