BY MARZELLA SIGAI
Apple has spent the past 10 years trying to convince everyone that the iPad and its vision of touch-friendly computing is the future. The iPad rejected the idea of a keyboard, a track-pad, or even a stylus, and Apple mocked Microsoft for taking that exact approach with the Surface.
According to The Verge, every iPad has transformed into a Surface in recent years, and as of this week, the iPad Pro and Surface Pro look even more alike. Both have detachable keyboards, adjustable stands, track-pads, and styluses. With iPadOS getting cursor and mouse support this week, Apple has finally admitted that Microsoft was right about tablets.
Microsoft’s return to tablets was a rough ride and far from perfect. Bill Gates tried to convince the world that tablets would be a thing all the way back in 2002, but the hardware and software were far too primitive back then. The software maker eventually introduced the Surface RT alongside Windows 8 in 2012 as a clear response to the iPad, but it had an ARM-powered desktop operating system that didn’t support your favorite apps. It was slightly confused, but Microsoft’s tablet principles were clear at the time.
The message was clear: touch-based computing would be a first-class input for Windows 8 but not the only way to use the operating system. Microsoft insisted users needed a mouse for precision, a keyboard for typing, and a stylus for taking notes or drawing. These basic foundations led to the Surface Pro, with its variety of inputs to suit different needs.
Microsoft also mastered the ability to use a tablet at a desk or on a couch, thanks to its Surface kickstand and hinge designs. It was a key differentiator against devices like the iPad, and Microsoft and Intel now license out the design for other PC makers to use. It did not take long for everyone to start copying Microsoft’s Surface design.
The first signs of a new direction for the iPad arrived with iPadOS and the hints at cursor support last year. Apple is now introducing track-pad and mouse support fully in iPadOS, and users can use an existing Bluetooth device. Unlike pointer support that users can find in Windows or macOS, Apple has taken a clever approach to bringing it to a touch-friendly OS like iPadOS. The pointer only appears when users need it, and it is a circular dot that can change its shape based on what users are pointing at. That means users can use it for precision tasks like spreadsheets or simply use multi-touch gestures on a track-pad to navigate around iPadOS.
It is far more than most people were expecting at this stage, and Apple has importantly kept its touch-friendly iPad principles intact. Right now, user still cannot use this mouse support to drag and drop windows on top of each other freely like on Windows or macOS. Apple has adapted a legacy input and modernized it for iPadOS.
Meanwhile, Apple is hoping that iPadOS could be enough for people who want some laptop familiarity. With the essential trackpad support and improvements to the Safari web browser, the iPad is starting to look like a much more viable option for both a tablet and a laptop for many. That is a big change from just a few years ago.
Now that Apple and Microsoft are aligned on what a tablet can offer in terms of hardware, the battle between PC and iPad will shift toward what both do in software. Apple has shown that it is willing to adapt, and we will likely see a lot more desktop-like apps for the iPad as a result. Mouse support for the iPad is a significant game-changer, and the iPad has now moved well beyond a third category of device for browsing, email, photos, video, music, games, and eBooks.