Why I’m Glad Apple Didn’t Change iPadOS, Using an Analogy Photographers Will Understand

A visual comparison showing two tablets on the left and a camera on the right, connected by an equal sign. The tablets display vibrant screens, suggesting they are high-end models. The camera appears to be a black, compact digital camera with a classic design.

It’s clear the iPad has a bit of an identity crisis. Some users, especially some high-level creators, just don’t get what it’s for. But instead of lamenting how the iPad falls short of a traditional laptop, it’s better to look at things another way.

Following Apple’s WWDC keynote Monday, PetaPixel editor-in-chief Jaron Schneider found himself underwhelmed by iPadOS once again. He asked what he was missing. What did I see that he didn’t? Owning an iPad, I explained, is just like having multiple cameras and lenses in a kit. Each piece of equipment has a different purpose.

In a recent opinion piece, Schneider acknowledged that he might be getting caught up in the way Apple bills the iPad as an all-in-one device, a reasonable point of contention for anyone using their computer setup for things like photography and video editing. Similarly, PetaPixel‘s Jeremy Gray also set out to use the iPad exclusively and quickly became frustrated at its limitations.

“Why can’t I adjust the brightness of my iPad display by luminance value? Why can’t I tweak its color space?” Gray asks, as Schneider notes in his piece.

A tablet with a keyboard attached is placed on a wooden surface. The tablet screen displays an image of colorful aurora lights in shades of blue, green, and purple. The tablet is positioned at an angle, with a light gray wall in the background.

During a conversation this morning, I finally figured out a way to explain the situation in a way they might understand: the iPad is to a MacBook as a Fujifilm X100VI is to a Nikon Z8. You don’t get mad at the X100VI because of its limitations compared to a Z8 because they were never meant to be compared apples-to-apples. Photographers understand different cameras are for different jobs, and that same line of thought can be applied to the iPad, iPhone, and various macOS computers.

It’s also crucial to note at this point that Apple’s selling point of the iPad as an all-in-one device isn’t untrue — it’s just not true for creatives. It’s also not true for hardcore gamers (who likely aren’t using an Apple device over a PC anyway). The iPad does, however, work quite well as a do-it-all device for the average user who mostly edits photos for sharing with loved ones on social media or for making small-scale prints. It works great for a student who needs a device to write essays and complete assignments that don’t involve heavy image editing.

A hand holding a tablet displaying a colorful abstract image, outdoors with blurred greenery in the background.

A camera’s kit lens is perfectly suitable for a hobbyist photographer just starting out. That doesn’t mean a professional should rely on a kit lens for most shoots. It doesn’t mean the professional can’t make a kit lens work, it’s just not the ideal tool.

The iPad isn’t useless in the hands of creatives either. But in that case, it serves more as a handy supplementary device, not as a replacement for a Mac computer (the comparison to the X100VI and the Z8 again works here). And sure, the iPad can run Photoshop (albeit in an uninspired watered-down version), Final Cut Pro, and Luma Fusion. However, the fact that the iPad can run the same software found on a desktop doesn’t mean those programs should be used the same way you would on a desktop.

The iPad is incredibly light and thin; “thinpossible” as Apple’s website proudly proclaims. This makes it great for smaller tasks to complete on the go. For me, that means simple things like sending an important email, such as one I want to make sure I get right and prefer to complete on the iPad’s Magic Keyboard over the iPhone’s tiny screen and tinier virtual keyboard. Need to file an article while away? The iPad gets pulled out. Need to take notes for a class or an interview? Absolutely perfect.

But if I need to edit RAW photos for the same article? I’m going to take my laptop, especially since it doesn’t weigh nearly as much as my first MacBook Air from 2011. But, I can do heavy edits on my MacBook Pro and pick things up on the iPad later if I’m out. That’s the magic of my handy tablet.

The touchscreen is a godsend when making finer edits as well. I love turning it into a second screen and using the Apple Pencil to burn and dodge with more precision than I have with a mouse. Being able to pull and stretch items in Canva feels more natural. Creating digital art on Procreate very clearly benefits from the touchscreen and Apple Pencil as well.

Close-up of two iPad Pros side by side on a wooden surface, focusing on their side profiles showing USB-C ports and a sleek design.
On the left, last year’s iPad Pro. On the right, the new iPad Pro (2024).

This is where things get lost in translation. Rather than trying to do everything on the iPad, creatives — especially enthusiasts and professionals — need to recognize when to use it. Further, the iPad, when used as a supplemental device in this way, is a luxury item. Just because the iPad is common does not make this fact any less true. Meanwhile, the student using the iPad in place of a laptop, especially the iPad Air or base model, is not using the device as a luxury item. These groups are using the same device in vastly different ways.

But no one really needs an iPad for these supplemental use cases. Again, it’s a luxury in the same way it is to own multiple lenses because one does something just slightly better than another. The ease and convenience feel amazing, but it isn’t a need.

All of that said, the iPad and iPadOS is far from perfect. The file management system isn’t great. It requires users to be extremely organized, and if they’re not, it’s far easier for things to descend into visual chaos than on a desktop. Gray’s complaints about how the screen appears could be a game changer if acted on, and the long-winded video from Threads (below) about how hard it is to use two monitors with an iPad is definitely a problem. If Apple allows something to be done, the onus is on Apple to make that process intuitive.

Post by @snazzyq
View on Threads

Likewise, those powerful apps like Photoshop could use some upgrades. This, however, isn’t just on Apple, it’s also on Adobe.

Yet, the solution I hear most iPad critics offer is to make it more like a computer or macOS. But then, what truly would be the point of the iPad if it loses its streamlined UI? If it’s no longer optimized for use as a tablet, then what is it? How is it different from a (currently non-existent) MacBook Pro Touch?

A modern laptop on a wooden desk, showing a partial view of the black keyboard and trackpad, with the screen tilted slightly down.

After all, it’s easy to forget now how the iPad initially ran on the same iOS as iPhones. iPadOS was a massive upgrade that finally let the device be its own thing. Similarly, macOS would be just as much of a misfit as iOS was on the tablet. Instead of reinventing the wheel, or operating system, Apple merely needs to refine it. And, hopefully, users will acknowledge that an iPad isn’t a Mac any more than a cat is a dog (even though both are pets).

Image credits: Header images by Apple and Fujifilm. All others by Jaron Schneider for PetaPixel.