I use virtual machines on an almost daily basis at work. I have VMs for Windows XP and even Windows 98 so I can go back to some legacy software and systems that we occasionally need to access and perform service on.
I also have a Windows 10 VM that has some of the software we use at work everyday licensed and ready. If one of our laptops fails, we can run this VM on any decent backup machine or a new computer right out of the box, load our backed up files, and be back up and running within an hour. The primary control line my company reps also has an offline development environment that runs on Oracle’s VirtualBox. Again, these are products I use often and know well.
All that said, I’ve never really thought about virtualization for the iPad or iPadOS. I guess that’s because it still feels like there are so many basic frameworks and features that Apple’s tablets lack to be considered the equal of any desktop OS. They are getting there, but there are still many miles left to go and gaps to close.
I came across an interesting article from Bradley Chambers at 9to5Mac yesterday that got me thinking about the potential of virtualization to move the iPad Pro forward quickly toward reaching its potential. Mr Chambers makes some really good points in the article about how this would instantly transform the iPad Pro into a more useful and versatile piece of computing hardware.
First off, Mr Chambers doesn’t get into the fine details, but Apple would have to do more than just allow devs to release virtualization apps for iPadOS. I’m sure some foundational changes would have to be made for this to work. Also, Apple would definitely have to remove the current restriction on how much RAM an single app can use before the OS force closes it. The 1 TB and 2 TB iPad Pros with 16 GB of RAM are the iPad Pros you would want to run VMs on, but users would need have access to more than just 5 of that 16 GB to run another OS well.
To be clear, an iPad Pro running VMWare or Parallels cannot be everything to everyone. It won’t run macOS as fast as it would on a MacBook Pro with an M-series chip (which should arrive later this year) and it likely won’t handle some memory intensive applications well. Some may not even run at all. Because of this, I don’t think it would suddenly have the iPad Pro cutting deep into Mac sales.
However, what the availability of virtualization for iPadOS would do is open up opportunities for some users who are on the fence to make the iPad Pro their primary computing device today. This would be the perfect remedy for those who can do all but a handful of things using iPadOS and who prize portability and the availability of touch and pen input over the additional flexibility of a Mac. VMWare or Parallels would allow them to do those few things well enough to make the jump to the iPad Pro hardware full time.
As a Windows user on the desktop, I would really be intrigued by this capability, as well. I would be limited to running Windows for ARM on an iPad Pro, which would not replace my work machine today. Frankly, it likely never would. However, as more and more Windows applications, including the ones I use at work, are finally compiled to natively run on ARM processors, I would eventually be able to do some of my work on my iPad Pro.
I’m really not looking to replace my work laptop. However, it certainly would be nice to only take my iPad Pro with me on vacation. I would be able to fire up a VM and get question answered or help a customer in a real jam out, and then go back to vacation mode. As it stands today, I’m lugging my 15.6” laptop and work laptop backpack around on family trips when I may only get it out once or twice during a week away.
Personally, I think Apple adding virtualization to iPadOS would be more of a quick and temporary fix than a permanent way forward. It would certainly still have its uses as iPadOS matures, but there will eventually come a point at which Apple’s tablet OS can stand more fully on its own. However, Apple unleashing platforms like VMWare and Parallels on iPad would fill in many gaps that exist today and finally start to take full advantage of what the iPad Pro’s powerful hardware can do.
What do you think? Would the availability of virtualization apps on iPadOS get you to consider purchasing an iPad Pro? Would it change how you view the Pro as a computing device? Let me know in the Comments section below or on Twitter @iPadInsightBlog.