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​Where was the iPad at WWDC?

Commentary: The future of Apple computers wasn't very present at this year's developer conference.

Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
Expertise VR and AR, gaming, metaverse technologies, wearable tech, tablets Credentials
  • Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Scott Stein
3 min read
Tyler Lizenby/CNET

I should have known there was a problem when Apple discussed how it would go deeper into four platforms, even though I counted five.

Apple Watch. iPhone. Apple TV. Mac. And iPad.

I can understand why the number was four: WatchOS, TVOS, iOS and MacOS are different software ecosystems. But that's the problem. iPhones and iPads aren't the same, really. They haven't been the same for years. And, although the iPad is still considered Apple's vision of the future of computing, that future was mysteriously absent at WWDC.

Watch this: Apple unveils iOS 10, packs it with new features

Untapped potential

The iPad Pro is a beast of a machine. It's pretty close to being a Mac in terms of performance. But its capabilities weren't expanded at this show. Well, you could count iOS 10 as an expansion, but the services emphasized seemed to serve iPhone more than iPad. Smarter Messages, cleaned-up Apple Music, and new auto-wake home screen notifications weren't exactly what I was looking for on iPad. And none of the 3D Touch features will work on iPad, which lacks that iPhone-only feature.

True, Apple will introduce split-screen Safari in iOS 10. And the very nice-looking Swift Playgrounds, a free coding-education app for kids, will be iPad-only in the fall. The revamped Apple News app looks nicely optimized on the iPad. But I expected more. A greater range of Smart Connector-ready accessories. Ways to multitask across apps beyond just two split-screen panes and picture-in-picture. Even, at least, just showing how iOS 10 would feel on an iPad.

Most of the demos I saw -- maybe all of them -- showed iPhones. The iPad was invisible. And in 2016, as the iPad Pro seems ready to evolve into a possible successor to the Mac, that just didn't feel right.

Here are the coolest new features of iOS 10 (pictures)

See all photos

Emphasis to other platforms

Apple has a lot of other products to attend to. I get that. Apple Watch and Apple TV received breakout sections of the keynote, focusing on new uses, improvements and app possibilities. The Mac got Siri, and better interconnectivity with iOS devices for authentication. The iPhone, Apple's king of all gadgets, was the star of the show. As it should be.

Watching WWDC, it was increasingly clear that iPad was the least-emphasized hardware of all. Last year, the iPad was specifically called out as one of the unique feature sets of iOS 9. Split View, the swipe-out quick-view mode, and picture-in-picture made the iPad Air 2 into a far more versatile tablet. I was expecting another set of unique call-out features this year, too. With far better hardware and the Apple Pencil, wouldn't that make sense?

Apple WWDC 2016 keynote kicks off (pictures)

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Maybe iPad should get its own OS

Maybe what bothers me the most is that iPad and iPhone have to share one iOS. I use my iPad and iPhone very differently. Each uses different types of apps. I don't use the same types of apps on both, any more than I use the same types of apps on my Mac and my iPhone.

I haven't used the iOS 10 beta yet, so maybe there's some secret iPad sauce I'm missing. But I'm betting if something was really worthwhile, Apple would've shown it on stage.

Maybe it's time iPads got their own dedicated flavor of iOS. Or at least, something clearly defined. Even a different look to the home screen, the notifications. I'd love a dock. I'd love to make more use of the screen real estate. I'd like to use it even more as a computer. What's holding the iPad back isn't hardware. No, the hardware is great. It's the software.

Maybe next year?