The Future of Mac: Truckin’

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.