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Why doesn't the iPad support multiple users?

Unlike a MacBook Pro, the iPad is curiously missing a must-have piece of functionality. Why doesn't the iPad support multiple users?

The iPad should support multiple users.

It's been just over a month since I got my iPad 2 on launch day. For the most part, I absolutely love it. More often than not, I find myself reaching for it at times when previously I'd open up my MacBook. It's totally filled a void in my tech life I had not known existed, and for that I am grateful.

However, unlike my MacBook Pro, the iPad is curiously missing what I think is a must-have piece of functionality. Why doesn't the iPad support multiple users? I asked a few colleagues around the office what they think are the reasons for such a gross omission and far too often I got responses like, "But the iPad is such a personal device," or "They just want every household to buy one for each person living there."

Regarding the first excuse I immediately call foul. Yes, the iPad is a personal device, but it's no more personal than my MacBook Pro--which has no issues with giving my wife or me that deliciously satisfying cube-rotation animation when logging in and out. When I think "personal device" I think of, say, a toothbrush. Since the iPad is not a toothbrush (yet), it should let my wife and me maintain separate identities or system states so we don't continuously need to log in and out of e-mail accounts, Facebook, Twitter, and the like 20 times a day. Sure, iOS was originally conceived for a phone, but the iPad is not a phone that I carry around in my pocket.

Now comes the "They just want every household to buy one for each person living there" argument. Of course I understand why Apple would want a family of four to spend at least $2,000 (plus tax) on iPads, but I also understand that electricity costs money and food needs to be eaten regularly. I've accepted the fact that Apple has convinced an entire planet that simplicity comes at a premium, but I'm not a believer that these luxuries should have deliberate sharing limitations among two or more people.

OS X's user switching in action.

That's right, I said deliberate. If you think the iPad in all its majesty is for whatever reason just technologically incapable of supporting multiple users, you probably laser-engraved the thing with your Social Security number on the back.

I could sympathize with that school of thought if the iPad were a $99 gadget, but it's not. At $500, it's quite expensive and certainly costs just as much as a solidly performing Windows laptop--a device that a family could easily share. Would supporting multiple users prevent the sale of a few iPads? Sure. But I'm comfortable in saying the iPad's intimidating price tag prevents plenty of would-be customers from pulling the trigger, too.

I constantly get asked of my opinion on other competing tablets--namely Android devices that don't support multiple users either--and I've yet to experience anything that comes close to the intoxicatingly smooth and worry-free performance of the iPad. All I want is to be able to share it correctly with my wife. Is that too much to ask? It's possible June's WWDC--a preview of the future of iOS--might bring us support for multiple users, but I'm not holding my breath.

Note: For now, there are apps that will give iPad users limited profile sharing, but only on a jailbroken iPad.