Last week was WWDC week, bringing together thousands of loyal third-party developers who create software and hardware for the stable of iconic Apple products—iPhone, iPad, Watch, Apple TV, and Macintosh.
And why wouldn’t they be loyal? Apple’s Tim Cook, kicking off the conference, announced that over $70 billion has been returned to developers as reward for their efforts.
The well-choreographed two-hour keynote, as it usually does, also revealed a lot of what Apple has been working on the last year: new devices, new operating system versions, an update to the App Store, forays into virtual and augmented reality, and many new APIs to enable developers to join in on the fun.
There was a lot to process, and this article from ZDNet, provides an excellent look at the announcements that Apple made, and how they bode for the future.
My intent is not to repeat all that here, but rather to focus in on one of the categories that caught my attention: the iPad platform and the new capabilities that iOS 11 will bring to it.
Longtime readers know that I’ve been an iPad fan for some time, having written about it on several occasions in the past (see here and here for examples). Indeed, I’m writing this post on my trusty iPad Air 2.
While an iPad is a very capable device, and for many people is all the computer they need, the rap has always been that it is less capable for true creative work than a full-fledged laptop or desktop computer.
Although Apple has over time made inroads toward addressing them, those perceived weaknesses still exist for some.
With the upcoming release of iOS 11, however, Apple seemingly has addressed many of those weaknesses.
New iPad Pro
Before I go into the iOS 11 improvements, I would be remiss in not at least mentioning Apple’s new 10.5-inch iPad Pro, which was announced during the keynote.
Weighing in at 1-pound, the new iPad Pro incorporates a larger and better display, more memory, and a faster processor (the A10X) into a form factor that is a tiny bit bigger than the 9.7-inch iPad Air 2 I’m currently using.
Apple also updated its larger iPad Pro with the 12-inch display with all the same technology.
While Apple will continue to sell the lower-end iPad, it’s clear that the Pro models are the stars of the iPad line. Their more powerful A10X processor and other added features bring the hardware in line with that of all but the most expensive consumer laptops.
To make more users consider an iPad Pro as a laptop replacement, they will have to be convinced that they are not giving up functionality.
For the iPad, iOS 10 offered some multi-tasking features that improved the device’s production capabilities for some. For example, Split View and Slide Over enabled you to display two live apps on the screen at once, and quickly switch back and forth between them. You could do some rudimentary data sharing between apps by cutting and pasting. But the features were not fully baked.
Enter iOS 11
At WWDC, Apple Senior VP of Software Engineering, Craig Federighi, spent a lot of time demoing iOS 11, both for iPhone, and later for iPad.
For the iPad, iOS 11 brings a bunch of productivity improvements, as follows:
Dock—a new Mac-like Dock is accessible from any application by swiping upward from the bottom of the screen. A simple tap brings up the desired app.
App Switcher—Swipe all the way up to the middle of the screen, and the App Switcher appears. The App Switcher is like Mission Control on the Mac, but adds the capability to house multiple Split View instances (Spaces). So, for example, if you sometimes work with Safari and Mail in split view, you can access that Space instantly. Same for any other Split View combination.
Improved Split View—Introduced in iOS 10, Split View is improved for iOS 11. Instead of dragging from the right side of the screen to view a selector for your second app, you drag from the bottom to show the Dock, select the second app in the Dock, and drag the app into position. The second app is initially overlaid, but you can drag it to the edge to engage Split View, initially in 75/25 mode. You can drag the edge of either app to resize the arrangement to 50/50 or 25/75.
Drag-and-Drop—This feature brought a huge round of applause from the WWDC crowd, and rightly so. Being able to drag and drop photos, URLs, and other objects from one application to another is an important productivity feature. And it’s fairly easy to use. You simply tap and hold on the item (a photo, for example) and drag it into the second application. In addition, you can select multiple items to drag and drop by tapping and holding on the first item, then with the other hand tapping multiple additional items. Still holding the first item, you drag and drop the multiple selection into the second application.
Files—Last, but certainly not least, iOS 11 adds a full file viewer similar to MacOS, and supports multiple cloud repositories including iCloud (of course), Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, and OneDrive. Files enables you to browse, search, and organize files on your iPad and in the cloud. You can create folders and sub-folders, and look to a Recents category to find the files you most recently worked on or created. Up until iOS 11, Apple has avoided a file/folder-based way of looking at files on the iPad, mainly to limit complexity. It has maintained app-centric management of files, but that has been a complaint of many people who have seen lack of file management as a deal-buster.
From my point of view, these new capabilities add a level of sophistication that experienced computer users will appreciate, but is it enough?
To upgrade or not
There’s no question that Apple continues to make the very best tablets on the market, and continually improves them with new software upgrades. It’s a one-two combination that is remarkably effective.
But the question that remains is whether the new iPads combined with the great-looking iOS 11 upgrades will be enough to turn around the declines in iPad sales over the last few years.
For stockholders who only look at profits and growth, that might matter. But, for the rest of us, I don’t think it does.
The iPad has reached critical mass and still represents a healthy business for Apple. People who are power users, or who still require a few key capabilities that the iPad does not yet offer, won’t switch.
However, the vast majority of users who need to upgrade to a modern computer for email, web browsing, instant messaging, word processing, photo editing and management, audio and video consumption and creation, and more could do a lot worse than Apple’s new pro tablet offerings.