18 Aug 2016

The iPad Pro and Chromebooks: Platforms For Getting Work Done

Traditionally, people used desktop OSs like macOS or Windows to get work done. When mobile OSs like iOS and Android arrived, they were good for communication and content consumption, not for content creation or getting work done.

Recently, two new platforms appeared that are suitable for getting work done. First, the 13-inch iPad.

Second, ChromeOS will be extended to run Android apps. This will probably make Chromebooks far more powerful, closer to a desktop OS than to what they were before (just a browser). They're more like Androidbooks now.

The 13-inch iPad and Chromebooks have a lot in common, a surprising amount. Both have laptop-size 13-inch screens, which is a big enough workspace to work comfortably in. Both have hardware keyboards. Both devices have powerful laptop-class processors [1]. They have 4GB memory, which is usually found in laptops, not phones or tablets. Both support touch, unlike macOS and Windows [2].

The 13-inch iPad and Chromebooks have a lot in common in software, too. Both OSs (iOS and Android) started life as mobile OSs, and have now grown to let you get work done. Both eliminate sources of complexity in desktop OSs. Like menu bars, which encourage apps to have too many features, and are often a visual overhead. Notifications are a first-class citizen. Apps don't insert their icons into a system tray (or equivalently, the right end of the menu bar). Apps are sandboxed, and have permissions that users can grant or deny. Apps make efficient use of resources — processor, GPU, memory, storage, and the network. Apps save data automatically. Apps store data for the user, rather than leaving him to manually manage files. The cloud is a first-class citizen, so you don't worry about where the data is saved locally or in the cloud. Both OSs automatically quit background apps as needed rather than leaving that to the user. There isn't a dock or taskbar where apps you used earlier accumulate for you to remove. You install apps from an app store. And so on.

The 13-inch iPad and Chromebook have some differences as well. For one, Chromebooks support a trackpad or mouse, while the iPad doesn't. Historically, the keyboard and mouse went together: PCs and laptops had both, while phones and tablets had neither. But now, we have a novel combination: a keyboard without a mouse, in the form of the iPad.

The 13-inch iPad is a new form factor, neither a traditional tablet nor a laptop. While the Chromebook is a traditional laptop form factor, but running a new OS. Apple tends to innovate in UX, while Google tends to innovate technically [3].

It will be interesting to see what devices people will be using a few years to get work done. What form factors will these devices have? What OSs will they run? Will both the iPad and Chromebooks succeed? Or will it mostly one? Or will it be some third option?

[1] You can buy slow Chromebooks that have poor processors, but if you buy a good one, it will have a laptop-class CPU. In the rest of this article, I'll assume that you're buying a good Chromebook, rather than an cheap and bad one.

[2] Windows 8 onwards supports touch, but most apps don't use it.

[3] UX innovation requires technical innovation, and vice-versa, so it's not black and white.

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