May 24, 2024


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Does the Near-Perfect MacBook Air Leave Room for the iPad?

With the latest M2-equipped, redesigned MacBook Air, Apple looks like it’s delivered a completely useful and highly functional laptop. The Mac line, which once looked like it was slipping into irrelevance, feels stronger than ever. This seems like a good time to buy one, except for one big question mark: What about the iPad?

My colleague Daniel Van Boom wondered about these questions when new 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros were released last fall. But now, with a revamped mainstream laptop and an ever-more Mac-like iPad OS, the lines between these products seem like they’re blurring a bit more. And yet, not enough.

I was speaking with a colleague who was debating whether to buy a MacBook Air or an iPad-plus-keyboard, and the answer isn’t any clearer than it was a year ago. The MacBook remains highly functional and improved in areas like battery life and processing speed, but it still takes an old-fashioned laptop form without a touchscreen. Meanwhile, the iPad has increasingly laptop-like features, especially the Air and Pro models. Keyboard and trackpad/mouse support, a revamped multitasking system in iPadOS 16, and finally, support for an external monitor that now works like an extension of your iPad workspace. It also has unique features that Apple’s Macs lack: the Pencil for art and handwriting, Face ID for the Pro models, better cameras with lidar that can be used for select AR and 3D scanning purposes, and a ton of unique apps and games that aren’t all available or optimized for Macs.

iPads get too expensive at the top end, turning into laptop-priced devices despite not being entirely laptop-useful for all needs. At the lower end, with entry-level iPads, they lack some of the future-forward chips (and USB-C) that could make a bigger difference a couple of years down the line.

Read more: Best iPad for 2022

I’m really leaning towards buying an M2 MacBook Air as an overdue personal laptop upgrade for myself, mainly because I know that iPads still can’t do all the things I need for work and personal data management. Not easily, at least. What I’d still really love, and keep waiting for, is some sort of iPad that can run MacOS — or something effectively equivalent. Apple keeps creeping forward on this front, a small change or so every year. In 2022, iPads will gain more multitasking —if you buy an iPad with an M1 chip. In my time with the public beta so far, it still isn’t enough to make me live without a PC or Mac.

Apple is expected to have a new iPad Pro in the fall, one that’ll possibly have the M2 chip that’s also in the newest MacBook Pro and Air. Don’t expect it to make a huge impact in how you use an iPad, though: Apple still limits iPadOS’s flexibility. Although iPadOS 16 does make strides in how many app windows can be open at once, there’s a cap. So far, on existing M1 iPads, performance seems good enough (except for some crashes, though it’s hard to tell if that’s just from early beta software). 

If you’re trying to figure out which is the safest iPad to get right now, I’d say the Air: the M1 chip should keep it ready for future OS updates, and it’s got a lot of performance boosts over the entry iPad (which will probably get an update in the fall, too). But then again, with new iPads expected just a few months from now and recent Prime Day sales not offering deep discounts, maybe it’s best to just wait and see.

But it’s all pretty annoying to me, because Apple’s made it extremely easy on the Mac front to get a pretty great computer. As good as iPads are, they’re still standing further on the periphery. Macs and iPads are growing closer than ever, but the decision on which one to get remains difficult… mainly because Apple’s solution still seems to be “buy both,” and that’s not really a solution for the rest of us.

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