iPad Pro vs. MacBook: Can the iPad Pro replace the 12-inch MacBook?

Last updated on Nov 22, 2017

I finally decided to buy an iPad Pro and see if it can replace my 12-inch MacBook for meetings outside of the office and for traveling. Last week, I had to go to Europe for work and decided that it would be the perfect opportunity for a showdown of iPad Pro vs. MacBook.

I bought the 12-inch MacBook when it was first released, with the purpose of complementing the 5k iMac I have in my office. At the time, the iPad wasn’t a reasonable laptop replacement due to lack of screen size, app support, and multitasking. When Apple released the iPad Pro about a year ago, I was intrigued by it, but it didn’t convince me enough to replace my 12-inch MacBook.

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MacBook: The good and the bad

I have used the ultra-portable MacBook for one and a half years, and there are many things I like about it, including:

  • All-day battery life
  • Beautiful design
  • Gorgeous display
  • Lightweight
  • Silent due to lack of any moving parts

But I have also noticed that the MacBook’s Intel mobile CPU quickly reaches its performance limits. I’m not talking about doing video editing or other CPU-intensive tasks. Just using everyday apps, such as Mail, Safari and Microsoft Office seem to be less responsive than what I’m used to from my iMac or even my iPhone 7 for that matter.

12-inch MacBook

Plus, the MacBook’s keyboard is just a pain in the butt to type on. I tried to like it and get used to it, but I haven’t so far. As a result, I am not using my MacBook as much as I could and even around the house, I rather grab my iPad Air 2 than my MacBook.

iPad Pro

That’s why I decided to give the iPad Pro with Apple’s Smart Keyboard a shot. The first thing that popped into my head when I took the iPad Pro out of its box was: “this thing is huge!” Don’t get me wrong; the display is impressive, but because of its size and weight, it won’t replace my iPad Air 2, which is much easier to hold and to put on my nightstand when it’s not in use. As a result, the iPad Pro will probably not become my “go-to” device when I’m home and need to type a longer email real quick. Instead, I would probably just go to my (home)office. To me, that’s a key performance indicator (KPI) that determines how much value a given device has to me. The iPad Pro loses some points in this category.

iPad Pro with Smart Keyboard

Smart Keyboard

The Smart Keyboard took me a day to get used to, but I like it better than the keyboard of the MacBook. It’s been a couple of days now, and I have no major complaints about it as far as typing is concerned. But there is room for improvement:

  • The keyboard is relatively narrow, which makes me accidentally touch the screen with my right ring finger from time to time.
  • It’s not backlit, which makes typing in the dark or dimly lit rooms more challenging.
  • It’s not very sturdy, which makes it difficult to type with the iPad Pro on your lap.

Keyboard shortcuts

I was surprised how many keyboard shortcuts would work in various apps, such as Control + Command + A to archive a message in Mail. That’s incredibly useful and dramatically improves my productivity. To see a list of keyboard shortcuts a given app supports, just press and hold the Command key.
What does not work on the Smart Keyboard is to long-press a key to get to accented characters. I type in English, German and occasionally, in Spanish and not being able to type umlauts and other special characters is a bummer. Fortunately, auto-correct works with multiple languages since iOS 10 and that mitigates the issue to a certain degree. For more information about how to use the Smart Keyboard, check out this knowledge base article.

iPad Pro – Smart Keyboard angle

Display angle

It took me a while to figure out that there are two ways to fold the Smart Keyboard for typing and viewing. For our first FaceTime call, we stuffed a package of tissues between the iPad Pro and the folded Smart Keyboard to make it stand more upright. But it turned out, that you can fold the Smart Keyboard to make the iPad Pro stand more upright for watching movies or for FaceTime calls. I just wish changing angle would not take so many extra steps.

Apple Pencil

I ordered an Apple Pencil as well, but I am neither an artist nor do I like writing stuff by hand. So I don’t think I’ll use it much. But I am amazed by the technology and how accurately and responsive the Apple Pencil was during my tests.

Battery life

Apple claims the iPad Pro offers up to 10 hours of battery life under regular use. That’s the same as for the second generation MacBooks. The first generation MacBook, which is the one I have, was rated at 9 hours of battery life.
In my testing, the battery of the iPad Pro lasts longer than the battery of my MacBook. That’s maybe because I have more apps running on my MacBook than on my iPad Pro. Overall, I have no complaints about battery life on either device.

Multitasking

There is still a lot of room for improvements when it comes to multitasking and app switching. But thanks to the large screen and enhancements in iOS and various apps, working with two apps side-by-side is a breeze. You can even have two Safari windows side-by-side. But Apple’s approach seems a bit disjointed. For example, opening two Safari windows side-by-side works completely different to viewing other apps in Split View. Apple clearly has some cleaning up to do here.

iPad Pro – Split View

Complaints

The 12.9-inch iPad Pro is by no means a top of the line device and lacks some of the features of other iOS devices. That includes 3D Touch and the True Tone display of its 9.7-inch sibling. Those are not deal breakers for me, but I wish that Apple would combine those features into the top of the line iPad Pro.

More important than the lack of essential features, are issues that seriously hamper productivity. Unfortunately, I have run into a couple of such problems during the past week, during which I almost exclusively used the iPad Pro.

  • Copy/paste doesn’t keep formatting: When trying to copy/paste between applications, you lose all formatting, including links.
  • Individual web pages (web apps) don’t work properly. Examples include Grammarly or the WordPress backend.
  • Limited file management: Despite the iCloud Drive and Dropbox apps, it’s still a pain to open a Pages document that is stored in Dropbox. Instead of opening it in-place, you have to export a copy and then save it manually back to Dropbox.

There are also some minor issues, such as lack of application support. The most notable ones are Parallels and Final Cut Pro X, but I can live without them while I’m on the road.

The one app I didn’t expect to be an issue was Grammarly, to check the text for grammar and style issues. Even worse than an absent mobile app, is a web page that doesn’t work on mobile without having top jump through hoops.

Tip: To make Grammarly work, use Chrome for iOS and choose “Request Desktop site”.

If you know of an alternative to Grammarly that works on iOS, please let me know.

Update: Grammarly has released an iOS keyboard extension that works both on the iPhone and iPad!

iPad Pro vs. MacBook

In comparison to the MacBook, the iPad Pro is more responsive, its battery lasts longer, it has Touch ID, its screen is bigger, and its keyboard is more comfortable to type on. The iPad Pro handles most tasks gracefully, and I would say, I can do 90% of what I usually do on my MacBook. Unfortunately, that 10 % it cannot handle, can get you into serious trouble if you are on the road without access to a Mac. After the experience I have made this past week, I’m hesitant to go on a longer trip without my MacBook. But I’m determined to figure out workarounds, especially for the copy/paste problem. Ultimately, I like the iPad Pro too much to return it.

What experience have you made with the iPad Pro and have you found workarounds to some of the issues I have described above?

Michael Kummer

Atlanta | Austrian | Blogger | Father of a preemie | Paleo fan | Traveler | Amateur photographer | CrossFit
4 Responses to "iPad Pro vs. MacBook: Can the iPad Pro replace the 12-inch MacBook?"
  1. To use a big word for a simple idea, my work is highly bifurcated. My needs are either basic or high-end. Much of my time is spent writing books, for which Scrivener for iOS on an iPad is fine. Most of the rest is spent laying out books with InDesign. For the latter nothing but dual displays and the last good desktop Apple made—the 2012 i7 Mac mini—will do, particularly since I added 16 GB of memory along with a 480 GB SSD from OWC to make it more snappy.

    For several years I toyed with replacing my ancient white plastic, Core 2 Duo MacBook. The problem was that Apple’s new laptops offer me nothing new that I need. Writing on that old MacBook hardly strained even its power. My CPU usage rarely rose over 5%. And when I write, I typically have access to AC power, so battery life matters not.

    Thin, I consider silly. The portability of a laptop is constrained by its other two dimensions. Those dimensions keep it from fitting in a coat pocket. Thickness matters not. Even worse, with each new generation, Apple laptops offer fewer features. Apple products used to cost more because they offered more. Now they cost more but offer less.

    When it comes to laptops, Apple has made some stupid moves in recent years. In the past, the two primary distinctions between laptops and tablets was that the former had more I/O ports and ran a wider variety of software. But Apple has been removing ports from its laptops and more software runs on both macOS and iOS. The gap between a Apple laptop and tablet has narrowed greatly, reducing the reasons for buyers to purchase its new laptops or—this really matters for Apple’s profitability—to feel that they need to own both.

    My hunch is that many have decided that they make do well enough with an iPad, that they don’t need a laptop any more. And keep in mind that making that decision not only saves money, it keeps on saving money. Not buying a laptop now, means not having to replace it in a few years.

    Also, keep in mind that for many purposes, an iPad can do more than any Apple laptop. Those who’re really on-the-go and not just hanging around airports, can get an iPad with cellular data and GPS. Apple’s crazed obsession with thin and its artistic fetish about simple, means that it doesn’t even sell a laptop with built-in cellular data and GPS.

    Finally, Apple’s core problem does not lie in this hardware decision or that. It lies in a fundamental attitude among the company’s executives that the Greeks described as hubris, meaning an overwhelming pride that does not seek listen to others. Notice that in recent years each time Apple’s users complain about some change for the worse, Apple’s executives respond with “you are stupid” and “we know the future better than you” remarks. Most recently that was their claim that MacBook Pro users didn’t need 64 GB of memory. “Hey, they know what they need better than you,” I thought.

    Even Tim Cook, when he responded to those who suggest (quite rightly) that Mac desktops are technologically behind, seem to think that a new iMac with a huge screen was the universal answer. “No,” I thought to myself, “a new iMac is not the answer. I used to own an iMac and discovered just what a pain an all-in-one design is. I want a Mac that I can upgrade and fix as my needs change. I want a Mac that won’t die if the display dies. Every other computer maker sells them. Apple needs to do the same.”

    LIke I said, Apple isn’t listening. With each year that passes, it offers many of us less reasons to stay in its eco-system. I’ve already abandoned the idea of buying a Mac laptop. Apple seems unwilling to sell one I want to buy. Much the same is also true of desktops. Since the Mac mini was gutted in 2014, Apple doesn’t make a desktop I’d take even if they gave it to me. I’m now toying with the idea of owning a Windows desktop for the first time since 1990. I get InDesign though Adobe’s Creative Cloud, so I could change platforms in a single morning without spending a penny.

    And first and foremost, I have grown tired—very, very tired—of having Apple executives lecturing me on what I should or should not want in digital devices. I’ve been using computers professional for over three decades. I know what I need. Apple needs to deliver that.

  2. I run several businesses and I have replaced my MacBook with the 12″ iPad Pro. The applications are well built and I live in the cloud, so I could not tell you the last time I ever needed a USB connected device. Outside of some heavy Excel, I have found the iPad Pro to be an excellent device. I use the Pencil daily with Onenote and since I am a professor, I also grade with this device via Blackboard and Office.

    The only thing I wish that would change is that Safari registers as a mobile device. I would like to have a bypass. If I have to do web design or coding, that is when I go to a desktop or laptop.

    I also like the fact that I can get through more than a day of use. The instant on in meetings is the best (my Surface struggles here) and I love that this device is made to help you focus. Multitasking is a lie that people love to say they have mastered, but this device will keep you focused. I love Outlook on my iPad over the desktop clients (Mac and PC).

    I would say that you need to really think about all that you need in a device. If you are stuck in the Stone Age of USB connected devices, by all means, get another device. For those of us in the 21st century, we have moved on to the wealth of cloud available to us. Try it out. You will not be disappointed.

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