Putting macOS on iPad is a terrible idea

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Putting macOS on iPad is a terrible idea
No. No, no, no, no. No.
Graphic: Cult of Mac

Apple’s smart decision to build an M1 processor into the 2021 iPad Pro renewed calls to port macOS to the tablet. “Put macOS on the iPad, you cowards,” read one particularly misguided headline.

Doing so would be a mistake so severe it would damage sales of both iPad and Mac. It would take years to clean up the mess.

No matter that Macs and iPads run on the same chip. macOS isn’t designed for a touchscreen. Apple would need to redesign the operating system to run on a tablet, and devs would need to alter third-party applications, too. And that would anger people using non-touchscreen laptops and desktops.

Plus, people happy with the iPad now wouldn’t like the change either.

macOS on iPad would require a redesigned user interface

Take a look around your Mac. See those tiny controls — especially in apps? All of that would need to change. A cursor can activate a much smaller control than a fingertip.

Apple would have to redesign macOS for it to run on a computer with a touchscreen and no trackpad or mouse. And developers would have to rebuild their apps. This wouldn’t be a quick process — Adobe has been rebuilding Photoshop to run on iPad for years but it’s not close to being done yet. And that’s assuming that devs would even go to the enormous effort and cost of reformatting their apps for the “macPad.”

In the meantime, you would need to carry around an Apple Pencil to tap all those small on-screen controls. You could always hook up a keyboard and trackpad, but if you’re going to do that, why not just use a MacBook?

And consider that any UI changes to macOS would carry over to MacBook, iMac, etc. Making two different versions of macOS — one for touchscreens and one not — would be too confusing for the average Mac owner (and would mean a lot of work and expense for Apple). So MacBook and Mac mini users would have to put up with a user interface designed for fingertips while they used a mouse or trackpad. That’s a lot of wasted space. And features that can’t be activated with a fingertip would have to be replaced.

In short, Apple would need to merge macOS and iPadOS to get an operating system for notebooks, desktops and tablets. The result would be something worse than the separate ones we have now. People happy with their Macs, and others pleased with their iPads, would be angry at the changes.

Maybe the people clamoring for the macPad would be satisfied, especially after Apple fixed the inevitable problems in the first versions of macpadOS. But they wouldn’t end up with the miracle device they’re hoping for.

Learn from Microsoft’s debacle

When I predict disaster for macOS on iPad, I’m not speaking theoretically here. Microsoft went through this exact process when it built Windows 8 for tablets as well as desktops and laptops. It didn’t go well. At all.

I remember running Windows 8 on a Microsoft Surface tablet. Despite the changes, the user interface wasn’t well-suited for touch, forcing me to pull out a stylus for many basic tasks. Mostly, I ended up using the tablet as a laptop with keyboard and mouse. But that wasn’t a great experience either. “If you use Windows 8 on a desktop PC with a keyboard and mouse it can feel awkward at times, frustrating at others, and confusing,” said a 2012 review in The Verge.

Now, fast forward to Windows 10. Microsoft has ironed out the worst of the problems. But the result is an OS that’s well-suited for desktops and laptops and not too terrible on a tablet. I use Windows 10 on a tablet, so I know what I’m talking about. I end up using a stylus for basic jobs far more often than I’d like.

Actually, I mostly use my iPad because it has a user interface that’s designed for a touchscreen from the ground up.

There’s a better solution: iPadOS on iPad

And that’s the core of the issue. The idea of replacing iPadOS with macOS is all about bringing more capabilities to iPad. But that throws out all the advantages of the iPad. And there’s a better way: Continue to improve iPadOS.

The list of necessary changes varies from person to person, but the obvious ones include enhanced support for second screens, improved windowing for apps and a beefed-up Files app. Overall better support for multitasking would be welcome as well.

Many people also are asking for more professional iPad software. Apple definitely should release versions of Xcode, Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro reformatted for iPad and touchscreens.

Or, there’s an over-the-top option: Give iPadOS the option to run Mac apps without changing the design of the operating system itself. Some people are even asking for a dual-boot device, with macOS only running when a trackpad and keyboard are attached to the computer. To me, that seems too complicated to be workable.

Really, just drop it

Replacing iPadOS with macOS would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Despite its limitations, there’s no better operating system for touchscreen devices anywhere. Apple should fix iPadOS, not reject it. And Cupertino certainly should not merge iPadOS with macOS to make a mess that everyone hates.

Happily, none of this is going to happen. High-level Apple executives have said over-and-over that they’re not merging Mac and iPad. So quit asking them to. It’s a terrible idea.