“Yes, the iPad Pro is a replacement for a notebook or a desktop for many, many people,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said recently. “They will start using it and conclude they no longer need to use anything else, other than their phones.”
I don’t fully buy Cook’s assertion. The iPad Pro is indeed Apple’s most capable tablet ever, and I’m finding it to be fast and powerful. It offers features and capabilities I don’t get from my 13-inch MacBook Air. Then again, the reverse is also true: Apple’s portable computers can jump over hurdles the iPad Pro trips on.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the top reasons to buy an iPad Pro instead of a MacBook followed by some of the top reasons to buy a MacBook instead of an iPad Pro.
Author’s note: Throughout the article, I use “MacBook” to describe Apple laptops in general, not just the 2-pound., one-port MacBook.
8 reasons to choose the iPad Pro over a MacBook
Touchscreen navigation and stylus input
There’s no such thing as an Apple touchscreen laptop and according to comments made a year ago by Craig Federighi, Apple's senior vice president of software engineering, they may never be. (Although there is a curious third-party touchscreen tablet, Modbook Pro, that runs Mac OS X.)
That said, a lot of people never thought Apple would release a stylus. So anything is possible.
At any rate, for a lot of people (including me), navigating via touchscreen is becoming second nature. I miss it when using my MacBook Air. I’ve even found myself reflexively tapping my MacBook Air screen. Plus, touchscreens can be ideal for detailed work (image editing, for instance) and are particularly powerful when paired with a stylus such as Apple Pencil ($99).
Apple has equipped its MacBook line with an excellent trackpad that mimics, to some degree, touchscreen navigation tricks, such as flipping through browser tabs and pinching to zoom in/out. And its new Magic Trackpad 2 ($129) adds similar capabilities to desktop Macs, along with Apple’s Force Touch. But for pure touch-based navigation on a large display, there’s nothing better in Apple’s product line than the iPad Pro.
Tablet or laptop
Unlike a MacBook, you can also use an iPad Pro as a dedicated tablet, for all the things we love tablets for: reading digital magazines and books, viewing videos and surfing the Web. When equipped with a keyboard like Logitech’s Create ($150) or the Apple Smart Keyboard ($169), the iPad Pro morphs into a laptop (at least to some degree). By comparison, a MacBook is a laptop only.
Built-in 4G connectivity
The top-of-the-line iPad Pro ($1,079) includes built-in 4G connectivity as well as Wi-Fi, a feature bound to appeal to road warriors. MacBooks lack built-in cellular. However, it’s easy to use your iPhone as a Wi-Fi hot spot to give a MacBook a cellular Internet connection. But this setup reduces battery power on your iPhone, an important consideration when you’re away from power outlets.
Touch ID adds an extra layer of security to iPads that MacBooks currently lack. (Although, an Apple patent published this fall reveals that Touch ID could be coming soon to MacBooks.)
Unfortunately, the iPad Pro didn’t get the super-fast Touch ID that iPhone 6s and 6s Plus users, myself included, are enjoying. Also, Apple’s biometric fingerprint scanner isn’t a completely foolproof way of securing your iPad Pro.
Love her or hate her, Siri is alive and well on the iPad Pro but still missing on Macs. While you can’t, say, ask Siri to set a timer for 15 minutes on your Mac as you can on the iPad Pro, you can use Mac OS X’s built-in Dictation feature. Then again, you can do that on iOS devices, too.
A MacBook laptop is equipped with a front-facing FaceTime camera for video chats, digitizing your handwritten signature for signing PDFs in the Preview app, and such. But unlike the iPad Pro, MacBooks lack a rear-facing camera. Of course, few people are likely to carry around an iPad Pro to snap photos with its rear-facing 8MP camera — a smartphone is far better-suited for that job. But I can imagine taking photos with your iPad Pro’s rear-facing camera of, for example, a whiteboard during a meeting and then inserting those pictures into a document along with some explanatory notes.
Immersive video and games
An iPad Pro, with its pixel-dense 12.9-inch display and four stereo speakers, is an awesome portable TV/movie screen — I jokingly call it my ‘IMAX Pro.’ It’s well-suited for iOS games, too. You can prop the iPad Pro for hands-free viewing using a folded-up Apple Smart Cover ($59), a folded-back Apple Smart Keyboard, or a third-party product such as Prop ‘n Go ($36). With no keyboard between you and the screen, the experience of watching video becomes more enjoyable and immersive.
I doubt anyone will hold an iPad Pro next to a payment terminal at Whole Foods in order to use Apple Pay. But you can use Apple’s mobile payment system, combined with Touch ID, on the iPad Pro to make online purchases easier. As of this writing, Apple Pay is only available on iPads, iPhones, and Apple Watch.
8 reasons to choose the MacBook over iPad Pro
The lack of true multitasking is the top reason why I don’t yet buy into the “replace your laptop with an iPad” argument.
Apple’s iOS 9 added Split View and Slide Over on the iPad Pro (as well as on some other recent iPads). These offer a big productivity boost, and without them the iPad Pro wouldn’t be a feasible laptop alternative. But they don’t give the iPad Pro the same multitasking superpowers that a MacBook (or any Mac) has. For example, you can’t have multiple Word documents open at one time on an iPad Pro and cut/paste between them.
Productivity and other apps for iOS don’t always include all the capabilities and features of their desktop software counterparts, which can limit the usefulness of an iPad Pro as compared to a MacBook. Take a look at Photoshop Express for iOS and Photoshop on the Mac and you’ll see what I mean.
Another example: "Some proprietary, corporate content management systems (CMS) don't fully support mobile browserssuch as Apple’s iOS Safari. As a result, you can’t input text and images into the system using an iPad Pro. That can be a big drawback for bloggers, editors, content marketers, and others who use CMSes frequently.
Easy file management
Mac OS X makes it easy to manage files, including grouping them into folders and dragging and dropping them to the desktop of your MacBook. iOS, by contrast, offers no file management. Maybe you can live without it; I’m not yet at that point.
The trackpads on newer MacBooks come with Apple’s Force Touch, which provides a quick contextual view into content and/or fast access to software features. Force Touch is also on Apple Watch, where it originated, and the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, where it’s called 3D Touch. Once you get the hang of it, you may want Force Touch on all your Apple devices. But Apple didn’t include it on the iPad Pro.
More storage and memory
The iPad Pro’s maximum internal storage is 128GB, while MacBooks, depending upon the model, go up to 1TB. You can buy a MacBook with up to 16GB of memory, too, which helps increase the performance of installed software, among other things. The iPad Pro has 4GB of memory, by comparison.
But how much storage and memory does an iPad Pro need? You can do a lot with 128GB. (The iPad Pro is also available in a 32GB version, which seems limited.) And it’s plenty fast already, based on my own experiences.
Support for more peripherals
The one-port MacBook aside, MacBook laptops have USB and Thunderbolt ports for connecting external hard drives, printers, and other peripherals. This makes it much easier to turn a MacBook into a desktop computer. The iPad Pro, by comparison, has limited connectivity options.
Support for multiple monitors
Depending upon the MacBook, you can connect up to two external displays, which is a real productivity booster. While you can mirror the iPad Pro’s display on another monitor via Apple TV or AV adapters, the tablet isn’t built for multiple monitor support.
More security options
Though MacBook models lack the iPad Pro’s Touch ID fingerprint sensor, the Mac OS offers some security features that the iPad Pro lacks, such as Gatekeeper, which lets you restrict software installation to better prevent malware, and FileVault for encrypting the contents on your Mac’s storage drive.
[Next read this: Office and the iPad Pro: It's just business, stupid]