Does the iPad need its own operating system?

Some users think that the iPad should get its own operating system that goes far beyond the current version of iOS. But doing so might split development resources and could confuse users.


The iPad Pro has been marketed by Apple as a big leap in terms of using iOS for productivity. The company has touted the iPad Pro as a laptop replacement for some users, and has spared no expense in making sure that its customers are aware of the power of the iPad Pro.

But is iOS itself holding back the potential of the iPad Pro and the rest of the iPad product line? Some users think that the iPad should get its own operating system that goes beyond what iOS offers and the separates the iPad from Apple's iPhone in terms of feature sets and capabilities.

This topic came up in a recent thread on the Apple subreddit. I'll share my own thoughts below, but first here's a smattering of comments from the thread:

Chase_P started the thread with his question:

I don't know if it's just me, but I hate having iOS on an ipad, it just seems like such a waste, the iPad is supposed to be some powerful tool that people could potentially use as a replacement to the MacBook, but it's running the operating system used on the iPhone, I just feel like the iPad needs it's own standalone operating system that would rival Mac OS

More at Reddit

Other Apple redditors chimed in with their thoughts:

Theoneandonly: ”There seems to be a meme here that iOS is a gimped version of OS X. I disagree. iOS is INSANELY powerful. And not a "powerful for a phone" kind of way. It's powerful for an OS. It handles so much stuff that developers would have to program themselves on any other OS. (Before Core Location, an app would have to have a way to determine its own location. Now, an app just asks the OS where it is and the OS jumps into action to figure it out. All the core services are so wonderful that they've been trying to hobble them into OS X, although much less successfully.)

I think people here see the lack of file system as a limitation of the OS. To the contrary, a file system is a weakness of old OSes. And as a society, we should be moving away from the "folder in a folder in a folder in a folder in a folder" metaphor. The library metaphor makes so much more sense. A file lives inside the app it was created in. If you want to keep going in another app, simply pass the data from one app into another and keep working. No need to try to remember a crazy nested location.”

Drfinn: ”What he said ^ But seriously, splitting iPhone and iPad would only make development that much more difficult. Even with all the awesome resources out there building an app is a time consuming process and if each Dev had to somehow make am Iphone version and an iPad one that would just start to feel ridiculous. As I type this on my iPad pro I am well aware that the home screen just looks desolate but honestly if that's just like your desktop, then it makes sense, my laptop desktop is far emptier, the apps,are what really use that space and they're doing it quite well.”

Dinosaur: ”Think about how that sounds business wise, a rival operating system to OS X, which would effectively convert more people away. Why would Apple want three operating systems, two of which are in direction competition? It makes no sense for them to develop a separate OS for the tablet, because tablets are used differently than computers. If the tablet's OS was as good as a computer, there would be no need to buy both a computer and a tablet.

It's defective by design.”

Uguuuu: ”My only problem with iOS is that it doesn't let apps truly run in the background, so full automation (like Hazel, not like Workflow) is impossible, I can't have my IRC client running in the background, etc. This is fine and great for a phone, but I can't replace my laptop with an iPad if the iPad can't do the things that my laptop does. It's a shame, because the iPad Pro is basically my dream computer.”

Thirdxeye: ”The problem is battery. It's got background execution and background app refresh that'll allow you to do something. They should probably allow more execution if the device is hooked up to power.”

More at Reddit

An iPad OS would need more developers and might confuse customers

I very much dislike the idea of an entirely separate operating system for iPads. If Apple did that then I think it has the potential to split development resources between the iPhone and iPad in a way that might be bad for both devices. Apple has lots of money, but even Apple doesn't have an unlimited number of programmers to develop yet another operating system for its mobile products.

A separate iPad OS would also wreak havoc among third party developers. They'd have to deal with developing for two separate mobile operating systems, and it would make it much more of a headache for them to offer their apps for the iPhone and iPad. I suspect we might even see some third party developers opt out of iPad development in favor of the more popular iPhone. 

Also, right now it's easy for newcomers to iOS to pick up an iPad or iPhone, and start using either device comfortably. And it's quite easy for them to switch back and forth between the two, without having to learn how to navigate an entirely new interface. If the iPad were running a completely different operating system, it would fracture that kind of ease of use for many users.

Apple is slowly and carefully adding iPad-only features to iOS

Instead of doing an entirely new operating system for the iPad, Apple has wisely opted to add in certain features that work only on the iPad. Split View and Slideover in iOS 9 are only available on the iPad, there's no version of them on the iPhone. Nor would it make much sense to add them, given the much smaller screen size of even the iPhone 6s Plus compared to the iPad.

I think this is the direction that Apple will continue to go in with the iPad. iOS 9 is just the beginning of that process. We'll see a lot more iPad-only features added in iOS 10, 11, etc. Apple has made it clear that it wants iOS to be able to do a lot more than it currently does on the iPad, but making that happen will also take time. The company is moving slowly but surely to make this happen. 

So I don't think we'll ever see an entirely separate operating system for the iPad. But we will see ongoing tweaks and improvements to iOS that will work only on the iPad. And that should make a lot of iPad users very happy in the years to come.

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