The iPad Pro was the highlight of Apple’s Spring Loaded event last night, not to rain on the parade of the iMac and the other products. Why? Because the larger, 12.9-inch iPad Pro got the most upgrades. From the mini-LED display to the M1 chip and Thunderbolt support, it is now a really beefed-up tablet. Much more powerful than the previous generation, and the iPad Air.
When it comes to spec-for-spec comparison, it seems to be a no-brainer to go with the new iPad Pro. However, to me personally, seems an even bigger no-brainer to just go ahead and buy a MacBook. Air or Pro, up to you. Why?
The horsepower factor
For the sake of this argument, we’ll compare the specs with the MacBook Air. Both the 2021 iPad Pro and the MacBook Air are powered by the M1 chip. In the case of the laptop, you have the choice to opt for the cheaper model which takes away one GPU core or go with the other model which features the same chip as the iPad Pro.
Both memory and storage options can be configured to match the iPad Pro, so, what we basically have here is two identical devices in two different form factors. The difference in display size is negligible, from 12.9-inches on the larger iPad Pro to 13.3-inches on the MacBook Air.
However, it’s what you can do (or can’t, in this particular case) with all that power that tips the scales in favor of the MacBook, at least for now. We’ll tell you why the word “now” is crucial in the segment below.
Right now, from a pure specs perspective, what’s the M1 iPad Pro able to do that its non-M1 predecessors aren’t? Nothing. Will it do it faster? Probably, but you won’t notice as the A14 chip, as well as the A12Z, are no slouches.
With the M1 iPad Pro, it still runs, for “now” the same version of iPadOS with the same apps.
The Operating System factor
…which brings us to the OS factor. As mentioned above, the 2021 iPad Pro doesn’t have a real upper hand over the other iPads in the line-up, software-wise. But, the MacBook (Air or Pro, doesn’t matter) does have a very important upper hand on the similarly specced M1 iPad Pro: it runs macOS, with Mac Apps, instead of iPad OS and iPad apps.
Furthermore, the MacBook is able to run iPad apps, but that’s not valid the other way around. That, right there, is the dealbreaker for me, and, as my colleague Jaime touched upon the matter, it seems to be an idea we both share.
What’s the use of having all of that MacBook horsepower on the iPad if it can’t run Final Cut Pro? Or Photoshop (the full-fledged version)?
Right now, as it stands, it a lot of computing power that’s being held back, and hence, unutilized, by software. And this is where we get to the “now” part we mentioned earlier. Everything I wrote so far stands unless Apple “saves” the iPad.
How can it achieve that? There are two potential options here: 1. Either have the iPad Pro run macOS (which it can easily do), or 2. Find a way for the iPad Pro to run Mac Apps.
Yes, that would create a new product family for Apple – the company doesn’t currently have a convertible – but it would instantly make the iPad Pro more appealing to customers. Whether that would bite into the MacBook segment’s sales is something to debate.
The financial factor
This one comes down to simple math. You pay $1,099 for the base 12.9-inch iPad Pro ($2,199 if you max it out), and an additional $349 for the Magic Keyboard, for a total of $1,448 (or $2,548 maxed out).
The MacBook Air will set you back $999 for the base model and $2,049 for the maxed-out configuration. Obviously, you don’t need to spend on a keyboard.
That’s quite a lot of price difference between two machines that are basically similar in specs, with the MacBook clearly being the superior one due to its desktop operating system and apps.
Because of all the above reasons, for me, personally, there is no incentive to buy or to upgrade to the 2021 iPad Pro. If I was on the market for one, I would definitely pick up a MacBook Air today. The conversation changes if Apple can do something with the iPad Pro that would leverage its true potential.