On the iPad

In a recent post on Daring Fireball, John Gruber says, "I much prefer MacOS for my conceptual interface with my work and I much prefer a MacBook Pro’s hardware for my physical interface." I am the opposite.

See, I just bought a 12.9-inch iPad Pro to replace my early-2011 13-inch MacBook Pro, and I absolutly love using this iPad.

Right now I'm typing on a red Logitech Keys-to-Go Bluetooth keyboard, leaning back on my bed with my eyes closed. The iPad is lying on the bed next to me in portrait mode, ready to be seen when I want to look. It's a little arrangement that makes a little difference to me, one piece of the puzzle. I like typing while lying on the bed, and I like not having the display be right in front of me at all times. Everyone knows that having the display placed right over the keyboard is bad ergonomics, but for me it's not having a lightsource in front of my eyes that makes it nicer. So having a simple modular set up that allows me to lie down, listen to Bruckner's Mass in E-minor (cond. Helmuth Rilling), close my eyes, and just type—that's immensely pleasurable.

Yesterday I wrote in a way that I haven't done in a long time. For no reason, to no end. A journal entry, a snatch of a story about a cat, some musings about this and that. Is the iPad why I started writing? Of course not. But.

 © 2017 Apple

© 2017 Apple

There are many reasons why I chose to go the iPad route over getting another MacBook or an iMac. (I don't like Windows, sorry.) Looking past the annoyances of a Touch Bar or too few ports of a confusing standard on the MacBook, or the complete lack of portability of an iMac, or the extraordinary costs of both that make the iPad Pro feel reasonably priced, there are many reasons.

When I was trying out products in the Apple and Microsoft stores, I kept returning to the iPad. Put simply, I find the iPad fun to use. Something about the combination of interfaces of iOS software and tablet hardware works for me.

What's more interesting, though, is revealed by how little Brittany cares. The iPad is a clunky, awkward computer for her. She has absolutely no interest in switching over from a laptop. This indicates a rather stark difference between the two of us, which I think is a microcosm of why the tablet vs laptop debate always evokes such strong responses in people. For someone like me for whom the iPad is such a delight to use, it's almost unfathomable that you could not feel how much more pleasant it is to use than a traditional laptop or desktop interface. I assume it's the same for the other side.

It is very difficult to define precisely what this difference is. I can, however, recognize aspects of it. For now, I'm just going to touch on a single aspect. It's a complicated question, and one I hope to return to.

Simulated direct manipulation is the most essential aspect of why I prefer using an iPad. Rather than being forced to move a single point on a screen with a mouse or use a bunch of keystrokes to perform invisible actions, you get to touch digital objects with as many fingers as you want. It helps that the screen on the new iPad is incredible, and the animations and gestures in iOS are at this point simply marvellous. Something in me responds deeply to direct manipulation, and the simulation of direct manipulation on an iPad is so seamless at this point that I am totally convinced. As a conceptual interface it feels to me so right. It makes me want to use this computer.

Having the ability to directly manipulate digital objects is, by itself, worth the awkwardness of a nascent ecosystem. It feels freeing, not limiting, for me to use an iPad. Now I get to edit photos using my fingers or the stylus. Now I get to plunk away at analogue synthesizer simulations. Now I get to choose where I type by tapping precisely where I want to type. One common complaint among a certain section of iPad users is that there's no mouse support. I can't fathom why you would want to have mouse support on iOS. Multitouch is vastly superior in my opinion.

On top of which, you get to carry around the computer in a much more intimate fashion than with a laptop. I bought a 12.9-inch iPad Pro. You have to almost hug the thing with one arm when carrying it around. This is, for me, pleasurable. The materials are fabulous to the touch, even though the aluminum is so slick that I feel like I could drop it at any moment. It makes me take care. As a physical interface, it also feels right to me.

It occurs to me, having written this much on the topic, that it is perhaps iOS rather than the iPad that is so appealing to me. I had no impulse to emphasize "right" at the end of talking about the iPad as physical interface, while at the end of the software interface section, I wanted to italicize "right" so strongly the word would resemble the skull in Holbein's The Ambassadors.

John Gruber has made the point numerous times that, if he were forced to choose, he would prefer to use Apple software on Windows hardware rather than Windows software on Apple hardware. I completely agree, even though he's talking about macOS and I'm talking about iOS. I just wish that I could understand why someone like John Gruber or Brittany so strongly prefers macOS and the traditional computer interface!

I feel like I've just scratched the surface of this topic. Would you be interested in reading further musings from me on switching to an iPad?