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Computers

I can't take Macs and iPads being split anymore

Commentary: Macs and iPads merging? No. Disappointed? Yes.

Will Apple merge MacOS and iOS? No, says Craig Federighi, Apple's senior vice president of software engineering at WWDC 2018.

Will Apple merge MacOS and iOS? No, says Craig Federighi, Apple's senior vice president of software engineering at WWDC 2018.

Screenshot by Lynn La/CNET

Apple gave us the message clearly, in case you were curious. iOS and Macs are not fusing. OK. Tim Cook said this before, and Apple's Craig Federighi clearly declared this on stage at this year's Apple WWDC conference, taking a specific moment to even put a big sign up: No.

What will happen, over time, is that iOS apps will make their way onto Macs, thanks to a new common development platform. Some app cross-pollination will occur. Apple used this new unified system to port the iPhone's Stocks and Voice Memos app to the iPad and the Mac. And now, it's letting third-party developers do that, too. That should make it easier for more iOS apps to make their way to the Mac, which not coincidentally, is getting a spruced up App Store, too.

Well, great, I guess. Maybe I can finally get Mac versions of Heads Up, Roblox and Waze that I never asked for. But the dearth of specialized software on the Mac or on the iPad isn't my primary concern. For me, it's the dearth of new hardware. No new Macs, and no new iPad Pros, leave both product lines in a completely weird situation. Again.

2 computer lines, 2 concepts

The iPad Pro is great for what it's allowed to do. I use it all the time as my reader, browser, movie-watcher, game-player, note-taker and little writing device for first drafts. It's with me most days. It's a super-fast and portable tool with marathon battery life.

But it has its limits. Limits that could clearly be overcome through software and hardware advances. If I could browse the web like a Chromebook, use web tools like I do on a computer or Chromebook, and use a keyboard with a trackpad, I could file stories and do basically all the things I do on my work MacBook Air or home 2015 MacBook Pro. All of that, at this point, is nearly completely browser-based. I could carry just one device.

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I don't carry just one device, of course. Besides my phone, I carry two: the iPad and a MacBook. The MacBook is the work machine. And it is lousy for games and videos and apps. It's not instant, it's not versatile, I can't touch its screen or browse as easily. But it's essential. Which makes the iPad, still, a tertiary device.

But the iPad is where I want the Mac's spirit to grow into. It's that direction I want to see progress in: how the iPad's OS can get more computer-like. Not the other way around. I don't care about iOS apps on Mac, because they won't be the same thing: I won't be able to touch them, browse them as easily. I won't be able to use a pressure-sensitive Pencil for art tools.

apple-ipad-pro-2017-007

This is almost a laptop. Almost.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Mac and iOS won't merge? Really?

If the statement is that iPads and Macs will remain iPads and Macs, what does that mean for the hardware lineup now, and in the immediate future? Even if iPads -- or Macs -- get a natural upgrade like Face ID, that wouldn't be a game changer. iPads would still be touchscreen tablets, and Macs would stay essentially touchscreen-free, traditional computers.

I find that hard to believe, even with Apple's statement. And there's a way for the platforms to grow together without technically merging, too. Maybe the iPad gets a faster Smart Connector that allows added accessories like more advanced keyboards (with trackpads), becoming more of the full computer experience. Maybe Macs evolve more touch functions over time, and become smaller and more similar to iPads. Parallel evolution, perhaps.

But the problem right now is, Apple's iPad and Mac lineup is feeling like it's frozen in time. iPads have hit a wall as far as how much further they can go with being flexible browser-based productivity tools. MacBooks have split into a family of options that have drawbacks, including limited ports, occasionally-jamming keyboards, touchbars that try to help with touch control but don't quite do the same thing.

Moving the Mac needle forward with new software is appreciated. But it's not the whole story. Someday, Macs and iPads are going to evolve, and in the meantime, it's becoming increasingly difficult to figure out when is a good time to buy one. Or maybe it's time to consider a Windows PC that already does both.

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