This argument has been going on for a few years and seemingly with no end in sight, but I think the market has already spoken. Can an iPad Pro replace a Mac? The answer is a qualified and distinct “Yes.” Coupled with “It depends.” Or, for some, “It has already.”
Let’s face it. The post-PC era that Apple co-founder Steve Jobs ushered in with the iPad is really the mobile revolution as represented by iPhone and iPad. Mobile devices are the post-PC era. Not notebooks, or ultrabooks, or anything on a desktop (which is where most Mac notebooks get used anyway).
One fact seems to escape the critics. iPads outsell Macs by nearly two-to-one. The iPad installed base remains roughly 300-million users vs. the Mac at barely 100-million; only Apple knows the exact numbers.
Yes, there is overlap. I own a number of Macs and our family has a number of iPads, and, of course, iPhones, but how we use each device varies. Go back to 2001 and the Mac was it. That was all we used. After iPod launched we began to use and listen to music on the mobile device. When iPhone came along we began siphoning functionality from the Mac to the ultimate mobile device. When the iPad became Apple’s fastest selling device ever we pulled even more functionality from the Mac.
When it comes to functionality, the Mac is the big loser in the post-PC era. What we use the Mac for today is different than it was 20 years ago, different than 10 years ago, and continues to evolve. The truck vs. car analogy is spot on. Mobile devices are cars. Macs and PCs are truck.
How could an iPad Pro (or, just an iPad) replace a Mac?
That depends upon what you use your Mac for. If screen real estate is a primary requirement, then even a 12.9-inch iPad Pro won’t do the job of a 27-inch iMac with Retina 5k display. For most Mac users tied to a Mac notebook– MacBook Air, MacBook, MacBook Pro– an iPad Pro with a keyboard can be a very good replacement.
Yes, there are usability issues.
First, applications. Photoshop, Illustrator, Adobe’s entire Creative Suite of apps, Apple’s pro apps in Final Cut and Logic, plus many other so-called desktop caliber applications also run well on any recent Mac notebook. I get by fine without Creative Suite or Microsoft Office (also available, and quite decent, on iOS), but I have a few administrator utilities which do not have equivalent counterparts on iOS. When iOS gets apps that compete with Creative Suite, Apple’s professional level apps, and others, then the transformation– at least from Mac notebook users– could be complete.
Second, file management. Apple has addressed some of this problem in iOS 11 with drag and drop, an improved Dock, and a Files management app, but the Mac’s Finder is a beast of utility not match by anything on iOS. But again, improvements are on the way, more will come, and that helps to ease the transition from notebook Macs, apps, and keyboard to the iPad.
Third, keyboard. Nearly any Bluetooth keyboard works acceptably on an iPad. A number of Smart Keyboards that use the Smart Connector built into iPad Pro also are available, and a few I’ve tried are comparable to desktop keyboards in quality. However, a Smart Keyboard makes for a more expensive iPad that weighs about the same as an entry-level Mac notebook.
Fourth, workflow. This is the killer for me. Workflow differs for every user, but suffice it to say the kind of work most of us do with out Macs involves keyboard, mouse or trackpad, and screen real estate. Both models of iPad Pro have more screen pixels than Mac notebooks, but no capability to add screens. Similarly, almost anything we do on a Mac can be done with hands on the keyboard, thanks to the trackpad and keyboard shortcuts. Not so on the iPad, where some basic functions still require hands and fingers to move from keyboard to the screen when used in so-called desktop and keyboard mode.
Maybe we’ll see future Macs with a touchscreen, or future iPads with trackpad and mouse support, but for now there’s a huge gap in the search to make an iPad more like a Mac.