Apple almost perfected the tablet with the 2018 iPad Pro, as much as it was possible with the current technology. However, the biggest challenge that the iPad Pro now faces is not other tablets, it is the M1 MacBook Air. When pit against each other, the M1 MacBook Air comes out on top, most of the time.
iPad Pro is good, but the M1 MacBook Air is better
Before you sharpen your pitchforks against my use of the words “perfected the tablet” with iPad Pro, and throw a Surface Pro towards my direction, let me explain. There is always room for improvements, like who would not want an even better display on the iPad Pro? Or perhaps better cameras? What about better software? We would all welcome these updates with open arms. However, the 2018 iPad Pro design language and feature set are still not outdated. Just look at the Samsung and Huawei tablets that completely copy its design nowadays. This is such a unique Apple product that even its successor does not have enough “new” worth upgrading to.
However, Apple released another product in the form of the M1 MacBook Air, which makes the iPad Pro simply look like a bad deal. Here’s why.
You can get an M1 MacBook Air with 16-hour battery life for just $999. This price includes the keyboard and trackpad, of course, along with the premium performance of an M1 chip. For a similarly equipped 12.9-inch iPad Pro, you would need to shell out $1,198 – this will include the tablet and a Smart Keyboard Folio, which does not have a trackpad. Replace the Smart Keyboard with the Magic Keyboard, and the price goes higher. For most users, an M1 MacBook Air provides far more value in 2021, and this is something Apple’s next iPad Pro needs to address.
For a while, iPad Pro offered a better display, and in some way still does, compared to a MacBook Air. It provides 120Hz ProMotion display support, which Macs do not have to date. I would also add the portrait screen mode to this, as it makes browsing websites and reading long articles far better than it is on a landscape display.
Apple also sells iPad Pro models with optional cellular networking, which is yet another advantage that users can gain with the tablet. Of course, the killer features that iPad Pro offers, but the MacBook Air does not, is the touch screen and Pencil.
But none of these features are enough for users to give up the M1 MacBook Air. For a lesser price, you get a computer which has its keyboard and trackpad attached all the time, its display easily supports multiple angles, it provides better performance and longer-lasting battery life, and the operating system is simply better with support for complete software and apps without restrictions.
Apple could show that iPad Pro is the device to get by adding features like a mini-LED display that MacBook Air cannot match. Maybe add faster charging so users can get back to 100% battery quicker. Or improve the battery life from the traditional 10 hours that the iPad offers. Thunderbolt 3 support would also help with improved data transfer speeds for those of us who connect external storage. Just a performance bump would not be sufficient.
If we have to jump into the territory of wishful thinking, Apple could start offering iPad bundles with keyboard and Pencil, which might make them a value purchase, otherwise, the total cost of ownership of an iPad Pro quickly grows.
iPadOS needs to grow
The biggest improvement to the next iPad Pro will not be a mini-LED display, or better speakers, or faster performance – it has to be improved software. It has to be software that is capable of supporting apps like Final Cut Pro and a version of Microsoft Office as good as the desktop counterpart. It should allow apps and tools to run in the background like macOS. We should not have to dive into smartphone-like user interfaces to get things done or deal with arbitrary limitations like no widgets on the iPad home screen, or a gimped experience when connecting an external display.
However, it is unlikely that we would see any significant iPadOS software improvements until WWDC21.
Make your next move, iPad
iPad Pro is at crossroads at this stage. It does not face as much competition from other tablets like Surface or Samsung’s offerings, as it does from a Mac. The last thing Apple needs to do is release a minor update similar to the 2020 iPad Pro with A12z chip. This upcoming update will show in which direction is the Apple’s Pro tablet headed, in the face of powerful M1 Macs that now provide the same performance and efficiency benefits that it offered for so long.