Macs run iPad apps. It’s time for iPads to run Mac apps.

By

iPad should run Mac apps, like Xcode.
Xcode is just one of the Mac applications that should be available for iPad now that it has an M1 processor.
Photo: Cult of Mac

The Apple M1 processor in the 2021 iPad Pro could make it the most productive tablet ever. But only if Apple takes the logical next step and lets iPads run Mac apps.

M1-powered Macs can run iPadOS applications. The reverse should be true.

Mac apps, not macOS

Even with the new processor, Apple should not put the full version of macOS on an iPad. The result would be inferior to today’s iPad and MacBooks. The strength of the iPad is that it’s both a tablet and a notebook. Replacing iPadOS with macOS would limit it.

The people who want macOS on iPad likely didn’t suffer through Windows 8. That was Microsoft’s attempt to put a desktop operating system on a tablet. Despite some tweaks, the user interface wasn’t suited for touch, forcing people to pull out a stylus for even basic tasks. Or always use their tablet as a laptop with keyboard and mouse. The same would be true for macOS on iPad.

Apple already has a tablet operating system that’s well-suited for touch control: iPadOS. Apple should give iPadOS the ability to run Mac applications without changing the design of the operating system. The M1 processor makes it possible.

Put a virtual Mac inside an iPad

iPadOS 15 surely will be a highlight of Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference in June. Its signature feature should be support for running Mac software.

Here’s how it might play out. The computer could run iPadOS and tablet applications most of the time. But those who want could add on a keyboard and trackpad/mouse and load up the Mac version of third-party software, from Excel to Photoshop.

Running software designed for a Mac won‘t be a problem, as long as the tablet is configured as a laptop. Ever since iPadOS 13.4, iPads have offered robust trackpad/mouse support. And the Apple Magic Keyboard and third-party keyboards come with trackpads built in. Even the basic 2021 iPad Pro packs 8GB of RAM (like a MacBook or iMac), and versions with 1TB of storage or more come with 16GB.

But iPad users will not want to run Mac apps all the time. They’re full of tiny on-screen control elements designed for a trackpad/mouse. Even a stylus is a poor substitute for just touching the display. There needs to be way to run both iPadOS and Mac applications.

One solution could be to only run Mac software on an external screen, with the iPad’s built-in display reserved for iPad applications. The Thunderbolt port in the new 2021 iPad Pro makes this more reasonable. But it wouldn’t be great for people always on the go.

iPad should run Mac apps: An M1 iPad Pro should have no trouble running the Mac version of Excel or other Mac applications. But you don’t want to do this all the time
An M1 iPad Pro should have no trouble running the Mac version of Excel or other Mac applications. But you don’t want to do this all the time.
Photo: Cult of Mac

Consolation prize

If Apple doesn’t take the giant step of enabling the 2021 iPad Pro to run Mac applications, it needs some other way to justify the M1 processor. And up to 16GB of RAM. And the Thunderbolt port.

At the very least, Apple should port more of its own software to iPadOS. The most obvious example is Xcode, the tool developers use to create iOS, iPadOS and macOS software. There have been rumors of Xcode for iPad in the past. It needs to happen.

Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro also should be brought to tablets. An M1-powered iPad can handle Apple’s top-tier tools for video and music creation.

Porting these three professional applications to iPadOS should be a relatively easy process. But, as tablet apps, they would need significant changes to their user interfaces to make them touch-friendly.

There’s more to the 2021 iPad Pro than a faster processor. The new Thunderbolt port enables faster transfers to and from external drives, but that should be only the start. Many users want to run applications on a second screen, even if these iPad apps would need to be controlled with a trackpad/mouse.

It’s time to make iPad Pro really ‘pro’

Apple made dramatic changes to the 2021 iPad Pro, but now it must follow through on those changes. Otherwise there’s not a lot of reason to upgrade to the new model. Right now, there’s hardly anything the 2021 model can do better than a 2018 iPad Pro — that aging model is fast enough to easily handle every current iPadOS app. It’s time for Apple to push the envelope.

And there’s reason to think it might. Back in 2018, Apple added a USB-C port to the iPad Pro without the software to make it useful. The next iPadOS upgrade changed that. So all eyes should be on WWDC 2021 and iPadOS 15.