Apple has separated iPad OS from iOS with the clear intention of moving the iPad OS towards a different experience that is more optimized for productivity, or the tasks that will require a larger screen and maybe a keyboard. On the other side of the fence, we see Google which has a very successful smartphone OS, but cannot decide on what to do with its tablet strategy. We also see Microsoft which has failed in its smartphone strategy, audaciously attempted to rebuild its desktop OS around mobile (and failed), and is now basically waiting on Moore’s Law to bring the combination of high performance and long battery life to their Surface detachable PCs.
iPad OS vs. Google Android or Chrome
Although the vast majority of tablets sold from 3rd parties still run Android, it is clear that Google itself thinks that the future or its tablets are Chrome OS. Their most recent tablet hardware offering, the Google Pixel Slate makes this very clear. However, this is hardly ready for prime time and the market response has been lukewarm at best. Simply, it isn’t selling enough to make a noise. The fusion of an OS that is by and large only popular in US schools and an OS that still isn’t considered seriously as a tablet by developers has not generated a winner.
At this point, it is very difficult to be optimistic about the future of a Google-backed OS outside of smartphones and in the productivity segment. However, what we might see is people in developing countries like China and India increasingly use their large phablets as their sole productivity device. This is a trend that is also worth watching.
iPad OS vs. Windows
This is by far the more interesting platform war to watch. There are a couple things to note.
- Detachable Windows PCs will increase in performance and battery-life due to Moore’s Law, thereby overcoming their most often criticized weak points, regardless of the move to ARM is successful or not.
- iPads OS will evolve to be more and more capable of performing desktop PC tasks.
Today, there is a clear difference between what a PC is good at and where the iPad excels. PCs are heavier and more cumbersome but have a full browser and a full Office suite. iPads are lighter, have better battery life but suffer from a mobile browser that cannot handle many desktop-class web apps, and have office suites with reduced feature sets. However in the near future, the boundaries will blur due to the factors above and the battle will be waged on more interesting issues. I predict this to be very close and I do not expect a decisive victory on either end. In ten years, we will probably live in a world where iPads and Windows tablets happily coexist to get work done.
One of the weaknesses of Microsoft here is that their integration with smartphones is still insufficient. Since many users would like to seamlessly transition between working on a smartphone and their main productivity device, Microsoft has been working with iOS and Android to build their tools for integration. This is particularly interesting given Google’s weak position here, since it means that Microsoft will most likely be successful in convincing Android users that instead of looking at Chrome OS tablet offerings when considering productivity, they should just continue to use Windows.
Before the announcements at WWDC 2019, it was unclear whether iPad would be a strong contender for the next generation of productivity devices. With the iPad OS however, it is very hard now to remain doubtful. iPads will most certainly evolve to be a very big part of our productivity going forward.
Windows still dominates in productivity, and Microsoft has been doing its homework to make sure that this continues to be the case. Although its weakness in smartphones is damaging, they are doing a good job of building up the continuity features so that users can seamlessly switch between tasks on their smartphone and their preferred productivity device. Moore’s Law is on their side.
Google’s position which is to bet on the Chrome OS, is looking very weak now. It was weak before, but with a desktop-class browser coming to iPad OS, the only thing that they have left going for them is the legacy pointing device (and yes, you can safely bet that web app developers will test their UI on iPads from now on). Chrome OS will continue to be a nice OS to work on, but it will hardly be the next generation productivity tool. Moore’s Law will also work against Chrome OS relative to Windows.