At Apple’s yearly WWDC event yesterday, a lot of time was spent talking about the new OS that will be on iPads later this year when it officially launches: iPadOS. While some of the new multitasking animations and functions were impressive for a tablet, one of the bigger surprises was the addition of what Apple is calling a “desktop-class” version of Safari on iPad, and coupled with the emerging mouse support for iPad, it got us talking a bit about the impact it could have on Chromebook adoption.
First, let me clearly answer the question posed in the title of this article. Do I think that a “desktop-class” browser and mouse support will spell trouble for Chromebooks? No, I do not, and there a few reasons why I feel that way. You may feel different and, if you do, you are welcome to voice that in the comments below. There are likely a myriad of reasons why a consumer would choose a Chromebook over an iPad, but I just want to hit on a few in light of the iPad’s new abilities.
Not Quite Desktop Class
Though Apple is billing the new “Desktop-Class” Safari for iPad as a full desktop experience, the lack of real support for a mouse (we’ll hit that in a minute) means that Apple is basically changing the user agent on Safari to the desktop version and then doing some tricks on the fly to make things easier to touch and to allow basic functions in things like Google Docs to work they way they should.
While these are cool tricks, the issues of lacking Progressive Web App support, missing developer tools, and no true desktop rendering engine support are all unanswered and likely not addressed, here. Apple has been very slow in adopting pro-PWA features into Safari (even things as simple as native web push notifications are still not a thing) since well-written web apps threaten their overall app ecosystem on phones, tablets and desktop.
Most people don’t know this, but browsers on iOS are simply skinned versions of Safari and don’t use their own rendering engines at all: they use Safari’s because that’s just the way Apple rolls. I don’t think anyone is really under the impression that Apple is ditching the iOS Safari for something completely new, here, so don’t expect to get all the desktop-class browsing features you expect from other platforms. And if you are a developer, forget dev tools and inspection, here. This is still going to generally be Safari on iOS with all the limits that implies.
Mouse Support Is An Accessibility Feature, Not A Core Feature
As opposed to Google’s I/O Keynote a month ago where we saw large amounts of stage time dedicated to what Google is doing to help those with disabilities better use its products, Apple didn’t actually say anything about mouse support on the iPad on stage. Videos have emerged with a general idea of what this feature will look like, and it is clearly aimed at helping those with disabilities use an iPad.
While this will technically work as mouse support, it clearly is more of a way for a physical mouse to give you a virtual fingertip to put on screen with versus using your finger. I don’t get why Apple breezed right past it, but if they were even a bit serious about bringing mouse and trackpad support (like what is on the Mac) for general, everyday use to iPad OS, you think they’d have at least said something about it on stage.
I’m glad there is another way for disabled persons to interact with tech and I’m excited to see innovations in this direction, but I think Apple’s addition of this feature will likely remain exactly what it is launching as: an accessibility feature.
After all that, do I think that the addition of a “Desktop-class” browser and mouse support are going to have an effect on Chromebook sales in the consumer, education or enterprise markets? No. To be fair, I think all the things they are adding the the iPad experience are great, if not extremely overdue. I just don’t think any of it is worth creating anxiety for Chrome OS fans.
Considering windowed productivity, true mouse support, a full desktop rendering engine, peripheral support, true extended displays, clamshell form factors (with attached trackpads), multi-account sign ins, simple fleet deployment, 6-week security updates, background updates, sub-10 second boot times, and a wide array of form factors are all things Chromebooks have that iPads don’t (I’m sure I missed some things there), I’m not too concerned that these new additions to the iPad will cause any trouble for the growth and adoption of Chromebooks at this point.