Two brilliant Mac features that will never come to iPad

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Mac desktop
A nice big desktop makes everything easier.
Photo: Michael Soledad on Unsplash

Recently, I’ve been using my old Mac more and more, even thought I’ve long preferred using an iPad for both work (writing) and play (making music, and all the other dumb stuff you do on a computer when you’re goofing off).

And It’s gotten me thinking. Why do I prefer the Mac for some tasks? And I mean, strongly prefer. I’m so used to using both iOS and macOS that it’s not a questions of familiarity. Nor is it that I’m trying to squeeze the Mac way of doing things into the iPad, and vice versa — a common problem for new switchers.

No, my preference comes down to two small yet fundamental differences between the iPad and the Mac. These two features are present on the Mac, and will probably never make it to the iPad. What are they?

Clipboard and desktop FTW

I won’t keep you hanging any longer. These features are simple: The desktop, and clipboard history. The former is obviously built-in to the Mac, and the latter is easy to add by installing an app. I suggest the excellent LaunchBar for this.

The Mac desktop

The Mac’s desktop is often the butt of jokes involving folks who dump everything onto it, making it impossible to find anything. But it is also one of the best things the Mac brought to computers. The desktop is a perfect metaphor for an actual desktop. It’s the place you store things you’re working on, or need to access often.

If you’re processing lots of files, or images, or whatever, just save everything to the desktop, and tidy up later. Screenshots are saved to the desktop by default. You can drag anything, form any window in any app, and drop it onto the desktop. If you drag a photo from the Photos app to the desktop, it creates a copy.

The iPad has no such place to drop things. Shelf apps can help, but will never be as convenient as an always-available space living under your apps. Imagine, then, if the iPad’s home screen was reimagined as a desktop. Drag and drop would suddenly become a lot easier, but perhaps the iOS paradigm, where files exist inside the app that created them, makes it a less-useful proposition.

Still, there’s no doubt that the desktop is an amazing convenience, and a productivity enhancer, if that’s your thing.

Clipboard history

The first time you use clipboard history you’ll wonder how you got along without it. Clipboard history simply remembers anything you copy to the system pasteboard. That is, every time you use a copy command, in any app, it is added to a list. Any time you hit ⌘C or ⌘X, it’s copied to the clipboard history.

Launchbar can save up 100 clipboard items, or a week's worth of clippings.
Launchbar can save up 100 clipboard items, or a week’s worth of clippings.
Photo: Cult of Mac

This means that you can copy several items in one app, and then paste them into another app. But that’s not the real power of the setup. For instance, how many times have you had, say, a password on the clipboard of your iPad, but then you’ve needed to copy a URL before you can use that password. As soon as you copy the URL, the password is gone.

Or how about keeping several oft-used snippets in the clipboard history? Maybe you have to keep pasting the same thing into all your documents today. With a clipboard manager, you just look at your history to find it, then paste it. Usually a clipboard manager app can pop up a panel showing clipboard history, just using a keyboard shortcut.

Hard to give up

Once you get used to using it, a clipboard history/manager app is essential. You can just copy anything, in any order, and access it whenever you like. Ironically, the iPad and iPhone would benefit even more from such a feature, because you are often locked intone app at a time. On the Mac, where you can access many app windows simultaneously — other options can work just as well.

The sandboxed nature of iOS means that a third-party clipboard manager is unlikely. There are clipboard apps, but these can’t work in the background, and therefore can’t grab the clipboard automatically. Shelf apps like Yoink can help, but it’s not the same.

Clipboard history makes using the Mac so much faster than the iPad, and it’s one of the reasons I keep coming back to the Mac.