A year ago I wrote about wanting an iOS device for the desktop, meaning a large, non-handheld computer with enough power and screen space to comfortably perform tasks that are currently—and would presumably always be—awkward on a 9.7” iPad: writing code, creating precise graphics, working with video and layout apps. Apple hasn’t come out with anything like this imaginary device, but my wish for one hasn’t really subsided. Windows 8 promises to solve the software side of this problem, but it remains to be seen how well that will work in practice.
What issues would Apple need to address in order to create a device of this sort?
- Angle ergonomics. If we imagine the device as a 20” iPad, basically, it wouldn’t do to just set it on a flat-top desk. Ideally it would be tilted some 10-15º. Is this angle built into the design? Do you fold out a kick-stand? (Again, Microsoft considered this with their Surface.) Is the desk itself angled? Don’t forget that for a very long time, the Western world used angled desks for work.
- Accidental-input detection. The iPad is small enough that you don’t end up pressing your palm, elbow, or other hand against it much. A 20” device would have to assume that you’d end up doing just that, though.
- Typing and pointing devices. While you could certainly hook up a Bluetooth keyboard to this large touch-based computer, the future probably belongs to (better) virtual keyboards. We should expect to see those show up on iPhones and iPads anyway. And while Steve Jobs quipped that we’re all born with ten of the best pointing device, that device is a bit chunky and gets fatigued quite easily. Maybe pens aren’t a terrible idea.
- Non-fullscreen apps. iOS’s one-app-at-a-time model was brilliantly refreshing when it came out. Sadly, it won’t work forever. There are just too many times when it would be more convenient to have your chat onscreen along with your web browser instead of sitting through a 20”, fullscreen animation every few seconds. The answer is almost certainly not a return to arbitrary, overlapping windows; that was always a real mess. Again, Windows 8 attempts to address this with its side-dockable apps. We’ll see how well it ends up working.
I don’t expect we’ll see this device from Apple any time soon. Each year, however, the Mac becomes less important to Apple—through no fault of its own, but by the shadow iOS device sales cast over it. It’s not time to kill the Mac yet; it’s just time to start making succession plans.