Why Reviewers Lament iPadOS While Users Absolutely Love It

A sleek, rectangular object with a glossy black surface and curved, glowing edges in vibrant colors sits against a solid black background, creating a futuristic and abstract visual effect.

In the days and weeks after the launch of the new iPad Pro from Apple, I noticed quite a bit of discourse responding to critical reception of the tablet that boils down to this: If iPadOS is so bad, why are so many creators using nothing else?

I published a long initial review when Apple’s embargo lifted along with many others and overall, we came to the same conclusion: it’s a gorgeous, well-designed piece of hardware that has a ton of power under the hood. We also aren’t sure how to use all of that power. Almost everyone points to iPadOS as the main cause as it feels like it hamstrings the experience.

One comment I saw on Threads in the hours after reviews went live stuck with me and continues to play in my head. It alleged that the disconnect between tech reviewers and actual users was never more obvious than in iPad reviews. It said that they, and I am included in this, just don’t “get” it and that real creatives have been happily using only an iPad for years, yet we as reviewers have echoed the same refrain about iPadOS for just as long.

Clearly, tech reviews are not in tune with real iPad users this and many responses like it read.

Hand holding a tablet displaying a 3D image of a colorful apple with striking ripple effects around it, symbolized in vivid blues, purples, and reds.

It made me feel as though I had missed something or perhaps that I was using the iPad wrong. But the more I spoke to other people who had a new iPad, the more I realized that there was something else going on.

PetaPixel‘s Jeremy Gray, who has been using the new iPad extensively since it came out, said he planned to try and use only an iPad to see if it was possible. Day one, he was butting up against a wall in Photoshop where he couldn’t properly resize the image using pixel values or aspect ratio with the crop tool — it just wasn’t possible. He ended up creating a ridiculous workaround just to get the result he wanted.

“Why can’t I adjust the brightness of my iPad display by luminance value? Why can’t I tweak its color space?” he said to me later that day.

I had no answer for him.

I then came across the below post on Threads that perfectly illustrates the situation:

Post by @snazzyq
View on Threads

If I want to do something and cannot figure out how, that is a nuisance. If I want to do something and it actually cannot be done, period, that’s a big problem. It’s not always obvious which is which when it comes to iPadOS and as a user, I don’t feel like I should have to figure it out each and every time.

All this said, I think my issue — and the issue that folks like me come up against — is that I’m trying to use an iPad like a computer when it’s not and isn’t meant to be. As maddening as watching the above is, an iPad user would never have even attempted it.

The Tablet-ification of Tech Language

I read a newsletter last year that argued younger people — Gen Z — are often described as tech-savvy because they grew up in a world where the Internet, computers, and smartphones have always existed. But there is an argument to be made that their digital literacy — their “ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills.” — is not translating to digital fluency, which is “having the skillset and understanding of digital technology to not only use it for basic tasks but also to adapt different digital tools for different situations to achieve a desired outcome such as creating new information and content.”

Gen Z is extremely capable on tablets and smartphones because they spend so much time in that environment but their skills with a computer are lacking because of it. There certainly are more studies that need to happen based on this thesis, but if you only ever use a tablet and only have ever used a tablet for years, getting the things done that you need to using one will feel like second nature. Even if it’s harder than if you were on a computer — assuming you had equal skills — it’s still possible.

If you look at the iPad as one part of a larger creation system of a desktop computer, a laptop, and external monitors, then it starts to fall apart. Trying to do things the way you’re used to doing them on a computer is a recipe for disaster when it comes to the iPad. But that’s the world tech reviewers live in: they are fluent in multiple types of tech language and when they try and integrate the iPad into an existing workflow, even a workflow designed by Apple, it stumbles and falls.

I know people bemoan macOS for being somewhat of a closed system but compared to iPadOS, it’s a free-for-all. iPadOS works if you only ever use iPadOS, but go beyond and it’s incredibly restrictive.

A laptop is open on a desk in a bright room with white shutters and stained glass windows, displaying an aerial night view of a city on its screen.

That is why so many creators who have never known anything but the tablet and phone environment are perfectly happy on iPadOS and so many tech reviewers feel hamstrung by it.

“iPadOS is designed to let you power through advanced workflows and do all the things you love with ease and simplicity. Run pro apps, play high-performance games, and take on creative projects of any size with an intuitive touch-first experience,” Apple writes on its website.

I think I get hung up on the “do all the things you love” part, because that’s the promise iPadOS doesn’t deliver to those who are used to the computer environment. That is why so many ask for a better file management system at the very least and dual-booting macOS at at the most. They simply want to have an experience that mimics that promise and iPadOS in its current state often cannot deliver it.

“A lot of people don’t realize that we’re aging. A younger generation’s version of computing is massively different than ours. If we had iPads growing up we’d be interacting differently, too,” Michael Miller wrote in response to the video above.

Apple is an at an impasse. It can continue iPadOS and the users who know it and nothing else will continue to love it, but reviewers and those who work in a wider ecosystem of devices will regularly complain. Or, Apple can change iPadOS to be more like a computer and upset the users that are used to the current experience. If there is anything obvious from all of this, it’s that Apple has to do something, but very likely whatever that is, it won’t please everyone.

Image credits: Header photo by Apple. All others by Jaron Schneider.