How big of a deal is the M1 in the iPad Air?

Looking at a larger iPad (larger compared to the Mini) as an alternative to an EDC laptop. The functionality I need to handle is pretty simple - web browsing, SSH, email, and a few other things - and my use would be less infrequent. Quite honestly, if my iPhone 11 had an 11" screen, I could do all of it on there.

That said, even the current “base” iPad is $449. And I don’t really want a device that requires Pencil 1, since I already have a Pencil 2. Which means I’m looking at the Apple Refurb store.

The 4th gen iPad Air is $469/$599 (64/256 GB), which is an A14 Bionic. That basically makes the refurb Air the same price as the new “regular” iPad. Given that they’re using the same processor, and the Air supports the 2nd gen Pencil and generally seems nicer, that’s a no-brainer.

But the new iPad Air has the M1 for about $150 more.

I know they’re both ARM devices, but is the M1 some sort of a huge leap? Or is this the sort of thing where it’s a lot of hype with relatively little benefit to the average user? Basically I’d like to keep this iPad for several years, and I don’t want to have a scenario where two years from now Apple drops support for the A14 or some new thing absolutely requires the M1.


The first “M1” in the ARM Mac dev kit was actually an A14 Bionic, so the CPUs are very similar. There will be no such thing as Apple dropping support for A14.

I have the same iPad Air and I love it (except for the power button as TouchID thingie).

On an iPad where active cooling doesn’t exist, M1 is only slightly more powerful than A14. The biggest advantage is 2 more cores (M1 has 8 cores while A14 has 6).

I also mostly do the same things: web, SSH, email, a bit of 3D modeling. The A14 is plenty good for all of that.

One thing where the M1 would shine is on these new AI models, which seem to get easier to run offline. But for that, it’s almost always faster and easier to just use a website that hosts them.

I once thought as you do. I bought the M1 11" iPad “Pro” to become an EDC laptop replacement and after a few months, I realized that it was just a laptop sized iPhone. It really added nothing to my workflow. Why would I do this when the Macbook Air is not much bigger and is an actual computer. So I shelved my M1 iPad and picked up a Mini 6 to slide into my bag next to my Macbook Air.


There’s a distinct possibility that the M1 air may be supported for 1 or 2 years longer than the A14 model.

Longevity is a key personal requirement so I ended up going with the iPad pro models (the original 9.7" pro from 2016 is still supported, even with the A9x), although I did consider going with the M1 Air. As a freebsd sysadmin I’m not doing anything that requires an M2 cpu, but I hope to get 8 or so years of use out of this ipad. My use case is similar to yours and I’ve been more than happy with my ipad.

I get where you’re coming from on this. For me, it’s partially a “friction” thing. I own a MacBook Air, and if I know I’m going somewhere for an extended period of time I’ll pack it up and bring it.

But I basically want something that can just about live in my bag, so I don’t have to remember to pack it up and take it with me as I’ve run into problems with that in the past. Which means that either I need another MacBook Air (not completely out of the question, given the price of the iPad), or I need an iPad.

And I’ve found that for a lot of quick little things, an iPad is much easier to get out and do stuff with than a MacBook.

I actually looked into refurb MacBooks, but the challenge there is that they all take super-chunky charging cables. I already have USB-C charging in my bag, so I really need something that charges with it. I’m also considering a Chromebook, but that has the obvious drawback that it’s not in the Apple ecosystem.

This is actually part of the draw for me. If I could get a laptop sized iPhone, I would buy that in a heartbeat. :smiley:

That brings back memories. I used to work at a tech startup that worked exclusively with FreeBSD. :slight_smile:

1 Like

RAM. Go with the M1 for the memory. I upgraded from the 2018 to the M1 largely for the memory. From 3GB to 8GB and that’s the main reason. For the kind of work I do the 2018 was fine. But the additional memory provides a better experience when multitasking. Even just the 8GB is a huge improvement when bouncing between apps. Safari holds content in tabs forever. I regularly bounce between Affinity Publisher, Mail, Safari, Messages, Reeder, Numbers and Mona with no reloading of apps.

Not sure if you’ll ever want to use an external display but that is an added benefit as well.


I managed technology for many years (servers, phones, networks, etc.). My last work computer was an early 2015 13in MacBook Pro with 8GB. I never needed a powerful computer to do my job, just one that allowed me to do “normal” office work, i.e. email, spreadsheets, and text documents. And remote into other computers, phone systems, and devices.

Today my primary computer is a 2020 11 inch iPad Pro. I’m retired and rarely remote into other devices today but I still need the ability to do “normal” office work, as well as organize my photos and edit the occasional video. My iPP easily does all that. The only advantage upgrading to a M1 would be the ability to use an external display full screen rather than mirrored. I don’t even own an external display. Just an iPhone, my iPP, and a 13” M1 MBA that I use as a home server.

For me it’s the perfect computer. It’s small enough that I can take it anywhere and it’s always connected so I can use it anywhere, even when I’m flying coach.

I would be surprised if Apple doesn’t support it for at least 5 years. If it didn’t, IMO, it would hurt the sales of the high end iPads.


Buy the M1 iPad Air.

Future proof yourself and don’t worry about it. I just purchased one for my Father and while it is way more than he needs, he probably won’t ever need to replace it.

I’ve never believed in “future proofing”, things change too fast. It sure didn’t work out for Mac Pro buyers. :cry:


ipadOS has moved on, even so. I wouldn’t describe anything since the 2nd iteration of multitasking as a laptop sized iPad. As always it depends what you want to do with the device.

@webwalrus is an experienced Apple user who will know whether he wants an ipad or a Macbook.


The perfect answer would be an Mn-based 12" MacBook. Apple need to make this product for those of us who prefer a full-bodied OS.

I can’t believe they haven’t gone there yet. I owned one and the only issue I had with it was lack of oomph for the occasional heavier task. I even coped with that keyboard.


Yeah, I owned the original version and loved it.

That “some new thing” exists today - and it’s Stage Manager and much better improved external display support. And possibly better driver support for external devices with DriverKit.

It’s an actual computer - but not necessarily much better or even bigger for every task.

Case in point: In portrait mode, e.g. when reading PDFs, my iPad has a viewable display of 23cm vertically. Not sure what it is on the MacBook Air, but even the enclosure is less than that (21.5cm). And the MacBook Air weighs 1240 gram - 3.7 times the 461 grams of an iPad Air.


I agree with Denny; while the M1’s speed is noticed and appreciated, it’s the RAM that matters more often. Since you described fairly light usage, I guess you would only have to weigh the chance that will change vs. the $150 saved. Either way, you’ll have a nice iPad.