While responding to a tweet yesterday by Neil Cybart (@NeilCybart), I suddenly had an epiphany about the strange difference between the original iPhone and the iPad Pro.
Neil’s tweet was about an anticipated and continued drop in sales for iPads:
My response was much like the refrain from a real estate agent, but instead of location, location, location, I said this:
And that got me thinking about just how much has changed in the mobile industry over the past 8 years, since the introduction of the iPhone. (It can hardly be called the “mobile” industry anymore, though, as the iPad Pro at 12.9˝ is now larger than the Retina MacBook at 12˝, and iOS & Android work on everything from watches to TVs to cars to phones to laptop-like tablets.)
So, what was the epiphany?
What was most amazing about the original iPhone was the software. Sure, hardware was necessary for touchscreens, and miniaturization of components, GPS, and battery technology was all crucial. But in terms of sheer CPU performance, the original iPhone was dog slow.
But performance mostly didn’t matter because the software was fantastical. Remember the first time you pinched-to-zoom in Maps, or read The New York Times’ web site rendered perfectly on your 3.5″ iPhone screen? It was magical. Despite the slow hardware.
It was all about the software.
Fast-forward to 2015 and the introduction of the 12.9˝ iPad Pro. Sure, iOS 9 is miles ahead of iPhone OS 1. But iOS and the default apps in it are limited by having to run on everything from the fastest 64-bit iPad Pro to a five-year-old, 32-bit, fast-at-the-time-but-now-dog-slow 5th-gen iPod touch, iPhone 4S or iPad 2.
But the iPad Pro is an order of magnitude faster than those old devices. It’s a fast as an Intel Core i5 laptop. It’s got a screen larger than or as large as the Retina MacBook or a MacBook Air. It’s got a USB 3.0-compatible Lightning port. Super-fast RAM, and desktop-class storage performance. Amazing GPU capabilities. A keyboard. Apple Pencil.
It’s all about the hardware.
In fact, as I mentioned at the iPad Pro’s debut, it’s really hardware in search of software. The hardware is amazing and heralds the potential for great software. But where is that software?
I think the great handicap of iOS 9 is its backwards compatibility for all those old 32-bit devices. What will really help bring on great, powerful software that takes advantage of this fantastic hardware is ditching that backwards compatibility, and moving forward with 64-bit only apps. Apple will likely do this with iOS 10.
(In fact, I think one of the major reasons for the introduction of the iPhone SE is to provide a very powerful, cheap upgrade for users of those old devices when Apple announces iOS 10 will be 64-bit only.)
So the flip-flop is that the iPhone was low in raw hardware CPU performance, but made up for it with amazing software. Meanwhile, the iPad Pro is amazing hardware in search of software that shows it off.
I’m predicting big things for iOS 10 at WWDC 2016. And then when Apple introduces new iPhones and iPads in the fall of 2016, it’s almost guaranteed that they will have one or more powerful (pro?) apps that will start to take advantage of the performance of the iPad Pro.