MacBook vs. iPad

Almost every post I write at the moment seems to be prefaced with the statement 'I'm an iPad Guy' and it's true. I love iPads, and my current 2018 12.9" iPad Pro has been my favourite Apple product I've ever owned. When Apple announced the amazing looking M1 iPad Pro a few weeks ago I instantly fell in love and knew I needed it ... and then a few hours passed and my certainly started to wane a bit. I was debating with myself about ordering it a week later, but I went for ir despite my misgivings. Despite getting an order in quickly, it seemed that I wouldn't be getting it until a week after launch, which gave me yet more time to possibly regret the rash decision. No one should be spending £1,200 on a luxury item you aren't sure you really need or want.

Whilst trying to make a decision another cheeky little Apple number has been creeping it's way into my affections, and it's a device that has completely thrown me when it comes to considering myself only an iPad guy, and that's my M1 Mac mini. I picked up the baseline Mac mini, but that thing really flies for what I use it for so I can't imagine what some of the higher end devices are capable of doing. I've had Mac's in the past, so it's not an entirely new thing for me, but for a long time I dismissed the platform as a whole as a slow and boring dinosaur. The M1 chip, however, changed that for me. The mini boots up incredibly quickly, apps open in a flash and the thing runs completely silently, and remains ice cold when doing it.

This new found affection and enjoyment I've been feeling for the Mac in recent months has led me to a bit of a quandary in what my next computer should be. The M1 iPad seems like the logical option for me, but will this iteration just be another example of the iPad hardware far exceeding the software capabilities of the device? There is a huge expectation on Apple changing the game with iPadOS capabilities come iPadOS 15 betas next month. I'd love to be wrong about this, but would bet a decent chunk of change that this years WWDC keynote will come and go again with little more than an iPad homescren update. People always say that you should make a purchasing decision based on what a product can do now not what it could potentially do in the future. If you look at it with that framing, the 2021 iPad Pro seems like a bad choice as an upgrade on the older 2020 or even 2018 model. My 2018 version still doesn't break as sweat 3 years since launch. The internals then far outstripped the strain most apps are going to make on the device. In fact, it seems that unless you're making videos or editing huge images, you'd be hard pressed to stretch any recent (post 2018) model.

As of right now, I'm still incredibly torn between picking up a 12.9" iPad Pro (2021) and waiting a few months for a rumoured M2-powered MacBook Air. It's this internal debate that's prompted me to write this post. This post is, for all intents and purposes, just a note to myself. A debate about which of these devices I'll opt for for the next few years.

Pro's of the iPad Pro

Apple iPad Pro 2020 11" and 12.9" Boxes on Desk
Photo by Daniel Romero / Unsplash
  • Flexability - A major selling point, for me, of the iPad has always been it's flexibility. I can use it as a tablet, or a laptop, or various configurations in between. I can use a mouse and keyboard, a trackpad, or I can connect it to an external monitor[^1].

  • Better Apps - I'm not sure if this is just comfort in the familiar, but to me the quality of the apps on iOS / iPadOS is far higher than that on the Mac. The Mac has a lot more pro level apps, of course, but they aren't apps that I need so their existence is a bit moot.

  • Future-Proof - Quite a lot of Apple's technology is kept up to date for a long time, but the iPad seems to be a real king of longevity. My daughters been using an old iPad Air 2 of mine for Roblox recently and the thing still does a really good job. It's on the latest version of iPadOS and continues to have great battery life and performance. The new M1 iPad is, as they have all been for years, way ahead of the pack in terms of raw power. This thing will take anything thrown at it for years to come without breaking a sweat.

  • Sound and Screen - The iPad Pro includes 4 stereo speakers so not only is the speaker sound superb, but it also enables the AirPods impressive Spatial Audio feature. Combine that with new XDR display and it's a real delight for watching films and other content.

Pro's of the MacBook Air

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  • It's a finished product - Every time a new iPad comes out the first thing everyone says about it is 'Just wait for the next OS update, the software will catch up with the hardware'. This year is no exception. It's basically been said in every review or video I've seen of the product. The MacBook Air isn't living on a promise. It's an amazing product now, and likely to get even better very soon. It's fully baked. It's a mature, yet still improving, product and OS.

  • It's more capable - This part may be up for debate by some. I've been so iPad focused for so long, for example, that I'm far more proficient with an iPad than I am a Mac. I know a lot of iPad shortcuts, and how to do a heck of a lot of things with it, but I don't think I can deny that ultimately, and the skill of the user being equal, the MacBook is just a more capable device.

  • It's a better laptop - This one may not make a lot of sense. Of course the MacBook is a better laptop. It's the only one that is a laptop. I, however, use my current iPad Pro in a laptop configuration, i.e. attached to the iPad Magic Keyboard, so for all intents and purposes it is also a laptop for me. When you look at it like this, when both devices are essentially used in the same configuration for most of the time, a device made to be a laptop is surely the better option?

  • Docking and external monitor support - There are some great MacBook Docks available, to not only add ports or functionality to the device, but to facilitate a connection to an external monitor. While you can, technically, do this on an iPad it's a truly sorry experience.

  • It's different - This may seem like a silly one, but in honesty it may be the one that ends up making the difference. At the end of the day, I've been using an iPad for years, pushing Macs so far outside of my focus i even used to slip the Mac bit on any keynote. The M1 Mac Mini changed that and I've been enjoying exploring macOS again. It feels fresh, snappy, and fun. All the things that helped keep me on iPadOS so for long. If the Air gets a fresh design in a few months as well, that may tip the balance.

Looking at the list above, it feels like the iPad is still the device for me, despite my reservations. While it's clear a MacBook can technically do more than an iPad, the reason I've stuck with one for so long is that the iPad already does all I want or need it to do. I don't use Xcode, or any Pro apps really. I read, I write, I watch, and I occasionally work on it. The work part can be handled via a Remote Desktop application, which would be the same, regardless of device I picked.

I think waiting for WWDC regardless make sense at this point, and the iPad's are all sold out now until at least a month anyway. While I'm keen to see what changes WWDC brings, I've been holding my breath for so long for a true next level iPadOS that I've almost forgotten how to breathe. Creating the list above, however, has been interesting to highlight to myself that I don't actually need a next level iPadOS, and probably wouldn't take too much advantage of Pro apps even if we did get them.

Thanks for reading this Mac vs. iPad post, if you made it this far. For my next post I'm going to discuss which is better, Coke or Pepsi, swiftly moving onto Star Trek vs. Star Wars. What could possibly go wrong?