The MacBook Air is one of the — if not the — best laptops ever made. It’s light, it’s powerful, and it feels as though it were carved out of a block of metal.
And yet, despite its excellence, Apple is seemingly in the process of replacing it.
Instead of updating the MacBook Air, which Apple is doing in the short term, Apple is showing that its long-term plan is just under the surface: slowly phase out the MacBook Air in favor of the iPad Pro.
Look no further than Apple’s most recent press conference — Monday’s keynote at its Worldwide Developers Conference — for evidence.
A section of the two-hour presentation was dedicated to how Apple is turning the iPad Pro into a laptop. Do any of these features sound familiar to you?
- Using multiple apps at once.
- Having a dock along the bottom of the screen to easily choose among apps you’re using.
- Browsing files.
- Selecting multiple items at once and moving them from app to app.
If an alarm is going off in your head and you’re thinking, “This sounds an awful lot like the stuff I do on a computer,” you’re dead on.
The crux of Apple Senior Vice President Craig Federighi’s presentation on Monday was that Apple is using the next version of iOS to turn the iPad Pro into something very similar to a laptop.
First, Federighi introduced “multiselect,” the ability to run multiple pieces of software at once on the same screen. Then he introduced multitasking through the new app-switcher. Then, unbelievably, he introduced the concept of drag and drop.
“The iPad, of course, is the ultimate multihanded, multitouch device. And so we’re so excited to bring drag and drop to iPad. You can drag images; you can drag text; you can drag URLs. You can multiselect and multihand drag. It’s a drag fest.”
You might be thinking, “Hey, that sounds like something I’ve been doing on computers literally my whole life.” And once again, you’d be right.
Each of these concepts is foreign to the iPad line of devices — intentionally. The iPad isn’t a laptop; it’s a tablet. It’s intended to be used as a touch device. Maybe you use yours to read or watch Netflix or look through photos of friends and family. Great! That’s what tablets were intended to do.
In the case of the iPad, though, Apple is turning its tablet into a laptop. Worse, Apple is turning its tablet into a laptop that isn’t as good as the ones it already makes.
Instead of a real keyboard, you can use the keyboard attachment for the iPad Pro that isn’t as good (or cheap) as a real keyboard. Instead of using a mouse for precision control, you put your hand directly on the screen, which can get tiring after a while if you’re doing work. Instead of having USB ports, you use a Lightning port dongle to attach anything external, like, say, a flash drive.
Each of the new features Federighi introduced, coming later this year in iOS 11, is common in the world of laptops and desktops, but not quite as good.
The image above is Federighi introducing a new app called Files. It lets you browse the files on your iPad.
“Files brings together all the files on your iPad. It supports everything you’d expect: nested folders, spring loading, list view, favorites, search, tags,” Federighi said, walking through a list of things that all computers have been able to do since the early 1990s.
This stuff may be “revolutionary” on an iPad, but it’s common on every computer that exists today. Heck, it’s common on every computer in the past 20 years. Apple may think tablets are the future of laptops, and they may indeed be the future of laptops, but the vision shown so far feels like a step backward.
If Apple kills the MacBook Air, this is the next-best affordable option — and it’s a bad one. A lot of people will choose the iPad in that scenario, no doubt, but owning an expensive tablet-laptop hybrid like the iPad Pro just isn’t as good as having an affordable laptop option like the MacBook Air.