Apple won't converge iPads and Macs... until it has to

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Apple won't converge iPads and Macs... until it has to
Apple has a long history of claiming it won't do something, until it does. Of course, at the same time, Apple has a history of assuming it knows what users want, even as users consistently disagree with Apple's vision. These two things have often come to a head with Apple waiting until the very last minute to introduce a feature or product that users really do want. Sometimes, Apple waits until well past the last minute, and that appears to be the plan when it comes to dealing with the overlap between iOS and MacOS.

Apple execs have said before that the company has no plans to converge iOS and MacOS with the standard excuse being that doing so would not only make MacOS "less good" at being a Mac while also causing problems with altering what people expect from iOS and iPads. Tim Cook has continued on with that message while traveling in Europe, telling (an Irish publication):

On its surface, the comment seems to be a pretty standard "we're not doing it... until we do" comment from Apple. Sure, right now, it appears that combining the two products would diminish both to a certain extent. But, Microsoft has been getting closer and closer to successfully converging Windows devices with the Surface Pro and Surface Book, and Apple already has the pieces in place to be able to succeed where Microsoft has not in that regard. 

Critics generally enjoy the hardware that Microsoft has created with the Surface Pro and Surface Book, and have applauded the way Windows 10 fixes the problems of Windows 8. The problem for Microsoft is still in a weak tablet app ecosystem. Windows always has a solid app ecosystem for desktop software, but its mobile offerings are still lacking. The hope is that by giving away Windows 10, Microsoft can kickstart developers into making more universal apps, but that is slow going. 

On the other hand, Apple has both a wealth of desktop apps and the best tablet app ecosystem around. The number of apps optimized for the iPad Pro's 12.9-inch display is reportedly still pretty low, but Apple has proven time and again that it can get developers on board when it has a device to push. MacOS and iOS have been getting more similar, so bringing the two together might not be a big issue. And frankly, rather than diminishing either side by converging the platforms, it is very likely that Apple would be able to significantly improve the iPad Pro in the process. 

The iPad Pro has been getting generally good, albeit ambivalent, reviews. People generally like the hardware, the new split-screen apps, and the Pencil. But, the general consensus also says that it is unclear who would actually benefit from the iPad Pro over a Macbook. Even those whose jobs revolve around graphics say that they like the Pencil, but the iOS and the iPad apps are simply not as powerful as their desktop counterparts, even with Adobe apps where Apple specifically worked with the company to bring professional-grade apps to the iPad Pro. 

So, right off the bat, the idea Cook floats that "customers are not really looking for a converged Mac and iPad" doesn't ring true, nor does the idea that converging the platforms would hurt iOS, because bringing a proper windowing system and touch-enabled desktop-grade apps rather than tablet-grade pseudo-professional apps would certainly be something that users want, at least in the market that Apple is trying to target with the iPad Pro. 

Why Apple won't converge

The real reasons why Apple won't converge the platforms are partially technical and partially financial. Starting with the technical side of things, iOS and its apps have been extensively optimized to run on Apple's own chipsets, which are ARM-based, while MacOS and its software has been optimized for Intel chips. One of those platforms would have to undergo a pretty substantial shift in order to properly converge. This would be no small task, and it would not only be expensive for Apple to pull off, but would cause a lot of trouble with developer partners, unless Apple could come up with a universal app development platform similar to what Microsoft has created for Windows. 

Universal app development has been in the works for all of Apple's competitors in one way or another. Microsoft has had the Windows universal apps development kit in the hands of developers since April 2014. Canonical has had Ubuntu developers working on apps that can transition from phone to desktop, despite Ubuntu phone not taking off and its desktop convergence feature continuously delayed. Even Google has options to either bring Chrome Apps to mobile, or have Android apps run on Chromebooks or within Chrome on other platforms. 

Apple doesn't have any of those options. Instead, Apple has been working on ways for mobile and desktop to simply trade the relevant info, so people can keep working. While there were early rumors of something called iAnywhere, which would have allowed for mobile iOS devices to be connected to a dock in order to run full Mac apps, similar to functionality in the works for Windows and Ubuntu, Apple released just Handoff

Handoff allows for users to start something on an iPhone or iPad and switch to a Mac. Apple has opened up Handoff to third-party developers, potentially allowing Apple to offer features similar to convergence without putting in the work to create a universal app ecosystem, that is assuming developers put Handoff to use. It might even make it easier on developers who wouldn't need to necessarily rebuild apps, but rather add hooks to send across relevant information or files. That might be enough to hold Apple over until it has no choice but to converge. 

Apple's game doesn't recognize hybrids... yet

Apple has a reputation of being a company unafraid to cannibalize itself, but that doesn't mean the company will jump the gun on a move that would kill one of its own products. Apple put out the iPhone, knowing that it would eventually kill the iPod (which it has), because it was obvious that smartphones would be a much bigger market than portable media players. Unfortunately, that same distinction isn't clear right now between tablets and laptops. 

The tablet market has been on the decline recently, and laptops have been rebounding. Macbooks have been driving laptop sales for years. Converging tablets and laptops will fundamentally change the market, and PC makers have jumped on that trend. But, Apple is doing very well in laptop sales, and it doesn't want to jeopardize those sales by trying to boost iPad sales. Handoff means you need to have both a Mac and an iOS device, but true convergence would mean you only need one, and that would mean fewer sales for Apple. Right now, iPads are still selling enough to justify their existence while Macbooks are doing very well. 

The same can't be said for Windows or Android. No one is buying Windows tablets and although Android tablet sales are healthier, the margins on Android tablets are very low, leaving manufacturers to try making money in other ways. For Microsoft, the hope is that if enough people buy hybrid devices or Surface devices, maybe developers will work harder on tablet apps, and the entire Windows ecosystem can see the benefits. Microsoft needs convergence because it needs Windows 10 and hybrid devices to convince developers to make apps which could lead to improved sales of Windows phones and tablets. 

Android doesn't really need the same thing, per se. Android has a better tablet app ecosystem than Windows, though not as good as iOS, but Google needs something to extend to traditional laptops. Chromebooks are great, but they have their limitations right now. Android has more potential, so Android will keep being put on more devices in order to fill in those limitations. 

Apple may be forced to converge eventually, if iPad sales really do tank. But, for now at least, it can pretty safely keep its devices separate and wait to see where the market goes. Apple has a history of legitimizing or popularizing features and products that have existed from competitors for a long time (see: smartphones, tablets, NFC payments, etc.), but there is no benefit to Apple legitimizing the hybrid market right now. Hybrids may well be the future, but until that future is more solid, don't expect Apple to give credence to the movement. 


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