Apple has constantly been releasing new ads and commercials proclaiming that “your next computer is not a computer.” Honestly, every time Apple has said that, I’ve been hoping that the spokesperson was right. I have always enjoyed using my classic 9.7" iPad Pro when I’m commuting, or even in the office, for taking notes or drafting an article. With the 2018 and 2020 generations of iPad Pros, the upcoming iPadOS 14, and the new Magic Keyboard with Trackpad, can it finally be the laptop replacement we need?
I feel as though at this point it’s safe to say that the iPad and the iPad Pro are considered among the best tablets you can get. The Pro variants, admittedly, get a little pricey, but considering they are aiming to be a laptop replacement, the pricing makes a little sense. Here is a basic rundown of the 2020 version’s specs:
- 11" or 12.9" Liquid Retina display
- DCI-P3 Color and True Tone
- 10MP Ultra-Wide and 12MP Wide Cameras
- LiDAR Scanner for enhanced AR
- A12Z Bionic processor with 8-core graphics
- iPadOS with Multitasking
- Apple Pencil support
- All-day battery life
- USB-C port
That may not seem like a lot on the surface but each of those components is near the top of its class. There are also a ton of smaller, yet still important, features I’m glossing over. The processing power here is equivalent to real computers, and even exceeds that of your average laptop with ease. This is certainly due to Apple’s extreme ability to tune its hardware and software to one another. Also, as we have seen in the past few years, iPadOS can definitely bring serious upgrades in the annual updates.
If we are talking a true computer replacement, we have to include the Magic Keyboard here, too. It looks fairly straightforward:
- Magnetic attachment with floating design
- Smooth angle adjustment
- USB-C port with pass-through charging
- Full-size keyboard with scissor switches
- Trackpad with Multi-Touch
It’s a Computer!
After attaching the Magic Keyboard—via a slick system of magnets—the iPad Pro begins to look and function much like a laptop. Its screen flips up. The keyboard supports the computer on your lap or a table. And there’s a trackpad! That last part is the real new development for the iPad in recent years, because it now allows for true support of conventional pointer devices.
The lack of mouse/trackpad support was a big sticking point because it meant you always had to remove your hands from your keyboard to touch the screen. Now you don’t have to—and that means a lot for people trying to use the iPad as their main device. It was possible but required some concessions.
Another piece of the puzzle for replacing a laptop is in better file management. Older versions of iOS and now iPadOS offer the Files app along with the ability to work with external storage devices. The latest iPad Pros even have a useful USB Type-C port for attaching various docks and drives. The Magic Keyboard helps a great deal here, because it has its own USB port for charging, so you can still make use of the iPad’s USB port.
Using a dock or other adapters, you can do things like attach wired headphones (no 3.5mm jack on the iPad), connect to a 4K display, use external storage, and more.
If you are doing a ton of web browsing, research, writing essays, or taking notes, then the tools at your disposal with an iPad Pro can be more than enough. iPadOS has some helpful multitasking support, allowing you to do split-screen and picture-in-picture with some gestures.
Screen multi-touch gestures are fully supported by the trackpad. This makes it possible to use the iPad entirely without touching the screen. Keyboard shortcuts are hit and miss depending on the app, with Apple’s apps all having excellent support. Using Pages allows me to use the same shortcuts I would on my MacBook or iMac.
Adding the Magic Keyboard makes this the closest the iPad has ever come to a traditional computer. Some people who are already used to tablets and phones and just need something a little bigger for handling documents or checking email will find the iPad Pro to be plenty computer for them.
It’s Not Quite a Computer...
...if you need more control and specific apps to do your job.
Perhaps the biggest issue in any new Apple product is that usability depends on how many apps or devices you rely on that aren’t made by Apple. Load up any of Apple’s own apps, such as Pages, and you can enjoy a seamless experience. Try that with Microsoft Word on day one of a product launch and you might find some glitches in functionality. We are a few months from release, and I am still seeing issues with Word and the trackpad.
Then you have to get over the fact that it is only able to run apps from Apple’s App Store. This means only iPad and iOS apps will work on the iPad, so if you need to run some serious app, think Premiere Pro or DaVinci Resolve for video editing, you are still out of luck. Maybe Apple bringing its own processors to Mac will change things in the future, but for now there is a wall between desktop apps and mobile apps.
Even apps that promise pro-level functionality, like Photoshop, are still missing essential features. I can’t wait for the day I can load photos from a memory card, edit, resize, and export all on my iPad. Right now, I can’t do that.
Alternatives are to find some iPad-specific apps, and there are plenty of those. I could probably find an ideal workaround, but if I’m looking for a laptop replacement, I want to be able to use all the apps across all my devices.
Bonus! Apple Pencil
Few traditional laptops offer good stylus support (shout out to Microsoft’s Surface line), and the second generation Apple Pencil is a solid option. It works well and now it attaches and charges magnetically. Even the first generation offered outstanding performance, and the new latest ProMotion screen basically eliminates lag time found on older styluses.
For jotting notes and drawing, it is perfect. Apps like Photoshop work wonders for artists, and it seems that is who Adobe designed for first. There are tons of other apps available that people love. An example is Procreate. It’s great.
This is an excellent question, and one that took me weeks to decide personally. I think it comes down to how you plan to use it. If you want a true laptop replacement and don’t intend to use it off the Magic Keyboard, go for the 12.9". The extra size helps a ton with split-screen and using multiple apps at the same time. The other group that benefits from the larger size is if you want to use the Pencil frequently. If you want a larger canvas, the 12.9" is the way to go.
I honestly think the 11" is the best choice for most people looking for an ultra-portable tablet for productivity and play. The 11" size is large enough for working on documents and images, while you can easily pop it off the Magic Keyboard and use it as just a tablet without it feeling too large.
Of course, some of you might think the 12.9” is better but need extra portability. So, go for the 11" instead. And then others might want portability but really need some extra screen space. Then the 12.9" will be better. It’s all going to be about how it feels best, and this is one instance where I think you do need to pick one up to understand.
It’s about time for students and teachers to head back to school, physically and virtually. This means that portable—and personal—devices are going to be used a lot more. Also, people are working from home and elsewhere more often. I know I have been. The iPad Pro is an excellent choice for this purpose. It’s much nicer to take everywhere than a bulky MacBook.
If you are more likely to have been checking emails on your phone or typing up notes, then the iPad is a perfect complement. However, understand where the limits are and know that if you need to go beyond them, the better choice will be a traditional laptop. I love my iPad; I just hope that Apple updates iPadOS to be closer and closer to the Mac in the future.