And Apple should do a DeX with iPhone too


Last year, I griped that the iPad is an ergonomic disaster for traditional computing work, and needs full pointer support right now. Surprisingly, Apple responded to such complaints by reinventing the pointer system for its tablet. We didn’t even have to wait until iPadOS 14 later this year—it came as a late update to iPadOS 13. People were thrilled. They noted that now, finally, the iPad was a ‘proper’ computer. Only, it still falls short in one key way.

At the very top of my wish-list for WWDC 2020—and I wasn’t alone—was full external display support for iPad. Right now, you can hook your tablet up to an external display, and one of two things happens. With a handful of apps, the external display becomes a presentation screen, for example providing full-screen playback for work within a video editor. Mostly, the iPad display is mirrored, leaving ugly black bars left and right on your 600-buck 4K display.

This is nonsensical. Given that iPad now has desktop-grade input, it should have desktop-grade display support. Being able to transform iPad into a laptop and instantly back to a tablet when using Apple’s fancy new keyboard is only two thirds of the modular computing dream. It should also be possible to use the iPad in a desktop-like manner.

I know what some will say in response to this: get a Mac. Sure, I get it. But why get a Mac, when Apple has for years been pushing iPad as a ‘proper’ computer? Why get a Mac, when iPad has desktop-grade software that would work wonderfully on an external display? Why get a Mac, when an iPad is your primary computer? And purely from an ergonomics and health perspective, Apple should surely be promoting a means to have people use iPads in a manner that’s beneficial for their general wellbeing, rather than encouraging them to hunch over a sort-of laptop?

My hope is that there’s “one more thing” to iPadOS 14 and that Apple springs a surprise on us this autumn—although I’m not holding my breath. My fear is the company is hampering iPad a little to nudge people towards Macs. But then even if iPad gets this feature, it won’t be enough. I’d like to see a future where iPhone, too, gets full external display support.

You might think that’s a step too far, but a recent Samsung device loan showed me the way. DeX is flawed and too often a sub-optimal experience. Yet there was something amazing about hooking a phone up to an HDMI display and just getting on with work. It showed a future where a pocket computer is your only computer. Apple already has all of the pieces to make this a reality—and in a superior manner.

Perhaps it’s too soon, but that certainly isn’t the case for iPad. 2020 is the year Apple should usher in full modular computing for its touchscreen tablet; but 2021 is the year it should do the same for the iPhone.