Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The iPad as desktop accessory

Two years ago, I shared a vision of the future about the convergence of mobile devices and laptops. Some vendors have experimented in this space, with mixed success. Developers seem to focus on one or the other: either a laptop or a table. Microsoft's Surface seems to be a step towards unity, in that the Surface presents itself as a PC in a tablet form factor. The Surface isn't a perfect mix; stuck between two worlds, it doesn't really advance us to a new mode of computing. But it seems only a matter of time until someone strikes the right balance and this new unified device becomes the next "must-have" technology that displaces even the iPad.

In that vision, I shared my belief that Apple will be the first to find the "right recipe." Apple has the right mix of customer base, brand loyalty, and the engineering to do something truly remarkable in this space. But I also commented that Apple is currently less engaged in innovation, so would require several steps to become successful in this new space.

I looked ahead one, two, and three years to predict how Apple might merge the laptop and the iPad. Here was step one:
1. The iPad as desktop accessory (2014)

Apple releases a new "interactive trackpad" accessory, about the size of an iPad Mini. Similar to the current Apple Magic Trackpad, the "Interactive Magic Trackpad" has a video display like an iPad Mini, but no storage and minimal internal computing technology. It's not intended to be an iPad; it's a new kind of mouse trackpad for Mac desktops and laptops. The "Interactive Magic Trackpad" links wirelessly with your Mac—or connect via Apple's Thunderbolt if you need to charge.

With the "Interactive Magic Trackpad," users can still move the pointer using tap, point, and swipe gestures. But now the "Interactive Magic Trackpad" can display interactive images—such as a menu of options or other actions—if your Mac software supports it. The trackpad can even play sounds like an iPad, which is a useful enhancement for user feedback. People who do a lot of photo manipulation via Photoshop immediately fall in love with the ability to move images, pinch to zoom, twirl to rotate … and the ability to put shortcuts to commonly-used tools on the "Interactive Magic Trackpad." The Apple faithful quickly make this the new "must-buy" accessory.
With that in mind, it's interesting to note a recent addition to the Apple app store: Duet Display. Duet Display allows you to use your iPad or iPhone as an extra display to your laptop, either MacBook or Windows. Just install the app, connect your iPad or iPhone via the usual cable, and you're all set!

Sounds very similar to the "Interactive Magic Trackpad" I described in 2013, doesn't it? This is a "smart" version of the device I described, leveraging an existing iPad or iPhone as the second display. But with Duet Display, you can use the touch display to tap on icons and interact with the second desktop. This is a big step forward to converge the desktop and the tablet.

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