Six Colors
Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Stephen Hackett

The Hackett File: What Sidecar says about the future of the Mac

Coming with macOS Catalina and iPadOS 13, Sidecar bridges the Mac and iPad experience, turning for latter into an external display for the former.

For full details, be sure to check out John Voorhees’s article on the subject, but today, I want to talk about Sidecar through the lens of what it could mean about the future of the Mac.

Sidecar will allow you to mirror your Mac’s display on an iPad or use the iPad like a traditional external display. Additionally, any window can be sent to the iPad’s display via a new contextual menu item available when hovering over the green stoplight button on any macOS window. Which is … weird:

On the surface, it would appear that Sidecar basically means Apple is officially supporting accessing macOS via a touchscreen, something the company has not yet done with their Mac notebooks.

The devil, as they say, is in the details.

When the Mac’s UI is presented on the iPad, it looks great, but interacting with it is weird.

No actions are available with a single finger tap or swipe; tapping any UI elements requires the Apple Pencil, while two fingers are required for scrolling content like webpages, documents, etc. The Pencil does pack some fun tricks, like swiping text for selection, but in short, the Apple Pencil acts like the mouse cursor on macOS, and scrolling on the iPad mimics how things work on trackpads.

These gestures are weird to get used to in the context of working on an iPad, but they seem like they are this way due to the inherent limitations — and foundations — of macOS, an operating system born in a time of mice and trackpads, not touch screens. As such, some elements in macOS are comically small on an iPad, and are way too small to be hit with any sort of precision by a finger.

This leaves the Touch Bar in an interesting spot. Many see it as a hedge against touch screen Macs, and while its adoption in third-party apps can be hit or miss, Apple is including it in the Sidecar UI to surface quick actions within Mac apps. I didn’t expect to see the Touch Bar ever show up in a non-physical form, but it works in this context.

I don’t know how widely-used Sidecar will become, but it does raise questions about the future of the Mac. When Microsoft started adding touch support to Windows, it was awkward at first, but over time, the company enlarged common UI elements to make them more finger-friendly. Sidecar shows that Apple will need to do similar work if we ever expect to see a MacBook Pro with Multi-Touch support. macOS may be great, but it’s not ready for touch.

[Stephen Hackett is the author of 512 Pixels and co-founder of Relay FM.]


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