Can the Macbook Pro Replace Your iPad?

There has been a lot of talk in recent weeks about the MacBook Pro and, in particular, whether it can replace an iPad Pro for getting real work done.

Firstly, consider the hardware. The huge issue with the MacBook Pro is its form factor. The fact that the keyboard and screen are limited to being held in an L-shaped configuration seriously limits its flexibility. It is basically impossible to use a MacBook pro while standing up and downright dangerous to use when walking around. Your computing is limited to times when you are able to find somewhere to sit down.

Not that you would want to use a MacBook Pro while standing anyway. The sheer weight of these devices means that your shoulder is going to take a beating if you switch from iOS to OS X. The current 15″ MacBook Pro tips the scales at 4.49 pounds – or three iPad Pros – despite having a lower-resolution screen and one less hour of battery life.

Only those with very specific workflows could realistically switch from iPad Pro to a MacBook Pro.

The MacBook Pro continues to be hobbled by its lack of touch input. Yes, the trackpads on Apple’s laptops attempt to crudely imitate the rich touch support on iOS but without the ability to touch the thing you see, it will always be a poor imitation of the real thing.

If you’re an artist, note-taker or teacher, you’re going to really struggle without the native ability to use an Apple Pencil on the screen. The MacBook Pro is limited to some very basic pressure-sensitive input on the trackpad. This is obviously a very convoluted way to do pressure-based input; little better than a FedEx driver’s hand-held terminal. At least the FedEx terminal shows you the effects of your writing on the same surface! Of course you could haul along a Wacom tablet to make up for the lack of pen input on your MacBook Pro, but suddenly you’re hauling a whole lot more cables and looking for a substantial desk space when out and about.

If you’re, well, anybody, you’ll surely find the lack of a rear camera on the MacBook Pro a limitation. We have all grown used to the ability to shoot a photograph and immediately use it in a document or share it online without the need for messy cables or jumping through convoluted hoops to get your photograph from your smartphone or camera onto your computer.

Mac software is a limitation here too. Mac OS X only recently got a version of the Photos app from iOS and while there is a photo picker available in some Mac apps like Keynote and Pages, it is far less broadly supported than the photo picker on iOS. This makes importing photos into a document on the Mac a tricky game of drag-and-drop if you can fit both windows on the screen at once.

If you speak multiple languages – and who among us is not at least passably familiar with that other great world language Emojii? – the MacBook Pro has one serious, glaring flaw. You have to commit to a specific keyboard layout and language from the factory that can never be changed. Yes, you can remap some of the keys in software but then you’re using a keyboard where the key caps don’t match the keystrokes. Crazy!

Despite their far greater size, and consequently weight, there is no MacBook Pro model that gets better battery life than the iPad Pro. You have to wonder about the efficiency of the Intel platform. The MacBook Pro line also requires device-specific chargers. Although most recent models use the MagSafe 2 connector, each model comes with its own rating of charger. Compared to the iPad Pro’s use of the widely-available Lightning connector and its ability to charge from small battery packs, this significantly reduces your chances of being able to just borrow a charger for a quick top-up when out and about. Not to mention the fact that none of those increasingly-common public charging lockers support MagSafe 2.

While we are on the subject, let’s talk about ports. The designers of the MacBook Pro seem to have gone port-crazy. The MacBook Pro takes up a lot of space on the sides of the device for ports that most people will likely not use very often: SD Card readers, HDMI connectors and even dual thunderbolt ports. Having multiple ports that do the same thing is probably confusing for many users, which is likely why you see newer designs like the 2015 MacBook moving closer to the iPad approach to connectivity with a single port for power and peripherals.

The MacBook Pro isn’t even really good for content consumption. No MacBook Pro offers a similar four-speaker configuration to that built into the body of the iPad Pro. This can put a bit of a dampener on your enjoyment of movies and TV shows as the sound is far thinner with less bass and richness than the iPad Pro can deliver. You are also limited to landscape orientation of the screen, which makes reading books and browsing longer websites an exercise in frustrated scrolling.

Again, Mac OS X lacks some of the more advanced media consumption features of iOS. There is no system-wide support for Picture-in-Picture on OS X, for example. This means that watching a video on the side while working requires you to manually arrange your workspace just so. That is, if you even can. Few websites support resizing the video player inside the page, so you are limited to the fixed dimensions of that video and you get whatever is left over to do your work in. Compare that to the flexibility of size and placement you get with the iOS PiP window, which can even be placed off-screen.

Mac OS X also suffers from a much smaller range of available apps. Instead of the native apps you get on iOS for services like Netflix, Airbnb, Google Docs, YouTube and the like, Mac users have to make do with accessing these services through a web browser. That’s quite a hoop to jump through to get your work done: forcing such a huge proportion of your work through one app.

The Mac App Store, by contrast with its iOS counterpart, lacks many of the key tools that Mac users’ workflows typically depend on. This often requires users to go and source their own software from the open web, with all the risks that entails. These Mac apps also often cost far, far more than their more modern and easier-to-use iOS competitors.

So what are you really getting with a MacBook Pro? Yes, you’re getting more performance, but not that much more for the money. On Geekbench tests, the 2015 13″ MacBook Pro clocks in at 3209 in Single-core and 6741 on Multi-core. The iPad Pro measures up with 3225 in Single-core and 5475 in Multi-core. You have to ask yourself if it’s worth all these trade-offs in size, weight, flexibility and input methods just to gain a small performance advantage.

Certainly, the MacBook Pro can be specified with far more storage than an iPad Pro. You can get up to 1TB of single-point-of-failure storage that requires to be backed up frequently – at even more cost in peripherals or online subscriptions, never mind your time and attention. Compare that to the cloud-based world of iOS where companies like Google, Dropbox, Microsoft and Amazon are queueing up to throw professionally-managed enterprise-class cloud storage at you for pennies.

If you are a road warrior, the MacBook’s total lack of cellular connectivity options would be a serious hinderance to a cloud-based storage lifestyle in any case. You would think, for a device that costs up to twice as much as the most expensive cellular iPad, that Apple could afford to offer LTE radios in these devices. Sadly, MacBook Pro owners are stuck with tethering to their iPhones and burning through data plans. While tethering Macs to iPhones has improved in recent years, it will never be as good as a built-in LTE radio.

Finally, let’s talk about price. The MacBook Pro is not a cheap computer. Your entry-level MacBook Pro 13″ MacBook Pro comes in at £999 and in standard configurations alone runs up to nearly £2,000. When you factor in the other things you need to buy to get it up to the abilities of an iPad Pro, you’re looking at some serious coin.

If you have certain very specifically-defined workflows, and a work environment where you can guarantee yourself a chair and desk, you can probably get your work done on a MacBook Pro. For the rest of the world, there’s iPad.

Published by

Fraser Speirs

Fraser is a well-known public speaker at events such as the Apple EU Leadership Summit, Abilene Christian University's Connected Summit and Macworld Mobile. He regularly works with schools around the world focusing on next-generation educational technology, teaching practice and curriculum. Cedars School of Excellence is known as the first school in the world to roll out the Apple iPad on a 1:1 basis. Fraser is the Head of Secondary at Cedars and was responsible for the planning and execution of that project.

53 thoughts on “Can the Macbook Pro Replace Your iPad?”

  1. Love your angle and your title. You’ve done a very good job of addressing the benefits of mobile, albeit, IMO with high bias in favor of mobile (please notice that I’m staying brand neutral for now). I’ll spare us all by not going over them point by point. I’ll stick to a couple of overarching points however.

    -Freedom of Hardware Function (not mobility)

    Laptops are an intermediate form factor as far as hardware versatility, with the traditional desktop box being the most versatile. This permits more jobs to be done as opposed to where jobs are being done. Then, there is protection from premature obsolescence due to a more easily serviceable design.

    -Freedom of Software Function:

    Freedom to program the machine, natively, on the very same machine, or to install software written by others is a good thing, not the negative you present it to be. It’s beneficial for the developer and for the user. To my ears, your position is exactly analogous to “’90s AOL is all you need”, why would you venture into the wild by using the internet at large. And what exactly is wrong with being able to do both?

    “Most People” do not need this, but “Most People” does not define a personal computer. That is equally dependent on device ownership AND device control.

    It’s interesting to me that you are involved in education, yet ignore the impediment to academic freedoms that iOS, in particular, imposes. Without even getting into performance limitations, many a professor and student have written Java programs to serve their particular purpose, for instance. They did this, not to be programmers, but to solve their specific problems. These people have intimate knowledge of the ‘non-computer’ problem, they shouldn’t need to switch languages over, just because it’s forbidden. Actually, that would be the only reason to switch over. They should also be able to immediately share that code, on free terms, with anyone else that wants it.

    These same folks may need to interface with various instruments. For this, you need ports.

    Mind you, not everyone has these requirements, and not everyone needs a PC. I submit to you that mobile is the lowest common computing denominator. A necessary one at that, because it’s the computer you always have with you, and in that sense only is it objectively superior.

  2. I think you missed a few:

    – Terrible front-facing camera. The quality isn’t great to start with, but on top of that usage is riddled with issues.

    – better get that IT education ! MacOS, for all its shiny window dressing, is an old-school OS that requires a lot of hand-maintenance to keep running smoothly. From having to manually fix DNS resolvers to ever-recurring wifi issues… even MS Office is acting weird on the latest version.

    – Malware everywhere ! MacOS has the sad distinction of being the OS with the most vulnerabilities ( ), and don’t count on Geniuses to help you with them ( ). Better keep those backups handy !

    – no gaming ! iOS users might have gotten used to gaming on their device. MacOS is a distinctly inferior platform to game on, from the lack of MacOS games to very lackluster video performance. Macs excel at looking good, not at actually doing anything.

    1. Wifi issues? no. MS Office is buggy? Well, it is from that well known source of bugs – Microsoft. Malware? In 20 years of using a Mac never had any, probably never will. Don’t confuse vulnerability with danger. My cottage in the Yorkshire Dales is vulnerable, but safe. A camp in a war zone has lots of protection, but is dangerous. OS X is safe, Windows is dangerous.

      1. In 30 years of using a PC I never had malware either. So? Does it mean it doesn’t exist, or, cough, I know what I’m doing, or I’m just lucky?

        The WiFi issues, especially under Yosemite, have been legend, and well documented.

        1. They are “legend”, because they happened at all. There was something for some users to complain — Mac users who are used to having a very high level of expectation. So, some noticed something from time to time that wasn’t quite right.

          Then Apple critics hear about it, and say “wow, Mac users are actually complaining; must be something completely horrendous.” Turns out it’s probably less inconvenient than what most non-OS X or non-iOS users face everyday. Like, I still get amazement from friends and colleagues when my Mac or iOS device remembers networks in different places and is busy downloading mail or whatever in the background, while they are still trying to connect/reconnect to the network.

          1. Surely you’re not suggesting that because you’ve ‘stooped to our level’ that it’s okay. Are you? 🙂

            All I can say to that is for a premium price there should be a premium expectation.

          2. “for a premium price there should be a premium expectation.”

            That’s his point. Sorry you missed that… as usual.


          3. No, he was showing how our different experiences cloud our perspectives. Kind of like living in NYC vs living in, say, Cary, NC. Muggings and being accosted are a fact of life in NYC. If something like that happened even just rarely in Cary, it would be front page news. See?


          4. And I quote…”wow, Mac users are actually complaining; must be something completely horrendous.”

            Failing WiFi, at levels alleged to be ‘normal’ for competing platforms is not delivering on a premium experience, for which a premium price was paid.

          5. “is not delivering on a premium experience, for which a premium price was paid”.

            Hence the complaining.

          6. Okay, let’s recap.
            Avro said there were no WiFi issues. I pointed out that, famously, there were.

          7. Clearly, most Mac users had no discernible WIFI issues. Some did, in certain situations. Some complained as a result.

            It has been fixed. The fact that there *were complaints* makes it neither “famous”, nor “legendary”, nor “notorious”, nor anything you may want to describe it as. Unless you are saying, “reasons to complain about Apple products are famously scarce”. Few outside of a forum like this may have noticed, except that some like to make it “famous” because ammunition is scarce.

            And no I don’t dismiss it as OK just because it made my WIFI experience only a little better than the rest of the world, instead of a lot better. I would say that there is still premium value to found in Apple products, unless Apple happens to drop the ball across a number of areas in the same device all at the same time.

          8. Famously and legendary are in the context of well documented and well reported. Avro did not say ‘he’ didn’t have WiFi issues, he said they did not exist. Singular events can be quite famous and legendary, even boringly so.

            Rather than pick on my choice of adjective, how about just sticking to the fact, rather than defend a brand?

          9. However, “famously” and “legendary” are qualitative characteristic adjectives. Which means you are trying to interpret the data to fit an Apple hater’s narrative, not a perspective that is just sticking to the “fact”. And how is avro’s experience any less “fact”?

            Why not stick to fact rather than mischaracterize to bash a brand?


          10. Avro: “WiFi issues. no.” He then goes on to bash MS Office and Windows. I don’t care that he does, I care that he be factual and consistent. Bash any company all you want, if you’re factual I’ll likely agree with you.
            My contempt for Apple’s BS (and for Apple) is acceptable as long as I stick to factual information, and I’m entitled to subjective adjectives. In the context which I clarified, they are appropriate.

          11. Again, how is his experience not factual? He may be choosing which facts are important to him, but that is no less than what you are doing. At least his facts are more inline with the overall reality than yours.


          12. It was absolutely factual in his experience. It just doesn’t fit into your narrative of “Apple=BAD”. So you dismiss the fact, like a poor scientist.


          13. But his experience doesn’t represent the facts, as I pointed out. And anyway, don’t you think you’re being too sensitive about Apple? Yosemite WiFi had flaws. Those were well documented and published (I say famously). The rest is opinion…

            Edit: That’s like me saying Windows doesn’t have viruses, just because I never got one.

          14. His experience fits well within the facts as referenced by both obarthelemy and Space Gorilla than any facts you have presented. They clearly show the issues as being the exception and not the rule. You’ve just resorted to mischaracterization wanting things to look worse than they are. The issues, while notable in context of their rarity, are hardly “famous and legendary”, unless you mean legend more like the legend of Big Foot.


          15. Just as I was responding to an absolute assessment by Avro, my response is absolute as well, that is, not relative. It wasn’t about relative occurrence versus others. I didn’t even bring up others at all. It was to prove the falsehood of an absolute statement.

            Bringing up other’s failings is the ‘logical fallacy’ SG likes to bring up all the time.

          16. Using words like “famous and legendary” is all about relativity, nothing absolute. You had your typical Apple bashing agenda underpinning your whole position devoid of fact and dismissing fact.


          17. So you’re telling me that if I left it at ‘well documented and well published’ it would have satisfied you?

          18. Subjectivism intrinsic to even that wording aside, you still dismiss avro’s factual experience. You are still concerned with exaggerating the exceptions as the rule because to you “Apple-BAD”. You undermine any objectivity you think you present.


          19. Avro’s experience is as relevant as my assertion that Windows doesn’t have viruses. That is, they are both not representative of an overall reality.

          20. Avro’s experience is more inline with reality than your mis-representation. Now I’m just repeating myself, and that’s where I stop.


          21. Facts, Facts, Facts.

            An acquaintance ran anti-virus software on her phone. The software detected Android. Only option was to melt the phone down in a blast furnace and buy an iPhone.

          22. The problem here is you are using an edge case to prove a point, and edge cases are a logical fallacy. Your words:

            “Failing WiFi, at levels alleged to be ‘normal’ for competing platforms is not delivering on a premium experience, for which a premium price was paid.”

            This is a failure of logic. As Kizedek already explained, this particular issue was not widespread and was fixed. Users such as avro experienced no problem at all, and that is more in line with the reality of most Mac users.

            Apple products and services certainly have issues and problems from time to time, but it is not common. While it is true that Apple fails to deliver a premium experience on occasion, you can’t then say that Apple is not delivering a premium experience. That is basic logic. I’m not going to say anything more on this, other than to once again offer a suggestion that you stop using edge cases in your arguments, since that is a logical fallacy.

          23. Consumer Reports has its 55,000 PC reliability results out today. Here’s an eye opener…

            3% of Macs have a failure in year 1 vs 9% of PCs. In fact, the PC failure rate is //very// consistent across the more than 10 major PC brands.

            3 times less likely to fail vs the normal 10 brand PC experience. That’s extraordinary in its magnitude and consistency across brands.

            (Check the CR chart.}

          24. from

            “Apple is still No. 1. We estimate that only 10 percent of Apple
            laptops fail by the third year of ownership. The numbers for Windows
            laptop brands range from 16 percent to 19 percent.”

            That’s Apple’s $1,000+ laptops vs Windows $300+ laptops. Do they isolate the professional, premium Windows lines anywhere ?

            “While Apple laptops break down less frequently than Windows machines, the fixes are pricier, on average. Among repairs that Apple laptop owners pay for out of pocket, almost a third cost $300 or more—more than three times the expense for Windows-based laptops.”

            So Macs break down half to 2/3rds as much, but then cost 3x as much to repair. In the end, repair expenses for Macs are significantly higher than for PCs.

            Both data points would be a lot more meaningful if we could compare within the same price range, but the figures are neither as disparate as you say even when including very low-end PCs, nor, in dollar terms, to the Macs’ advantage at all.

          25. “That’s Apple’s $1,000+ laptops vs Windows $300+ laptops.”

            You’re right about this. No info on premium Windows vs Mac. It would be very interesting.

            Macs are more expensive to repair, OTOH there are no Windows geniuses that will diagnose the problem at no cost as you wait. Very often, they actually fix the problem for free. No free diagnosis as you wait in PC world.

            So, it’s a trade off: service vs price. You get what you pay for.

          26. There is some info about specific product lines, I think you have to subscribe to get the details but here’s one quote from the summary:

            “Reliability isn’t necessarily related to how much money you spend on a laptop. HP’s premium ENVY line is near the bottom, with a 20 percent failure rate, while the company’s less-costly Pavilion line fares better, at 16 percent.

            Lenovo’s Y Series has the highest failure rate at 23 percent.”

            So it would seem Windows laptops don’t get more reliable as you spend more money.

  3. Also, GeekBench scores need to be taken with a huge pinch of salt, for 3 main reasons.

    1- they differ significantly from other benchmarks (see attached charts)
    2- they over-emphasize relatively marginal functions, encryption in particular has more weight in Geekbench than in the Real World ™
    3- the basic architecture is unrealistic: it’s self-contained code designed not to interact with the host OS so as to be portable. That’s the exact opposite of what apps, especially well-conforming apps, do.


    1. All benchmarks need to be taken with a grain of salt, but anecdotally, on my own machines, I’ve found Geekbench to be more scalable on the low end of the hardware spectrum and levelling somewhat on higher end software.

  4. And that’s why I now do all my work and most of my play on Microsoft’s excellent Surface Pro 3 (and no need upgrade yet)!
    I wholeheartedly recommend this wonderful device! Together with an iPad mini for some use cases, but ever fewer..

        1. Same here. My last virus dates back to over 10 years ago, when a friend connected his USB key to transfer files. And it got removed w/o major drama.
          Current version of Windows have a lot fewer vulnerabilites than current version of MacOS (about 10x fewer). And a lot more tools to prevent and deal with them.

  5. I love your approach.

    The best way to predict the future (for mere mortals who cannot create it), is to imagine that it has already come.

    If things work out for Apple, we will see a lot of reviews like this in a few years time. Maybe 5. Maybe 10.

  6. “Having multiple ports that do the same thing is probably confusing for many users . . . ”

    Do you really think people are that stupid?

  7. “Sadly, MacBook Pro owners are stuck with tethering to their iPhones and burning through data plans. While tethering Macs to iPhones has improved in recent years, it will never be as good as a built-in LTE radio.”

    But wouldn’t a seperate LTE radio also require it’s own data plan or at the very least, a share plan? Burning through an iPhone’s data plan with a MacBook Pro is a non-issue. I think the bigger issue would be battery consumption for the iPhone while used as a hotspot.

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