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The Future of Mac: Truckin’

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Steve Jobs revealed at the D8 conference his vision of what the future of the Mac looks like: a Ford F250. Not in design, and maybe not in build quality, but in everyday utility. As Jobs put it “I think PCs are going to be like trucks. Less people will need them.” I think he’s right. I’d even go so far as to say that when Jobs says “PCs,” he’s including desktop and notebook Macs as well. All of the “old world” devices that came before the iPad.

I’ve been using an iPad as my sole computer at home for the past two weeks. For the most part, its been wonderful, but there are a few things that make it obvious that the iPad is not a complete replacement for a Mac, at least not for me. For my parents, neighbors, and most normal people who are not obsessed with technology, it just might be perfect. I’ve said before how simple the iPad is to use, so simple that my three-year old son has no problem launching Netflix and finding a Scooby-Doo movie to watch. For me, the friction starts when I visit a web page and want to upload a document, or when I want to organize my photo library, or, when I find something that I’d like to save. The iPad is a wonderful device, but some things are just hard to do on it. For some things, you still need a Mac.

Development is the obvious first thing that comes to mind. Xcode is not available for the iPad, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was never available for it. Xcode is one of the few applications that really eats up the screen real estate, especially when combined with Interface Builder. Compiling code is also taxing on the CPU, especially for projects with a large code base. It would be interesting to see Apple release “Xcode Lite”, a stripped down version of Xcode that only compiled iPhone OS apps, but I don’t think Apple has any desire or motivation to do that. There are a handful of web development apps available in the App Store, but none of them compete with their desktop equivalents. Even finding simple features like syntax highlighting is difficult.

College students might be a great target audience for the iPad, especially if textbooks can make their way into iBooks. However, many colleges have online components, and require the student to interact by posting their research or assignments, or participate in group chats. Using only the iPad, making it through such a course might be possible, but unlikely without falling back to a computer for certain tasks. For research, collaboration, and interaction, the iPad just isn’t enough on its own, but it’s be a great addition to a student’s backpack.

Power users demand a lot from their machines, and while developers are finding new ways to push the iPad’s abilities, most of the people I know who fall into this category are not going to be willing to let go of their collection of custom scripts. Being a power user is about bending the machine to your will, finding ways to remove all the small obstacles between you and accomplishing your task. The iPad is super simple to use, but one of the costs of that simplicity is the loss of the ability to customize and tweak.

It’s important to keep in mind that the iPad is still a 1.0 product. This is Apple’s initial foray into the tablet space, and keeping with how it rolls, it’s starting with what it considers the bare minimum. What Apple has done with the iPad is create a solid base to build its next platform on. However, it doesn’t mean that the Mac is going away anytime soon, or at all. Less and less people have needed trucks over the years, but they are still selling trucks. When you need to get a job done, there’s no substitute.

11 Responses to “The Future of Mac: Truckin’”

  1. I switched to the Mac platform 3 years ago and there is not a single day I blame myself for wasting all those years on Windows. Apple launched the iPhone, which was a great refresh in the smartphone/mobile market. We all have seen the effects of it. I suspect a same response from the competition from other vendors against the iPad, which will generally increase the abilities and features of the tablet platform.

    But at the same time Apple must be cooking up something new for the Mac platform. I wonder whats coming up in Mac OS X 10.7. We need something remarkable for desktops and macbooks also.

  2. Sonner or later a company (probably will be apple) will release a version of a tablet that will enable developers and designers to do most of their daily work such as compiling and editing photos in Photoshop and that will be the point of where people will look at pc the same way we look at trunks these days

  3. Jobs would love to move Apple customers onto a completey controlled enviroment. The Mac is to open and try as they might they have lost the “PC” war a long time ago.

    He is trying to change the game. The iPhone/iPad owns that game right now. If they can get the spectators to come to that game they win.

  4. Something you’re overlooking is that the iOS is the first general-purpose operating system where the primary owner does not have administrator access.

    The form factor, touch screen, and behavior aren’t vast departures from PCs. There have been tablet touch-screen and even multi-touch PCs for over a decade, but the way the OS keeps the user at bay is new.

    I think it sets a bad new precedent and I do think the government should intervene. When a user can’t install his software of choice, when he’s physically kept from circumventing anti-copying DRM, and when his device can be remote-wiped without any control, the FTC needs to step in and say, “no, you have to sell pre-jailbroken iPads and iPhones.”

    • Brendan

      I like the idea of a Prius, but I would rather have a 4×4 that I can modify with bigger tires and such. I think the government should force Toyota to make a highly modifiable 4×4 Prius.

      The government should stay out of it. If the market demands that iPad be released from the “closed” market of the App Store, then either
      a) people will stop buying the iPad until Apple changes direction
      b) someone else will make another slate that meets your needs.

      In the meantime, don’t waste my taxpayer dollars with investigation after investigation and trying to regulate a company that is NOT:
      killing the environment
      screwing the economy
      or screwing its employees, neighbors, or the rest of the country

      So I’ll buy something else vehicle wise rather than try to force my desires on Toyota. Use whatever gets the job done or meets your expectations. Don’t think everything has to be built for you.

      • I’m not sure “buyer beware” is necessarily a blank check for any consumer product. Remember that when car makers were reluctant to install seat belts in all their consumer vehicles, their explanation was that the market would force a shift if people wanted seat belts. Instead, Congress intervened.

        Moreover, “buyer beware” has never been a sound rebuttal to anti-competitive practices. When European regulators forced a “browser ballot” on Microsoft recently, Microsoft was not able to deflect those governments’ proceedings with “someone else will make another operating system.”

        I’m not proposing anything that would hamper the iPad experience or interfere with Apple’s creative process. I’m merely proposing that when you buy a device, you should be able to do with it as you please.

        A fair comparison would be Toyota voiding your warranty if you buy gasoline or tires from someone other than Toyota.

  5. When Steve compared PCs to a Ford 250 Did he say that the truck would be limited to a particular brand of Gas? Of course not , but if Apple continues down the line of the iOS, sooner or later Apps for the Mac OS will have to come from the APP store and be approved by Apple.

    When and if that day comes my mac OS will be replaced by Linux or windows

  6. Give me an app that will let me read an iBook, then tap to type notes in the margin (or a special stylus that will let me write notes in the margin, etc). That + textbooks in iBook = college perfection within the iPad.

    • Simon White

      A special stylus would work for me too. I’ve started using the iPad in meetings to take notes and the like and, generally, it’s just fine. Sometimes though a quick scribbled note is better and quicker.

  7. I agree that as a student the ipad does not replace my laptop, but it is a great supplement. Some classes I can get by with just the ipad using apps like dropbox and evernote, but others require me to have a full fledged browser and keyboard.