Apple founder Steve Jobs famously said we're living in the post-PC era. For that to be true, there have to be devices that are as productive as PCs. The 9.7-inch iPad can be a very productive device, but there is certainly room for improvement, and it's high time Apple accepted it.
The necessary changes won't turn an iPad into a wanna-be laptop. Rather, they will take the strengths of this tablet and add to them.
A Physical Keyboard
There were rumors that Apple was going to announce a clip-on keyboard to go with the iPad Air that was unveiled on Tuesday. This didn't happen, much to the disappointment of those who regularly use a keyboard with their iPad.
This would have demonstrated that Apple realizes that large numbers of its customers use their tablets to write everything from inter-office memos to full-length novels -- showing that they understand that an iPad can be a work computer first.
[click to view image]It's unfortunate that it didn't happen, but it certainly doesn't leave professional iPad users out in the cold -- a wide array of other companies make very good keyboards for Apple's tablets. These are made by Belkin, Logitech, ZAGG, and many more.
An Active Digitizer
Amazing works of art have been created on the iPad, but these were made despite a significant hurdle: no active digitizer. In layman's terms, this means the tablet's screen can't tell the difference between a light touch and a heavy one. This is a major impediment for artists and photographers, but it inconveniences anyone who wants to sketch out an idea on their iPad.
Many rival devices have an active digitizer that uses technology from Wacom, and Apple needs to do that same if it wants its products to be taken seriously as a tool for producing and editing images.
This would add the cost of the device, but one option for Apple is to only include this technology in a iPad Pro: a high-end model with an 11.6-inch screen that could start at $800.
Apple's Pages app is a decent word-processor for the iPad, but it pales in comparison with the power of Microsoft Word. Adobe Photoshop Touch can make some useful improvements to an image, but it's roughly equivalent to version 1.0 of the desktop version of Photoshop. It's time for this to change.
[click to view image]Apple has taken a big step in this direction by including a 64-bit processor in its latest tablets. Unlike a few years ago, an iPad now has the horsepower to run professional-grade software.
Developers have been reluctant to embrace tablets because doing so would require them to almost completely re-design the user interfaces for their apps. Currently, these are designed around a mouse and pointer, so they are full of tiny buttons. This isn't practical when people are going to be using them with their fingertips.
But these developers won't going to be able to drag their heels much longer -- Microsoft has already started putting pressure on companies to make versions of professional apps for its Surface tablet. Once the new UI is ready, an iOS version (and Android too) can be created.
And tablet users are going to have a big role to play in this. An impediment to the creation of very complex apps for the iOS has been the typically low price of software. It simply isn't realistic for Microsoft to port a full version of Office and then ask $5 for it. Or $10 or $20. The least expensive Windows version of Office is about $100, and a feature-equivalent iPad version will need to be somewhere close to that. Other high-end applications will need to similar prices
If professional software does become a regular feature of the App Store, it won't mean that low-cost options will be pushed out. Those who are willing to use stripped down versions will still have access to them.
UPDATE: Microsoft has introduced Office for iPad, and its solution to getting user to pay more for software is to make this suite of apps part of Office 365, which means consumers and businesses have to pay a monthly or yearly subscription to use it.
Apple: Think Different
It's inevitable that tablets are going to become more popular than laptops for the same reason laptops took away most of the demand for PCs -- they are more portable and more flexible. But tablets are still in their infancy, and they have a ways to go before they become a viable alternative for everyone who has a laptop today.
[click to view image]A clip-on keyboard would make the iPad a better option for those who think with the right side of their brain, while an active digitizer would do the same for those who use the left. Better software will improve things for everyone.
Tablets are evolving to become more useful and more viable as business machines. Apple needs to be part of that evolution if it hopes to remain a successful part of this market. That won't happen until its executives stop making disparaging remarks about its competitors for making moves that Apple itself should also be making.