Thinking Bigger about the Future of iOS Computing

There is a growing trend emerging that is worth keeping an eye on. A very small group of the tech elite have been experimenting with using their iPad as their sole computing device. This seems like an impossible feat, or perhaps something most power users such as myself would find unappealing. Why give up a glorious large high resolution display (among other advantages) for a much lower resolution 9.7” display? Indeed this is not for everyone–at least it isn’t yet.

For serious Mac nerds who also own iPads, many feel that their iPads are more enjoyable overall for many tasks such as reading books, managing their email, browsing the web and checking their Twitter timeline.

iOS devices are exceedingly pleasant to use on a daily basis. It doesn’t matter if it’s an iPhone, which glides every so perfectly into the front pocket of your jeans, or an iPad where you can curl up on a couch to do some reading–they both can accomplish many things that you once used your Mac for–rather staunchly to boot. The non tech savvy adopters who are getting iPads now–many of whom this is their first computer–are finding that they rather use an iPad for almost everything that they can think of doing. Why not, when you don’t have to worry about losing that perfect photo or that essay for school you had been toiling over for hours–no doubt thanks to services like iCloud.

As high resolution IPS displays that are Retina quality become the gold standard, there will be even more incentive for users to spend more time than ever in front of their iPads. If you feel spoiled right now because you have an iPhone 4 or 4S and have been holding off from buying an iPad, then perhaps whatever future high resolution iPad you own will become your primary computing device for almost all of your tasks. While the number of Mac nerds switching full-time to iPads is few and far between at the moment, I would not be surprised to see the rate of adoption on this trend rise in significant numbers in the years to come.

The barriers to entry for serious web developers, programmers and even writers is being steadily etched away. The tools we have available are being improved at fastidious pace, year-over-year. At some point I remember thinking that there would be no way for someone who uses SSH a lot to use an iPad for serious work. I was wrong when the people at Panic software–purveyors of gorgeous Mac apps–released Prompt for iOS. There are countless fantastic Dropbox based editors for writers now, and we have fantastic options for developers like Textastic. These apps are all equally exquisitely designed as they are practical and functional. Can you just conjure up what these powerful apps will be like a few years from now? I can’t wait to see how things develop on the mobile app front for serious professionals.

The frustrating thing about large single or double LCD display setups is that you have to spend time arranging windows on the display to get them to just where you want. I find myself not enjoying dual display setups as much anymore, and prefer just a single display. I’ve never found it appealing to constantly rearrange windows in a desktop operating system. Spaces never worked as well as I liked in Leopard or Snow Leopard, so this wasn’t the best solution either. With the introduction of Lion and full-screen apps, I started using this a lot more on my 15” MacBook Pro quite a lot. I loved being able to swipe back and forth between my full-screen apps with either the trackpad or my Magic Mouse–it just felt wonderful. That feeling of wonderment evaporated when I connected my Apple Cinema Display to my MacBook Pro. Full-screen apps just felt awkward, and it was clear that this feature really shined on smaller displays–perhaps even more so on smaller displays like on the MacBook Air.

When Apple introduced four finger horizontal swipe gestures to allow you to quickly switch between running apps, I knew that things were just getting started as far the iPad being treated as a serious computing device was concerned. Apple clearly is taking mobile computing and iOS very seriously. They want and encourage you to not just consume, but create things of value that you can share with others. Apple has never been a company to think about the short term, at least not with Steve Jobs running the show. You have to believe that Apple must be thinking about a future were iOS will be the sole operating system that you would be using to get stuff done on. With the file system all but disappearing to the user, you won’t even perceive the operating system as being this thing that is managing everything for you. Everything just starts to fade away into the background, leaving behind all of the friction you experienced back in the day when traditional desktop operating systems like in Mac OS X.

Perhaps Macs will never go away, however they may be re-imagined in some way we can’t even begin to fathom just yet. It’s way too early to think something radically different from the current iMac will be delivered to us by Apple in the next two to three years. What about five or ten years out though? It’s that kind of thinking that I know Apple is doing right now.