Why the 2020 iPad Pro is better than any Mac [Opinion]

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iPad-Pro-Magic-Trackpad
The 2020 iPad Pro intensifies the battle for computing supremacy.
Photo: Apple

Ten years ago, the iPad was a barely capable, outsize version of the iPhone. The idea that it could outdo the Mac was laughable. And yet here we are, a decade later with the 2020 iPad Pro, and that’s exactly what has happened.

The Mac has stood still (or even gone backward, if you count that keyboard), while the iPad has turned into the computer from the future. Here’s what Apple’s two platforms look like in a head-to-head battle in 2020.

Mac vs. iPad

Back in 2018, we wrote about all the ways the then-new iPad Pro was better than the MacBook. Then, in February of this year, we compared the same iPad Pro to the latest 16-inch MacBook Pro.

Now, with the addition of amazing trackpad support, and a new trackpad/keyboard accessory, the 2020 iPad Pro is arguably the best portable computer that Apple makes. The Mac still wins on a few software points, but hardware-wise, the race isn’t even close.

Intel vs. ARM

Let’s talk specs. First, the CPU, the heart of both machines. The Intel chips inside Macs are more capable at the high end, in terms of raw processing power. But Apple’s ARM-based A12 series chips, which power iPhones and iPads, are no slouch. Apple says the A12Z chip inside the new iPad Pro brings yet another performance boost to the high-end tablet. With an eight-core GPU and a reported 6GB of RAM, the iPad Pro is more powerful than ever.

When it comes to efficiency, the iPad plays in a different league. The MacBook Pro needs a whole bunch of empty space inside just to keep it cool. An iPad in a case the size of a MacBook would enjoy battery life for days.

Displays

The latest iPads and MacBooks all share a Retina display, and some Macs also support the P3 color gamut. But the iPad Pro comes with a 120Hz Liquid Retina display with ProMotion technology, which can also slow down to show movies at 30 frames per second, as the movie gods intended. The iPad Pro also packs a brighter screen than the MacBook Pro (600 nits vs 500 nits).

Cameras

MacBooks come with one webcam, maxing out at 720p. The iPad Pro comes with a cluster of cameras on the back, and a TrueDepth Face ID camera on the front. Oh, and it has Face ID, which the Mac doesn’t (although the MacBooks do now have Touch ID). Then there’s the whole LiDAR Scanner augmented reality thing, which makes very little sense in an iPad, but I guess still counts as an advantage. On paper anyway.

Keyboard and trackpad

It takes years of professional training to place MacBook stickers this badly.
The MacBook still give you more places to stick stickers.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

Until now, the Mac came out the clear winner when it came to keyboards and trackpads. The iPad added mouse support with iOS 13, but it was little more than a fake finger. Keyboard support has been great for a long time. Now, with the new (optional and mind-blowing) Magic Keyboard with trackpad for the iPad Pro, the Mac no longer boasts the best keyboard. The Mac and iPad Pro now can utilize the same keyboard, and pretty much the same trackpad, in terms of functionality.

And the new iPad’s trackpad support is amazing. I’ve been testing it using the latest beta of iPadOS 13.4 and a Magic Trackpad, and it truly changes the iPad. With one software update, the iPad goes from being a great tablet, to being a great tablet and a very convincing MacBook replacement.

Also, while you can add a keyboard and trackpad to the iPad, you cannot remove them from a MacBook.

Connectivity

This is a big one. The Mac offers only Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. The iPad Pro adds the option of cellular connectivity, plus GPS. And it looks like the 2020 iPad Pro also comes with Apple’s new U1 ultra-wideband tracker/tracer chip inside.

Touch and Pencil

The title of this section pretty much sums things up. No Mac comes with a touchscreen (not should they). And no Mac can work with the fantastic Apple Pencil.

Software

When it comes to software, the Mac still wins. It’s not that the iPad doesn’t have great apps. It does. For music-making, photography, movie-editing and games, some iPad Pro apps prove better than what’s available for the Mac. But the iOS app ecosystem still can’t compete in all areas. For me, the lack of a mature digital audio workstation app, like Ableton Live or Logic Pro X, means I still keep my old Mac around.

And while there are amazing Photoshop alternatives on the iPad, the lack of a useable Finder-type app (Files is just terrible), and a desktop to make wrangling those files easier, makes using them in any kind of efficient pro workflow hard. I know you’re not supposed to judge the iPad for not doing things the Mac way, but sometimes the old Mac ways are still better.

Just the Finder alone is enough to make the Mac more usable than the iPad. But if you figure in the iPad’s confusing mishmash of multiwindow multitasking features, versus the Mac’s simple windows, it gets worse for the tablet.

2020 iPad Pro vs. Mac: Conclusion

The Mac still has better software overall, or rather better OS-level software (the iPad has as many great apps as the Mac). And the Mac remains more flexible in terms of how deeply you can customize it. But hardware-wise, the 2020 iPad Pro is years ahead, with a better CPU, display, cameras and battery life. It’s also cool to the touch at all times, and runs silently, with no fans. Even the latest 16-inch MacBook Pro feels like tired old technology when compared to the iPad.