The last thing the iPad needs is a spec bump

By David Pierce, editor-at-large and Vergecast co-host with over a decade of experience covering consumer tech. Previously, at Protocol, The Wall Street Journal, and Wired.
When Apple CEO Tim Cook and a bunch of his deputies take the virtual stage next week to announce new iPads, they’re going to spend a lot of time talking about specs. If the rumors are true, we’re going to get new iPad Pros with OLED screens and thinner bodies, new Airs with faster chips and a correctly placed front camera, and a couple of new accessories. Before they even launch, I feel confident telling you these are the best iPads ever. But after all these years, I still don’t know how to tell you whether you should want an iPad. Or what you’d want to do with it. 
This has been true forever, of course. The iPad is the jack-of-all-trades in Apple’s lineup, a terrific device in many ways that still feels increasingly redundant now that so many people have big phones and long-lasting laptops. Apple seems to have spent the last decade-plus enamored with the idea of the iPad as a shapeshifter — a device that can be exactly what you need at any given time. The company loves that the iPad’s use case is hard to pin down, that it means different things to different people. It’s a fun, good, ambitious idea: The One Gadget To Rule Them All. The way to make that happen, though, is not to upgrade the chips or move the buttons or redesign the rounded corners. It’s to focus less on the iPad itself and more on the things you attach to it.
There’s a chance that accessories might be the star of the show next week. Just look at the surprisingly unsubtle invite to the “Let Loose” event: usually there are tea leaves to read and we’re left trying to decipher vague shapes, but this time, there’s just an Apple Pencil front and center. Reports have indicated that we’re likely to see a new Pencil at the event, with interchangeable magnetic tips for different uses and a new “squeeze” gesture for quickly adding objects to your artwork.
Focusing on the Pencil makes a certain kind of niche sense: the iPad is nothing if not a big touchscreen, and it’s the only Apple device that you can draw and write on in this way. Apple’s AI researchers have been working on tools to help artists and animators with their work and on a system for making art in tandem with an AI model — you prompt, it creates; you edit, it refines. For anyone who does this kind of visual art, a super-powered Pencil could be incredibly compelling.
Apple is also rumored to be launching a new Magic Keyboard that makes the iPad even more laptop-like. The new model will apparently be made of aluminum and will have a bigger trackpad. (It hopefully will also stop randomly just falling apart.) A better keyboard won’t immediately make the iPad a great laptop, but I’m not sure a great laptop is what Apple is trying to build. It already has a bunch of those! I’m not really on the “put macOS on the iPad, you cowards” train, either. The MacBook is great. I think the iPad’s modular potential is actually much bigger. 
If Apple wants to get there, it needs more accessories — so, so many more accessories. The iPad is a screen and a processor, and everything else should be an add-on for whenever you need it. Give the gamers a controller and an external GPU. Give the music lovers a speaker dock, and give the smart home fanatics a bunch of buttons that connect to various devices. The photographers need lenses; the spreadsheeters need a keyboard with function keys. The Pencil and the Magic Keyboard are a start, but Apple needs to do much more. The company needs to spend less time worrying about the iPad itself — a device famous for how long it lasts and that hardly anyone is using to its full potential — and more time on how to make it more than just a tablet. (Plus, bonus for Apple: it’s going to be a lot easier to get people to buy accessories than to convince them to upgrade their iPad when they don’t need to.)
The ultra-modular vision for the iPad is enticing, and I hope Apple continues to lean into it, but it’s near impossible to pull off. Just ask Essential how it went trying to build a device and an accessory ecosystem. Or ask Google. Or Asus. Or Fairphone or Samsung or Motorola or Blocks or Phonebloks or any of the other companies that never pulled it off. It requires building software that can be all things to all people all the time and hardware that is beautiful, thin, light, long-lasting, and totally remixable. I’m not even sure it’s possible to do all of that, but I know the iPad and iPadOS ain’t it.
The problem with the iPad’s all-in-one approach so far is that you can’t just build a device that’s sort of okay at everything and hope that’s enough. The sort-of-okay device already exists — it’s your smartphone! The iPad has to be more than that: more flexible, more powerful, more long-lasting, more useful. That’s hard to build into a device, but Apple’s actually done a pretty good job. The harder part is building the ecosystem — and building the software that can support it. You need something that is at once for power users and newbies, for tinkerers and simpletons, for people who love keyboard shortcuts and the people who would prefer to never type again. 
You can’t just build a device that’s sort of okay at everything and hope that’s enough
Ultimately, the biggest problem for Apple might just be math. The current iPad Pro starts at $799, which is already more expensive than some MacBook Air models. Want cellular connectivity so you can use the iPad anywhere? That’s another $200, but a good modular gadget needs it. The current-gen Pencil is another $129; the Magic Keyboard, another $299. (I don’t yet know what the new models will cost, but Apple’s not really in the habit of making things cheaper.) That’s $1,328 for the full iPad experience, and we’ve only scratched the surface of what this device could do with the right accessories and app support. And so far, when Apple does introduce new accessories, it has mostly just made things more confusing.
Where does all of this leave Apple? Stuck. The iPad is great, it’s a smashing success, it’s a terrific device, I love the iPad, but the iPad seems to be stuck in an endless upgrade loop without ever actually getting better. I suspect we’re going to see a lot of iPadOS-related news at WWDC next month — that’s where Apple tends to do its software talking, and all signs point to a huge focus on AI. The iPad could be a natural place to bring a lot of AI features, particularly in image and video editing. As for next week’s announcement, though, we’re likely to hear an awful lot about OLED screens and chip upgrades. But pay attention to all the devices in the iPad’s universe that aren’t the iPad itself. If Apple wants to make its tablet into the world-beating device it could be, it’s going to need to accessorize.
/ Sign up for Verge Deals to get deals on products we’ve tested sent to your inbox weekly.
The Verge is a vox media network
© 2024 Vox Media, LLC. All Rights Reserved


Leave a Comment

Vélemény, hozzászólás?

Az e-mail címet nem tesszük közzé. A kötelező mezőket * karakterrel jelöltük