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Home / tablets / Can USB-C and Photoshop Make the iPad Pro a PC? | Sascha Segan

Can USB-C and Photoshop Make the iPad Pro a PC? | Sascha Segan

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The iOS laptop is already here: it’s the new iPad Pro. With a real USB-C port and some key pro software, it’s finally a real test of whether a third OS can join macOS and Windows for true professional work.

OpinionsApple has been pushing the idea of productivity on iOS for years, with limited success. When the little girl in the Apple ad asked, “what’s a computer?” she reflected a now-common, Gen-Z way of being creative: producing their work end-to-end on a “mobile” OS. I’ve seen the same workflow with my 12-year-old daughter, who’s taken to creating and editing movies on her Samsung Galaxy Note 4.

But take those kids into the grownup world, and they still need grownup OSes. That’s not, by and large, about computing power. The latest Apple and Qualcomm chipsets are perfectly capable of managing your average corporate workflow, as we’ve seen on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 850-powered Samsung Galaxy Book2. They aren’t workstations, but most people don’t need workstations.

Instead, the issue is about iOS’s philosophical core, which is as a single-window, unitasking operating system. Professional workflows generally require massive multitasking, juggling various windows and documents for cutting and pasting and inputting and outputting lots of data. The new 2018 iPad Pro will have “real” Photoshop in 2019 and enough Microsoft Office functionality to get the job done. It works with desktop peripherals now. But it still isn’t a juggler, and at work, well, we juggle.

USB-C Opens Up the iPad

A pro computer may need a keyboard, printer, monitors, cameras, peripherals, and storage. USB-C allows for all of that, probably via docking stations that turn a mobile iPad Pro (or one with a keyboard) into a quasi-desktop.

The iPad has been slowly accumulating all of those peripherals over time, mostly wirelessly. Being able to hook up to a wired workstation setup, though, is much more convenient and opens up a wider variety of less expensive peripherals. Especially for people whose work is mostly in touch-focused applications—people who draw with the Pencil in Photoshop, for instance, or who mix music—USB-C lets the iPad sit at the center of their desk, not off to the side syncing files with the “real” computer.

USB-C on the iPad Pro

Take a photographer, for instance. USB-C lets a photographer connect their camera to the iPad, edit files in Photoshop, and then offload them to a giant hard drive. A designer could hook up to a big monitor at their desk, and then take the iPad along for presentations.

It isn’t going to be the same workflow as you have with a Mac. Because the iPad doesn’t support a trackpad, you’re likely to have the iPad flat on your desk (or propped up with a keyboard) with a type-and-tap flow, as opposed to mouse or trackpad. Still, though, that’s only really offensive if you’re an old person whose muscle memory is really fixed on mice and trackpads, like I am. There isn’t anything necessarily less efficient about tapping and dragging on a screen than about swinging a mouse around.

No, the iPad’s trouble, as always, has been deep in the core of its OS.

iOS has a MultiFinder Problem

Here’s a throwback for my old Mac fans: iOS has the MultiFinder problem.

The first 15 years’ worth of Mac operating systems had problems with multitasking. Since they weren’t designed for it, a succession of kludges were tacked on over the years to try to get programs to play well together. (This isn’t unique to the Mac—it was true about Windows before Windows 95, as well.) The Mac needed a complete OS overhaul, with Mac OS X, to truly introduce modern multitasking.

Apple’s iOS was, at its core, designed as a single-window operating system with a non-user-accessible file system. That philosophy is pretty deep in iOS, and it works really well in certain contexts—for instance, on a handheld device that needs a really strong security model, like the iPhone. But as you’re pushing toward handling a lot of programs and files at once, things start to get really unwieldy because iOS wasn’t designed to juggle a lot of programs and files at once.

Apple adding limited multi-window support and the Files app in iOS 11 reminds me a lot of how Apple integrated the functionality of MultiFinder into the seminal System 7 release of macOS. That was a great leap forward for Mac capabilities, but it was still a clunky way to handle task juggling.

This is where people will get frustrated. If you only ever work in one app, like Photoshop or Illustrator, I can see this iPad workflow working out. But if you’re copying and pasting between Word, PowerPoint, and web windows, drumming up Excel charts to paste into Google Docs, or receiving and reformatting a range of clips and files from a bunch of different sources, well, that’s still going to be frustrating. It’s just not what iOS was designed for.

The iPad Pro is a truly powerful piece of hardware. With USB-C, it has the flexibility to connect to PC-class peripherals. But until it can easily use three different apps at the same time to input and output data from a range of sources all at once, it just won’t be a Mac.

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