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Apple still has no idea what to do with the iPad

Welcome to our weekly Apple Breakfast column, which includes all the Apple news you missed last week in a handy bite-sized roundup. We call it Apple Breakfast because we think it goes great with a Monday morning cup of coffee or tea, but it’s cool if you want to give it a read during lunch or dinner hours too.

The problem child

We’ve had a week now to digest Apple’s latest pronouncements at the WWDC keynote, and sometimes a little distance can be helpful. The febrile atmosphere of an Apple hype-fest can be fun, but it doesn’t exactly lend itself to a sense of perspective.

A few days along, the impression remains that Apple had a lot to talk about, and has come up with some seriously substantial software updates for 2024. I have mixed feelings about the Gen AI elements of Apple Intelligence, but iOS 18 is undeniably a momentous release, blending long-requested customization options with big, risky innovations. macOS Sequoia, too, was able to back up the longer-term hopes of Apple Intelligence with a brilliantly appealing new feature (iPhone Mirroring) and a tiled interface layout that seems both nice-looking and convenient.

But what about iPadOS 18? This seemed well short of a home run. Unlike the poor neglected Apple Watch, the iPad does get to be part of the cool Apple Intelligence crowd, but that’s not going to be here at all for a while and may not work well for longer still. The other OSes managed to offset this with more immediate benefits, but the iPad gets very little other than Calculator, an app it should have had more than a decade ago.

Granted, the Math Notes feature is so good that Calculator for the iPad might just be worth that ridiculous wait. But a flash of brilliance like this just makes it all the more frustrating that Apple hasn’t elevated the iPad past what it was back in 2010.

Is the iPad a high-end creative tool? Is it a laptop replacement for business users, or a note-taker for people in hospitals and building sites? Or is it what it’s overwhelmingly used as right now, which is a low-end, instant-booting web surfer for users to mess around with on the couch while someone else watches Netflix on the big TV? Apple can try to hit all of these different markets by selling multiple hardware variations (albeit at the risk of making the buying decision intimidatingly complex) but it will keep bumping up against the fundamental problem that the operating system isn’t suitable for more advanced applications.

If Apple wants the iPad to replace the MacBook, it needs to bring iPadOS closer to macOS in scope and organizational structure. It’s not like the software department at Cupertino hasn’t tried: numerous multitasking features and modes have been added to iPadOS over the years. But we’re still at a point where doing two things at the same time is a lot more of a hassle on an iPad than it would be on a Mac, and as long as that’s the case, you can’t expect it to take off as a mainstream laptop replacement.

Conversely, turning iPadOS into a sophisticated desktop-style OS will shrink the iPad’s appeal for its current userbase, by taking away the simple qualities that they value. And there’s no easy way to make both groups happy.

iPadOS gained less than the other big Apple platforms this year, but it needed more. Whereas customers know what the iPhone and Mac are for, the iPad is drifting around in commercial limbo, and something radical was needed to turn it around: not the needless addition of a ludicrously overpowered M4 chip, but a rethink of the software platform itself. And as exciting as WWDC 2024 was, it didn’t offer any real answers to the iPad question.

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Apple’s iOS 18 announcements leave us one thought: Steve Jobs would never have allowed this.

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As always, Apple does its best work inside its walled garden.

Apple Intelligence is Sherlock and Watson all over again.

Apple’s smartest new features leave the Intelligence behind.

When it comes to iPhone customization, Apple is finally letting you have it your way–kinda.

Forget the harmless “Crush” ad. Apple’s AI announcements revealed real contempt for creatives.

The iPad’s new Calculator actually might have been worth the 14-year wait.

Apple just sent a bunch of devices into obsolescence.

Everything Apple announced in its jam-packed WWDC keynote.

Podcast of the week

On this episode of the Macworld Podcast, we dive deep into the highlights from Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference. What will it be like to use Apple Intelligence, and what stood out with iOS 18 and macOS Sequoia?

You can catch every episode of the Macworld Podcast on Spotify, Soundcloud, the Podcasts app, or our own site.

Software updates, bugs, and problems

iOS 18: The biggest new features coming to your iPhone this fall.

iOS 18: 5 delightful little features that didn’t make the WWDC keynote.

But these features won’t be part of iOS 18 when it launches this fall.

macOS Sequoia introduces iPhone Mirroring, Tiled interface, and AI features.

watchOS 11 brings a raft of new apps and features to the Apple Watch.

These three features will make your AirPods better this fall.

VisionOS 2 will let you turn any flat photo into a spatial one, and also brings big Mac Virtual Display enhancements.

Small but welcomed Apple TV and Home updates are coming this fall.

And with that, we’re done for this week’s Apple Breakfast. If you’d like to get regular roundups, sign up for our newsletters. You can also follow us on Facebook, Threads, or Twitter for discussion of breaking Apple news stories. See you next Monday, and stay Appley.