M1 MacBook Air vs iPad Pro 12.9"

I’m seeing a lot of discussions about the various new Macs regarding which one to purchase, but nothing comparing to the iPad Pro as a portable workstation. At least not with consideration for the new M1 Air.

I’m currently shopping for a new portable device and I’m curious to know everyones thoughts with this comparison.

I would definitely get the new magic keyboard with the iPad, and would be doing a bit of typing. I’m intrigued by the pencil, but any potential use cases are just ideas for now. I do have a 16" MBP that I use now, it’s just not super portable and spends most of its time docked.

MacBook Air | 8 Core GPU Model with Apple Care: $1,478 (before tax)


  • Faster CPU (not super relevant for iPad workflows)
  • More RAM (not super relevant for iPad workflows)
  • More internal storage
  • Great battery life
  • New hotness


  • No FaceID
  • No touch screen
  • Slightly larger device
  • No “Pro” in the name (kidding, I’m just struggling to find many cons)

iPad Pro 12.9 | 128GB Wifi with Apple Care: $1,477 (before tax)


  • Pencil support for notes and possible sketching
  • Standalone tablet for use away from a work surface
  • Lighter without keyboard


  • Will be refreshed sooner, possibly with major changes.
  • Apps like DT and OmniFocus are just better on Mac (for now, I’m optimistic of the new DTTG)


  • Same size screen
  • Similar weight (with magic keyboard on the iPad) [MBA: 2.8lb/1.29kg vs 2.97lb/1.35kg]
  • Similar price ( $1 difference )
  • Both run iPad apps (for better or worse)

I had partially hoped in writing this all out that I might come to a conclusion, but I have not.

What does everyone think? Am I missing comparison points or forgetting anything?

Does this new M1 shift the balance of Mac vs iPad?

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I think it really comes down to the software and OS preference.

Multi-tasking on the Mac is much easier for me to deal with, and I prefer Mac apps to iOS apps. I like things like the menu bar and being able to run shell scripts, etc.

Someone else might have a very different set of preferences. For them, the ability to use the iPad without a keyboard via the touch screen might be the biggest factor. They might prefer iOS apps to Mac apps, or having a built-in cellular connection.

I don’t think there’s a right or wrong choice, there’s just different trade-offs and preferences.

All of which is to say that no one else can probably answer this one for you.


Definitely, I know a lot of the decision will boil down to personal preference. I’m not really looking to have anyone make the decision for me.

I’m more interested where everyone else sits on the matter. I probably could have phrased the question better to be less looking for a definitive answer.

The multi-tasking on macOS is a huge consideration. I’ve not used a 13" laptop in a long time. How viable is that size for multi-tasking with more two apps at once?

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I’ve been working on a 16" since April, but before that I had a 13" MacBook Air and before that a 12" MacBook.

I think that multi-tasking and switching between apps on macOS is far superior to the same experience on iPad OS (and you aren’t getting anything bigger than 13" for an iPad either).

16" is great for two apps side-by-side but 13" is doable, especially since they don’t have to line up perfectly 50/50 and you can just Command-Tab between them very easily.


Based on what I’ve been reading/hearing, the iOS/iPadOS app experience on Apple Silicon Macs isn’t great. Lots of apps don’t seem to run well in a windowed environment with keyboard and mouse interaction and many developers have opted out of having their iOS apps available on macOS. If iPad apps are important to you, I think this one should really go into the iPad Pro Pros category.


If you’re looking for personal opinions, I’m considering getting rid of my 12.9" iPad Pro once the M1 MBP 13 arrives. There’s a lot I cannot do on my iPad that I need the Mac for and there’s very little that the iPad can do that the Mac cannot.

I’ve yet to use this LIDAR camera on my iPad for anything. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

I can multitask easily with the 13" screen. A bigger screen would certainly be better, but I like the small size for moving around the house (since I’m rarely leaving to go work anywhere). Though I’ll admit, the thing I use my iPad for most often now is a second screen with Side Car.


My ridiculously expensive (sore point there) 15” MBP broke down forcing me back on to my older 13” MBP.
I’ve been really happy with it. The portability is fantastic and since most of my multitasking is done by app switching not side by side, that has worked great.

I do want a big monitor for things like FCP and Xcode, but then I rarely want to do those on a portable machine anyway.

My wife is iPad first and loves the pencil etc.
I’ma serious multitasker and as much as I love the feel of the iPad and want to love it, I’ve realised I am a computer kind of guy.

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I’ve been a bit disappointed by all the developers opting out. You’re probably right about this being a pro for the iPad as the experience sounds extremely mediocre at best.

I always have an iPad of some kind because I’m a heavy Pencil user (lots of handwritten notes). But now that the M1s exist, the days of me trying hard to use the iPad as a mobile computer are certainly over. There’s so much more that you can do with a portable Mac and it’s so much easier. Even just email using text expansion is so much better. I’m very much resisting the pull of a fully decked out 13’ M1 MBP, but if I was to travel more currently, I would have probably pulled the trigger already.

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I expect if I went the iPad route, I’d definitely use Side Car a lot as well. The 13" is definitely great moving about the house and maybe working at a park or coffee shop.

On the note of using the pencil a lot, do you find yourself using Scribble often? This is one fo the really intriguing factors drawing me to the iPad. Do you use OmniFocus at all? If so how is the implementation of Scribble in OF if you use it?

I hardly use scribble. The keyboard folio and even on screen keyboard is so much easier. Even when I’m writing using the pencil, I’ll pull up the on screen keyboard given it’s faster.

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I’m probably not the right person to ask since Scribble doesn’t work (yet) in French, so I can’t use it. However, even though I find the feature very neat and well executed (tested it here and there), I don’t see myself using it. Either I think freeform with Notability and write longhand with small drawings, or I use a “full” computer with Obsidian and Mindnode and I’m much quicker that way. Many people sing high praise of that idea, but it’s just not the way I work. I much prefer using the whole range of a desktop app than sacrifice features for physically manipulating stuff on a harmstrung version of it. (Pity, because deep down, I would love to love it, but I don’t see it fitting in any kind of real workflow.)

As of OF, I use it mostly on Macs and on my iPhone and Watch, but very seldom on the iPad. And the day my “mobile computer” becomes an Mx Mac, this will probably shrink to “never”.


I agree with others that the M1 Air will clarify to what extent you actually use and value iPad-specific features (Pencil, focused single-tasking, touch UI.)

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Maybe we can finally see iPadOS coming more into its own paradigm. Would be interesting to see that vision finally materialise, if it ever does.

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I use OF primarily on my iPad and dread the times when I need to open it on my Mac. Split screen dragging email in beats any option I’ve found on the Mac.

Also there’s that $1 price difference :slight_smile:


Does your price include the keyboard? If not then the cost advantage swings strongly in favour of the MacBook.

My perspective (I have an iPad Pro (11", 2018) and a 2019 MacBook Air (16GB, 512GB) as my “travel/move around the house” devices): I use the iPad way, way, way more than the Air. When I travel, I take them both. If I would have to choose just one for a travel device, it would be the Air. I would enjoy using it less, but of the two devices, it’s the one I’d want with me if things start to get messy at work.