This week’s conceptual adventure began innocently enough. I came across an interesting bit of news via a CNET.com article. It now looks as though future iPad-style Windows 8 tablets (the kind that run on low-power mobile processors) will be able to run existing desktop-style Windows apps. Ever since Microsoft released the first preview of Windows 8 to developers -- pre-installed on a sample tablet, no less -- there had been speculation that Microsoft’s answer to the iPad would only run apps designed for their new (and really quite wonderful) touch-based “Metro” UI.
I tweeted a link to the article and, attempting to compress all of that information down to 140 characters or less, I said “I put it to you this way: if for a little more $, your iPad could also run MacOS apps...you'd buy it, right?”
Isn’t the idea of a tiny, affordable tablet that’s optimized for mobile apps but also allows you the option of running desktop apps...interesting?
Oh, mother of God, no. According to the majority of my Twitter followers who weighed in, at least. No. They wanted no part of this completely-conjectural hybrid iPad.
I imagined that most of these folks were reacting thusly because I had been forced to compress a complicated idea to less than 140 characters.
“Even if it only cost $149 more and it were the same, otherwise?” I elaborated.
Hell, no. They continued to raise their objections. Fortunately, I have true superhuman powers when I’m just pulling stuff out of my butt so every time they made a specific complaint, I granted their fondest wishes.
“Okey-doke,” I said, setting my overheated fairy wand back into its desktop charger. “This mythical iPad 5 is no larger, thicker, or heavier than your current iPad 2. It lasts just as long on battery. Your iOS experience is completely unchanged; if you never run a Mac OS app on it, you’ll have no idea that this feature even exists. You could interact with MacOS apps via touch if you wanted to, but it works with any Bluetooth mouse or trackpad. All running MacOS apps operate in a single screen as a separate “space” to the left of the Spotlight page; the apps aren’t modified in any way and believe that they’re just running on a regular Mac. Finally, Apple clearly states that it’s meant more as a convenience feature than as a bastardization of two incompatible operating systems; the idea is that your iPad will be flexible enough to run those one or two MacOS apps for which there’s no direct iOS equivalent.
“It’s the iPad 5,” I announced, finally leaning back from my speculative workbench. “$499 for the standard model. $649 for the version that can also run MacOS apps. Would you want the MacOS-compatible version?”
NO means NO, was the resounding response.
At which point I quite correctly announced “You’re all a lying bunch of lying liars whose lying mouths only spout lies!”
Apple would never build such a thing, of course. The device I described is “almost a MacBook Air” and that’s a very non-Apple concept. The company’s success is built partly on the fact that they maintain a lean, uncluttered product line in which each model fulfills an exclusive, clearly-defined role with no overlap.
But the majority of respondents wouldn’t even buy such a machine hypothetically. Instead, people cited a number of offenses about the concept. I can sum up all of their objections with the same two words:
Here, I throw up my hands.
I’m keen to see what the Windows market makes of these hybridized Windows 8 tablets. Every time I pack my carryon for a trip and note that I’ll be taking my MacBook and an iPad, I see it as a failure of some kind. I wish that the iOS app store had that one critical app that allowed me to continue a desktop project on my iPad, or that I knew for a fact that over the next four days, I would never encounter a creative problem that could only be solved by a simple desktop app that I’d left in my office 3000 miles away.
But this life is but a vale of tears and yes, with rare exceptions, leaving my MacBook at home isn’t a safe option. A VNC app (like Edovia’s excellent “Screens”) is one way to work around this problem. For $20, I can “run” desktop apps on my iPad and thus leave my MacBook at home more often. Sure, my iPad is a little clumsy at running Microsoft Word in a 10” display with the touchscreen doubling asa mouse. But so is walking around a conference for three days with a 15” notebook. The first kind of clumsy is a lot easier on my shoulders.
If Apple made MacOS compatibility a $149 build-to-order option, yes, I’d be thinking the same things that the Ideologically Unsound camp said so loudly. The iPad can’t run a desktop app as elegantly as it can run one designed for touch from the ground up. Every time I run a desktop app, it’ll burn up the battery. I can’t even use the damned things without taking a keyboard and mouse with me.
Meanwhile, I’d be refreshing the FedEx tracking webpage to check my new iPad’s progress from China to Boston.
The “Ideologically Unsound” reflex against certain ideas has been on my mind a lot lately. I was particularly surprised by reaction to a blog post in which I made two points: (1) That the behavior of the iPhone’s “Ringer/Silent” switch confuses many people (and annoys many concertgoers, when one of the Confused imagined that pushing the switch to the “silent” position would stifle all noise from the device; and (2) Even if its current default behavior remains unchanged, Apple should add a pane to the Preferences app that allows the user to customize it to their own liking.
Ideologically unsound!!! came many objections. “That would corrupt the elegance of the iPhone and add needless complexity.”
A preference pane that users will only see if they’re disappointed by a specific behavior of their phone and deliberately seek out a way to correct that behavior?” Its mere presence, unseen, would taint the Jesus Phone?
Whiskey tango foxtrot?
Ideology isn’t a trivial concept in a device, OS, app, or service, particularly as the thing continues to expand and evolve away from its original release. Each product should have a reason why it needed to exist. Everyone who works on the product needs to understand what that is, and keep it true to its purpose. And if they can’t do that, then that product needs to fade away, like the iPod, to make room for something that’s more relevant, like the iPhone.
But “ideologically unsound” is a caustic trap. It seduces you into thinking of an iPad or an iPhone as a idealized concept, instead of as a functioning product. When a new idea is proposed, the first question should always be “How could this be of greater benefit to the user?” and if there’s a case for that, then ideology goes out the window. People on the street corner hand out pamphlets filled with ideology. Those things are free. Apple’s products cost hundreds of dollars. They need to earn for their owners.
For years, Microsoft had failed to make much of a mark in mobile space due to their own ideological constraints. Windows was Windows was Windows, everywhere and anywhere. If someone built a Windows tablet, then that tablet needed to run the same Windows as every other device. They even awkwardly slapped a Start menu on their Windows Phone OS.
Metro represents their first huge break from that frustrating, outdated dogma. I’d hate for Apple to fall down that same rathole. If that were to happen, it would only be because of the willing complicity of its users.
We really shouldn’t care if an iPad eats pork, forgets to take its hat off during the National Anthem or fails to complete the sacrament of confession before Holy Communion. We should only demand that the damned things work.