iOS and Mac - Progression... / by Erin Wade

I do a portion of my work - especially meetings - remotely. I use a couple of different services for this purpose - GoToMeeting for group events and FaceTime for individual meetings. When I'm traveling I'll take the meeting on my iPhone 6s, and work on my iPad Pro. But when I'm at my home office I'll work from my iMac.

...Or I will sometimes.

The rationale behind the iMac is pretty straightforward. It has a 27" screen, providing a lot of real estate to work with. I can put the people in one window towards top center, near the camera, and place notes and reference documentation on other parts of the screen - everything at a glance. This is the multitasking traditional operating systems - Mac OS, Windows - boast as an advantage over their mobile counterparts.

On at least three occasions over the past month this has been an advantage in theory which has fallen down in practice. I've had occasions in which I've sat down to begin a remote meeting and found that I could not hear the other people in the meeting. This has occurred in both of the apps I use, and the occurrence is not, thus far, predictable.

Each time this has resulted in a pattern in which I do the following:

  1. Open system preferences to make sure the correct sound output option is selected (it typically is).
  2. Disconnect and reconnect the meeting in hopes of correcting the issue (it doesn't).
  3. Disconnect the meeting on my desktop and reconnect with my iPhone. Which works perfectly. Every. Time.

Now I am fairly technically capable - I know if I fiddle around enough with the settings, perhaps try an reboot, etc, I will be able to get the sound to work. The reality, however, is that I don't have time for this in the moment - I have a meeting to hold.

There's been some grousing in the Apple tech world, particularly following the release of the new MacBook Pro's, about the development progress of the Mac line - that it has been too long between updates, that they are concerned in general that Apple seems more focused on iOS devices the iPad and especially the iPhone - and iOS peripherals like the Apple TV and Apple Watch. This appears to stem from a fear that Apple will allow the tools they are comfortable using to lag behind.

Usually this is apparent change in focus is presented as being rooted in profitability - iOS, and especially the iPhone contribute far more to Apple's bottom line than the Mac does, and so the company will focus there. I'm certain this is a factor, as it should be for any company. But I don't think this is all there is to what is happening.

Back in 2005, after more than a decade of using Windows machines I got my first Mac: a Mac Mini. I bought it for a very specific and singular purpose - video conferencing with another Mac user - and didn't expect to do much more than that with it. But what I began to realize, as I explored the then unfamiliar operating system and became more comfortable with thinking about things from a "Mac" point of view, is things from that point of view were better. I wasn't spending my time rebooting from lockups or trying to sort out networking problems. I was spending my time working.

This experience with the audio issue has very much the same feel to me. The multitasking capability of my iMac is no advantage when I cannot hear others in my meeting. In fact, I suspect it is the multitasking that is at the heart of the issue - that another app has hijacked the audio and will not relinquish it to the app I'm using (I've found this to be the case for audio issues at other times - I'm looking at you, LogMeIn...).

Meanwhile, each and every time I do a video meeting using my iPhone or iPad, well... at the risk of being cliché, it just works. I'm not spending my time sorting out sound issues, I'm spending my time, once again, working.

This is not to say that it's a perfect solution. While the iPad offers multitasking, GoToMeeting does not yet support picture-in-picture (FaceTime does), so group meetings require both devices - an iPhone and iPad. Honestly, however, I always have both devices with me - they are my traveling work system and, more and more, my home office work system as well.

While there still are certainly very specialized tasks and work areas that may still require a traditional desktop-style operating system. But for typical office style work - which is ultimately what I do: reading reference materials, writing reports, working with spreadsheets, exchanging documents, communicating via email and messaging systems, and holding the aforementioned meetings - iOS is as good and often, perhaps by virtue of its simplicity, better1. Not having to think about how apps interact - being able to expect them to simply respond when you access them - can ultimately override the purported multitasking advantage offered by desktop-style operating systems.

The long and short of this is that this experience strongly suggests that the focus by Apple on iOS isn't just based upon profitability. Rather, one suspects the focus is because, for most2 work, iOS is ultimately the better3 solution.

  1. If the idea of using an iOS device in the way I am describing here seems foreign or unlikely from the perspective of working on a desktop-style OS, I'd note that it's important to realize that you have to expect a learning curve. Any new tool requires a period of familiarization, but once past that, iOS is extremely capable

  2. "Most" work is probably more work than people think. Often when I read reviews and commentary on using iOS claims of what people feel they cannot do on iOS relates more to their preference rather than an actual limitation. I've read at least one article, for example, in which the author indicated he didn't want to do photo editing on a touch screen. Comfort with existing tools and systems can understandably limit interest in exploring new approaches. This is actually a well understood behavioral phenomenon - to get people to switch to new systems often requires making old approaches stop working, a process known as [extinction](  

  3. Lest there be any Mac vs Windows question here: I work with all three operating systems - iOS, Mac OS, and Windows (7) on a regular basis. The benefit I see to the simpler approach offered by iOS applies to Microsoft as well - their attempt to graft Windows onto a touch platform very much feels to like a desperate attempt to keep an old, leaking ship afloat. Interacting with Windows is often one the least pleasant parts of my workday.