The future of iPadOS vs MacOS

2024-05-30 06:00:00 +07:00 by Mark Smith

There's some interesting discussion, on the latest Talk Show podcast episode, between John Gruber and M.G. Siegler all about the future of iPadOS vs MacOS. It's a re-occuring theme on his show, and broadly speaking has been following the evolution of these different but related operating systems, and all the many subtle nuances that come with that. Subtle nuance is something Gruber is expert at.

Initially when iPadOS was released, OSX users were really worried it would end up replacing MacOS. The main worry being that iPadOS isn't really for power users. It's for people that just want to use a few apps and browse the web. It's not for developer types that want to get right into all levels of the operating system, something possible with MacOS, but not with iPadOS. Over the years though it's become clear that Apple isn't planning on deprecating MacOS, so that worry has dicipated.

But the usability issues remain. The main issue is that bringing the iPad experience to MacOS isn't a simple challenge. Or the the other way around. The two OS's have very different interaction models (touch vs mouse), and resolutions.

Let's say there was an iPad app that let you run MacOS. That would work fine while you had the iPad docked in the magic keyboard, but let's say you snapped it out to go downstairs while you were browsing a web page in Safari. Well the device needs to seemlessly switch to a touch interface. That doesn't seem very easily doable.

What's more, using touch based hardware to control MacOS just doesn't work very well. For starters all the window open and close buttons are too close together to be able to use your finger to tap them. And there isn't much room on the iPad screen, to make them bigger. But running iPadOS on MacOS seems like it would be more doable, assuming of course that future laptops are equiped with touch enabled screens. At least there's enough space.

Gruber's point is that it's clunky and sub-optimal, and that's not how Apple does things. They would likely rather not offer the sub-optimal experience at all.

Anyway all this talk reminded me, of all things, about Vim's interface. Specifically that you have to switch between modes in order to get things done. The two main ones being normal, and insert. It seems odd at first, but you get used to it, and actually it makes it possible to have much more powerful features in each mode than if they were combined. In Vim you are constantly switching, but it becomes second nature after a while.

I wonder whether you couldn't do something similar on Apple devices. A way to quickly switch between touch and trackpad modes. That way it seems like it would be possible to create appealing transitions for the windows between modes. Crucially on iPadOS you would only get MacOS trackpad mode when the iPad is docked in the magic keyboard. Defaults configurable of course.

Would Vim style quick mode switching solve the MacOS - iPadOS integration connundrum?

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