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The iPad Pro Is More Ready Than Ever to Be the Mac I've Been Waiting For

Commentary: I've been saying for years that the iPad Pro should be more like a MacBook. And guess what? We're almost there.

Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
Expertise VR and AR | Gaming | Metaverse technologies | Wearable tech | Tablets Credentials
  • Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Scott Stein
6 min read
iPad Pro and keyboard case on a wooden table

The iPad Pro and its new display are lovely. But this tech begs for better software and a deeper OS.

Numi Prasarn/CNET

For at least 10 years, I've wanted an iPad that could be my full-time computer. That feeling is stronger than ever since Apple released its fast, beautiful and capable new iPads. So, Apple, please make it happen. 

I'm writing on an iPad Pro now. I work on my iPad. Many people do. It's got a great keyboard and trackpad case. A nice, vivid OLED display. Of course it's a computer. But I know I'll inevitably drift back to my MacBook Air at some point. Maybe later today when I file this story or resolve some notes in Google Drive. My workflow will shift back.

Why does this happen? Put a MacBook and an iPad Pro with its Magic Keyboard side by side, and you have, by all appearances, two laptops in parallel evolution. They're so similar looking at first glance that you may not even know which is which.

There are some differences between them. The MacBook has a rear hinge between its keyboard and screen, no touchscreen and more ports. The iPad snaps into a floating-back keyboard case, has a single port and has a touchscreen. But in terms of hardware, I'm having a harder time telling you the differences. They both have Apple M-series processors: the M2 and M4, respectively. They both have landscape-oriented front cameras for video chats. Aren't I looking at two flavors of the same thing?

"Don't put MacOS on an iPad," some shout. iPadOS is fine, don't change what makes iPads great. "iPad Pros should be Macs already," others yell. Microsoft's Surface Pro has existed for years with full Windows on it, and Apple is still making us buy two expensive machines when we could just have one.

I'm here to argue, why can't we have both?

It's not crazy to want an iPad to be a Mac. With its keyboard on, it's like I'm looking at something with a long trunk, thick legs and big ears. But there are many voices -- including Apple's -- telling me it's not an elephant.

Let iPads be iPads

I'm not here to say an iPad should never be an iPad. My kids use iPads. My wife uses an iPad. My mom uses an iPad. My nephews and niece have iPads. Everyone loves iPads. They're fine. And for sure, Apple shouldn't mess with that. The iPad runs tons of apps well, it's versatile, it's familiar, it's portable and it's an easy device for people who aren't techie. It's a good portable TV, game console, browser, sketchpad and even a light work machine.

Keep that. Let the iPad keep getting better as chips improve, and apps can do more with AI and everything else. All that sounds great. They're clearly on that road already, and that's why Apple sells a fair amount of them each year -- iPads earn Apple an amount that hovers close to what the company earns from Macs.

MacBook Air and iPad Pro with keyboard case side by side, both in black

The MacBook Air M2 (left) and iPad Pro 2024 (right). They keep converging. Let them complete the journey.

Numi Prasarn/CNET

But also, let them be Macs (or close enough)

Now, here's the other part: For iPad Pro models in particular, they should be Macs, too. 

"Macs as well, Scott? Do you mean dual-boot?" Maybe that's a thought in your head right now. 

I don't know. All I do know is I want to press a button on that Magic Keyboard, and have my iPad experience suddenly transform into something indistinguishable from a Mac, or at least so close to it that it's the same thing.

Is that confusing? I don't think so. It's only a refinement to what Apple already has with Stage Manager. Right now, a tap of an icon (hidden in a pull-down menu) brings up a multitasking mode where multiple apps can be resized and layered on the iPad screen plus a connected external monitor. But that multitasking mode allows a maximum of four apps, no matter how powerful or large the iPad model is, as well as four more apps on a connected monitor, no matter how large it is. App positions can be flexed in size, but not as freely as on a Mac.

I want full freedom and lots of apps. I also want Mac apps, which could be enabled somehow if Apple figured it out. The Mac runs iOS apps, and Mac and iPad Pro models now have the same processors. The iPad Pro actually has a next-gen M-series chip (and a better display and front-facing camera). 

I also want a browser that feels exactly like the Mac. Not sort of similar; the same. I need my workflows in-browser to work, and for them to work with other browser types, too.

MacOS doesn't support touchscreens, you say? Who cares? I work on the iPad Pro with a Magic Keyboard connected 95% of the time, and when I do, I'm almost never touching the screen. The iPad is already adapted to work with trackpads and keyboards, so what's the difference if I'm running a Mac app instead?

Putting a touchscreen on a Mac is a harder proposition because, yes, MacOS isn't touchscreen-ready. But you can run a keyboard- and trackpad-ready Mac app on an iPad, right? I want that Mac or Mac-like mode to feel seamless and become my Pro Mode. And for anyone who wants the familiar iPad feel again? Just press that button and switch back.

Also, improve my keyboard and Pencil life

Even if you're not on board with making the iPad Pro feel more like a Mac at times, surely you can agree Apple hasn't made living with both the Pencil Pro and Magic Keyboard feel seamless. The iPad Pro in keyboard-connected mode is very much like a laptop in form, but it's not a fun device to suddenly and spontaneously use with a Pencil.

If I want to write notes, or sketch, or use the Pencil to navigate, reaching up to the floating iPad display as it rests on the Magic Keyboard is awkward. It's a bit wobbly and too elevated. I want to bring the iPad down to a lower angle, resting over the keyboard, so I can settle down and draw. The Magic Keyboard doesn't bend that way, or even go into a folio mode, forcing me to pop the iPad out and hold it instead.

Why hasn't Apple solved this geometry yet? I expected the new Magic Keyboard would fold in a new direction to allow Pencil and keyboard flows to feel more… well, magical. There's still time to figure this out with the next version, and if Apple ever does make a touchscreen Mac, it'll be well worth figuring out.

I'd make my iPad Pro my Mac if I could, consolidate before the next Vision

As I said in my iPad Pro review, that device and its hardware could and should easily be my everyday computer, saving me from buying a MacBook. Apple, of course, says you can already do that. Some people do. Or, Apple suggests, you could buy both and use them together.

But why not have both in one? Cynically, I expect it's because Apple wants us to buy two devices instead of one. If that's the case, it seems ridiculous. Apple is already angling for us to consider other future products like the Vision Pro, which promises to be a computer that connects with our Macs (and hopefully, someday, iPads and iPhones). I'd be more likely to consider higher-end alternative accessories or peripherals if Apple weren't already trying to sell me two different types of increasingly similar (but not identical) computers in the iPad Pro and Mac. All these computers can get expensive, fast.

Microsoft's recent AI-infused Surface lineup keeps underlining to me that, yes, tablets and laptops can run the same software. Microsoft never figured out a good OS for mobile and tablets. And so, for better or worse, it continues using Windows across the board. Apple, however, could have it both ways. The mobile and tablet software is solid, but iPads need a dose of that desktop OS, too.

The future of Apple's computer lineup is simple, to me, and it has been for years and years: iPads and Macs need to fuse, or become so cross-compatible that they're truly interchangeable. They're closer than ever right now in 2024, but as WWDC approaches with promises of new device-transforming software (and lots of AI), I hope Apple will make the leap, at last, to let high-end iPads double as Macs. And, like always, I'm not expecting much to happen.