I Hope Apple Ignores John Gruber’s Rants on the iPad

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Contrary to what you might think after reading that headline, I am not a hater. Not at all. I have actually been a fan of John Gruber’s writing and podcasting for several years and I typically agree with his point of view regarding Apple and the tech world, in general. However, I can’t say that’s the case when it comes to the iPad.

It started with his rant about the state of the iPad when it turned 10, followed by his episode of The talk Show with Ben Thompson of Stratechery (who’s opinion on the iPad is even more out to lunch, in my opinion). The addition of multitasking to the iPad, or at least how it was added and how it works, has really gotten progressively under Gruber’s skin. If you listen to that episode he rants a lot more than in the article and Thompson gets all kinds of worked up about what a “tragedy” the iPad and iPadOS are. I finished that one just shaking my head.

I wrote about this article and podcast at the time because, as an iPad fan and power user, I am about as diametrically opposed to these opinions as you can get. While I understand the complaints over the complexity of multitasking in iPadOS as it stands today, I can’t get on board with throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Gruber makes it clear on several occasions that he thinks iPadOS is a dead-end mistake and that Apple has to roll it back completely to move forward. Here is one such quote from his 2019 Apple Grades. He gave the iPad a D, by the way.

But to say that I’m not a fan of iPadOS is an understatement. I wish there were a switch to force iPadOS back to the pre “multitasking” days when the iPad interaction model was “just a big iPhone” — where every app was full screen and there was no drag-and-drop. I only ever accidentally drag things like links, and I find iPadOS’s concept of “windows” to be baffling.

If Apple ever rolled back the iPad to being “just a big iPhone,” I would cease using the platform (and writing about it) hold my nose, and buy a Surface. As much as I find Windows lacking for touch-based tasks and in touch-centric apps, it would serve me better than the original iPad at the point. That device doesn’t interest me today and it really doesn’t have a reason to exist in the current tech landscape.

I use my iPad Pro at work and I don’t need a glorified e-Reader with no multitasking there. I waited years for the device to grow into something that could produce content as well as it allowed you to consume it. I could see the potential as far back as the iPad 2, but it was slow going. I even left the iPad behind for a couple of years because it wasn’t moving fast enough in that direction. It was the iPad Pro, the Apple Pencil and the addition of real multitasking that brought me back.

Mr Gruber hasn’t stopped his complaining about the iPad and iPadOS with one article and a podcast episode. In his Polish Stink Eye podcast episode last week, he mentioned his distaste for iPadOS multitasking again when talking about the death of Apple legend Larry Tessler. Gruber also alluded to the fact that he’s been working on some longer pieces detailing his thoughts on the iPad. Oh boy. I can’t wait.

If you take a look at my previous article linked above, I’ve already written about my opinions on how detrimental it would be to the iPad platform and iPadOS if Apple followed any of this advice. Again, I am all for them finding ways to make multitasking features easier to use and more intuitive. However, I am convinced that the belief that Apple should start over on a system that is obviously still evolving, or worse that Apple should just go back to the iPad’s original positioning as a third device, are on the fringe. I absolutely believe that most iPad users and fans want Apple to continue to improve and refine what they have in iPadOS and keep the power, rather than dial the platform back to make a small number Apple superfans happy.

That last part is why I am writing about John Gruber’s ongoing complaints about the iPad. While Apple tends to keep to itself, they do listen to some key influencers and John Gruber has been among them for years. Their words carry weight. You could tell that Apple took the tech press and Apple superfan criticism over the iPad’s lack of power features very seriously last year, as the feature rundown of the new iPadOS read like a wish list from the previous two years.

There are certain writers and podcasters, and if you are an Apple fan, you likely know who a few of them are, who can push an agenda and legitimately get Apple’s attention. A guy who can get Apple execs to come on his show obviously ranks very high on that list. However, in this case, I hope whoever is in ultimately in charge of the fate of the iPad and iPadOS development roadmap takes Gruber’s words on this topic and says thanks, but no thanks.

It’s one thing to offer constructive criticism. It’s quite another to advocate for Apple to tear down and fundamentally re-architect a platform that is still in the process of growing into a more powerful form, just because you don’t like where it is at the moment. As a fan of a more powerful iPad and iPadOS, I see John Gruber’s current mini-crusade against iPadOS as a problem. A threat, even. I can only hope it falls on deaf ears at Apple and they continue down the path they already have a solid start on.

I also very much look forward to Gruber letting this go so I can go back to reading Daring Fireball and listening to The Talk Show again without constantly rolling my eyes. Like I said, I’m far from a hater. I just can’t get on board with anything he’s saying about the iPad right now.

(Note: After I finished writing, I saw that John Gruber’s guest on The Talk Show episode released today is Federico Viticci, who is a huge fan of the iPad and a well-known user and advocate for the platform. I won’t have time to listen tonight, but I am very interested to hear what he has to say about Gruber’s stance on iPad multitasking. Viticci comes off as a big fan of the feature in his own writing and podcasting, despite its complexity.)

James Rogers

I am a Christian husband and father of 3 living in the Southeastern US. I have worked as a programmer and project manager in the Commercial and Industrial Automation industry for over 19 years, so I am hands on with technology almost every day. However, my passion in technology is for mobile devices, specifically Apple's iOS and iPadOS hardware and software. My favorite is still the iPad.

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8 thoughts on “I Hope Apple Ignores John Gruber’s Rants on the iPad”

  1. I completely agree – the iPad now is so much better than it used to be and I honestly don’t get the rants. It can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be – if you don’t like the multitasking features, don’t use them, but for those of us who do – they have been an amazing improvement. That never means there aren’t ways they could become better, but I agree that starting over is NOT the answer.

  2. To me, the iPad is the only interesting thing going on in personal computing. Starting over now would be madness.

  3. Agreed. It needs to keep advancing. It is very nearly at the point where I can use as my primary computer. From a business perspective going backwards would be a disaster – no differentiation from Kindle Fire and selling price of £200.

  4. All of that dribble must be for attention because it can’t be based on logic, personal use or observation. I agree fully with the comments by Matthew and NJobin as stated. I’m competent with MacOS, iPadOS, iOS and Windows and support all of them. I’m not a follower of Mr. Gruber, but does he propose that iPadOS be more like MacOS or Windows (and it’s an honest question)? My preferred device is my iPad Pro 12.9 because of the UI and ease of use. In fact, in my opinion MacOS and Windows seem “clunky” in comparison (so does Linux). I’m not engineering the next Mars mission on the iPad, but for business use the iPad is great. With the addition of a file system, the GREAT multitasking, mouse support and other additions, iPad needs anything but “starting over.”

    1. I think the problem that Gruber and Ben Thompson have with the iPad is that they expected it to become something different than either. A fully and completely new computing platform. Both are also squarely in the “Jobs could do not wrong, no matter what” camp.

      The problem is, their vision is stuck at the definition of the original iPad as a “third device.” Again, something different. They don’t want it to be as powerful. Thompson went as far as to say he wants NO multitasking on the device at all.

      In my opinion, that is backward thinking. What Jobs and the engineers originally created with the iPad was perfect at the time, but the computer and smartphone kept moving forward and closed down that gap that a third device would fit in. The iPad fell into a huge sales slump for over two years for a reason. It had to be re-imagined and given new purpose and it has been. We just haven’t gotten to the end of that road yet. But turning back because there are some bumps on this path would be detrimental to the platform and what I think most users want from it. That’s why I keep writing about what John Gruber is saying.

  5. I very much appreciate that you write what you write. I personally think the iPad is still a completely different computing platform. It still has the minimalist UI that allows one to focus on the task at hand while now having the functionality to accomplish most tasks that used to require traditional operating systems. Everyone’s needs are different, but for my purposes my iPad is my first device by choice. For my purposes, there are still a few esoteric business/finance applications that are not supported on the iPad. iPad hardware and iPadOS could support the application.

    At the risk of being boring and off-subject:

    I came to the Apple world and specifically iOS (iPhone and iPad Pro 12.9) in 2016 because of security and privacy concerns. This is probably fortunate because it allowed me the opportunity to focus on an attempt to use the iPad as a primary device. This was difficult initially, but as the iPad evolved, it’s become easy.

    Something I find interesting is that I have friends and associates who have been in the Apple world from the beginning who still consider the iPad as a third device. I attribute this to the fact that they’ve always thought of it as a third device without really trying to learn to use it as a first device.

    1. You have an interesting perspective. I am probably closer to you than your Mac using friends because I am a Windows user who’s exposure to Apple is strictly through iOS and its many variants.

      I started with the first iPad and I used them as a third device because it was so ideal for that purpose at the time. My work laptop had plenty of horsepower, but it took a good 3-5 mins to get completely booted up. That made my iPad and especially my iPad 2 the ideal device to handle email, web and writing on. My iPads became my lead devices at home quickly, but I still used them a lot at work for a couple of years.

      However, once I started using laptops with SSDs that could boot up in seconds and an iPhone with a larger screen, I had no need of a third device anymore. The market changed and it took some time before Apple changed with it.

      It was the iPad Pro with its bigger screen, Pencil and multitasking that brought me back. My Pro has been my home device for a while now because it’s so convenient and easy to use. However, it has also become critical to me at work because of how good the Pencil is for marking up documents. At 12.9”, it also makes a great second screen while in the field. I tried the Surface Go for these tasks and it wasn’t even close to the same experience. I know this doesn’t work for everyone, but the Pro still makes a great work companion for me because of how good it is at certain tasks. I guess I do use it as a “third device” for work, but it’s really not optional the way my earlier iPads were. They were a luxury that fit a need where my Pro is much more essential to the way I do things.

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