Feature Articles

Apple won’t build my dream device, but that’s alright (A chat with Apple's top execs about iPads)

By Kenny Yeo - 15 May 2024

Apple won’t build my dream device, but that’s alright (A chat with Apple's top execs about iPads)

After the recent iPad keynote, I had the opportunity to sit down and talk to Apple executives Greg Joswiak and John Ternus on issues ranging from iPads to Macs.

Some years ago I wrote about my dream Apple device. In my head, it was this shape-shifting device that was a cross between an iPad and a MacBook. 

I wrote:

My dream Mac is actually very simple. It would be a MacBook Pro with a detachable display. And when you remove the display from the keyboard, it turns into an iPad. Another way to think of it is that it's an iPad running iPadOS that turns into a Mac running macOS when you attach it to a keyboard.

This really was just about a roundabout way of saying I wanted iPads to run macOS. 

Because Apple is notoriously secretive, it’s impossible to say if such a device ever registered in the minds of its designers and engineers. But even if it did and even if all the ingredients were in place for it to happen, I knew that it would be unlikely for Apple to make something like this. 

But because I’m the eternal optimist, I had hope. 

From left to right: Greg Joswiak, Senior Vice President Worldwide Marketing. John Ternus, Senior Vice President Hardware Engineering.

However, that hope was dashed during a recent chat I had with Apple executives Greg Joswiak and John Ternus. But more than that, I also had an epiphany, that actually, the dream device that I had wanted all this while might not have been such a good idea after all.

A bit of context for those who are unfamiliar with Apple’s leadership team. Joswiak is the senior vice president of worldwide marketing, which means he leads Apple’s worldwide marketing efforts. Ternus, on the other hand, is the senior vice president of hardware engineering, so he oversees the development of almost all of Apple’s devices. Also, it hadn't been reported yet at the time when I met him, but reports were emerging that Ternus was the most likely person to succeed Cook as Apple CEO.

Is there a better two-person team from Apple to speak to about its devices and product development? I think not.

This was the first time I had met anyone from Apple’s leadership teamI had met Cook very briefly when he visited Singapore a few weeks earlier, but I only had a quick word with him, so that didn’t count.

My dream device would have looked something like this. (Image source: MacRumors)

In some ways, this was like a first date. I had burning questions I wanted to ask but I needed to be tactful. But even then, I learned quite a bit about how Apple designs products and how it views the iPad and Mac.

Contrary to what some may think, Ternus and Joswiak told me that the iPad Pro is “a very, very popular product” and that iPads are a huge business for Apple. iPads alone accounted for around US$28 billion in revenue last year for Apple, which is actually about the same as Macs. To give this figure further context, if Apple sold only iPads, it would rank about 145th in the Fortune 500 list. 

This is why they take the iPad Pro so seriously. In Ternus’ words, “It’s the iPad where we just push the limits and make the absolute best iPad we can make.” And Joswiak backed that up by saying that with the iPad Pro, they “want to make them the best they can possibly be”.

From an engineering perspective, I think they absolutely have nailed it. As I said in my review, the hardware is stunning. The software has its quirks and issues, but that’s a question and story for another day (and perhaps for Craig Federighi). Besides, I’m sure Apple will have more to say about iPadOS seeing that WWDC is just around the corner.

Apple made the new iPad Pros so thin because they believed that customers would have wanted more portability as long as battery life wasn't negatively impacted.

For me, the decision to further shrink the iPad Pro’s thickness was most intriguing. I don’t know anyone who thought the last-generation iPad Pro was too thick, so it’s interesting that Apple decided to shave it down further when they could have kept things as they are and perhaps have a larger battery or better cooling.

Ternus’ response to this was about “thinking through the right trade-offs.” They could have easily included a larger battery, but that would come at the cost of weight. Which would have moved them further away from the goal of making the iPad Pro “a magical sheet of glass.” And after living with the iPad Pro for almost a week now, I think that was the right decision to make. 

It was somewhere at this point, in between our discussions about portability and battery life, that I realised that perhaps my dream device might not be so fantastic after all

Part of the reason why I love my MacBook Pro so much is because of its blend of portability and battery life. Would I still enjoy it as much if it only had half the battery life but weighed lesser? Would I use it as much if it weighed more but could last longer? Probably not. The more I thought about it the more it became clear to me that my dream device would have been an awkward compromise (at least given current technology constraints). And that's to say nothing about the software side of things.

MacBooks are good at certain things and iPads are good at others.

Apple is apparently aware of this. When asked if the paths of iPads and Macs are going to converge, Joswiak said no. “They’re never going to converge. It’s not our goal to have iPad replace Mac, or Mac replace iPad. They are two very different tools. Each can do things that are unique to each… Most Mac customers have an iPad and they are both actively used. They use the tool that’s right for them in that situation.” 

The last bit resonated with me because when I think about my usage habits, I grab each device at different times. I take my iPad when I know I have an hour to burn at the cafe, but I reach for my MacBook Pro if I have photos to edit. I use my iPad to plan holidays, but I prefer using my MacBook Pro to plan my finances. Joswiak's observation was arguably spot on, users pick the tool that best suits them for any given task.

As is the case with any mobile device, the triangle of performance, battery life, and portability must be finely balanced. But should a day come when we need not be weighed down by such considerations, I don’t see why it won’t be possible to build the hybrid Mac/iPad device that I’ve been dreaming of, especially if it’s something that customers want. Never say never. 

Join HWZ's Telegram channel here and catch all the latest tech news!
Our articles may contain affiliate links. If you buy through these links, we may earn a small commission.