More and more, the decision to buy a Mac is based more on form factor than functionality, and Apple is rapidly working to close that gap. When the iPad Pro was introduced in 2015, it marked a major maturation for Apple’s tablet. While the larger screen changed little about the general concept, the addition of the Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil shone a new light on its productivity potential. Specifically aimed at creative professionals, the iPad Pro was the evolutionary change the post-PC device needed to continue its revolutionary assault.
And just like that, the Mac became superfluous for millions of people. It has less to do with its pixels and drawing capabilities than it does its perception. The iPad was in something of a rut before the Pro model arrived, but the Smart Connector and Apple Pencil opens it up to an array of features and apps beyond the relatively simple capabilities of a multi-touch tablet. And if the rumored iPhone Pro picks up the Smart Connector too, our iOS devices will be able comfortably mimic the ways most people use their Macs—web surfing, messaging, writing, maybe some light photo editing—further blurring the line between them.
It’s the same with the new MacBook. While it might not be as powerful or expandable as the Pro, it hits most of the notes people want to hear when shopping for a new PC—namely, thin and light, with a Retina screen. The reason why Apple can get away with letting its professional Macs languish is because the pool of people who need them is getting smaller. For most people, the MacBook fills all of their PC needs, and as Jobs liked to say, Apple skates to where the puck is going, not where it has been.
Call it cannibalization if you must, but in many ways, the iPad Pro is the touch-screen personification of the MacBook. It can’t do quite as much as a Mac, but for most people its good looks and portability benefits more than make up for its shortcomings. The more people are willing to sacrifice power and productivity for thin and light designs, the less attention Apple is going to pay to the Mac.
Of course, Steve predicted this back when the iPad was still running pixel-doubled iPhone apps. At the 2010 All Things Digital conference, famed tech journalist Walt Mossberg asked him point-blank if tablets were going to replace laptops, and he said: “I think PCs are going to be like trucks. Less people will need them. And this is going to make some people uneasy.”
The thing about trucks is that despite how important they are to our daily lives, most of the ones we see on the road are old and ugly. There are definite tasks that people need pro Macs for—coding, advanced Photoshop work, integrated workflow systems—but as the iPad (and iPhone) Pro evolves and matures, it won’t be long before it can handle more of those tasks too. And the gap between high-end Mac updates will become greater until Apple stops releasing new models altogether.
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