iPad Pro 2021 won't let you use its full power — here's why

iPad Pro 2021
(Image credit: Apple)

Apple's new iPad Pro 2021 tablets have earned rave reviews and not one — but two — spots on our best tablets list for (among other things) their powerful components. Most notable among them is Apple's speedy M1 chip, and the beefy 8 to 16 GB of built-in RAM.

It's rare for Apple to spell out how much RAM is built into its iPads, but since the gigabytes of RAM driving the new iPad Pros are part of the marketing customers now know how much raw power these tablets have. And we've just learned that not all of that power is not fully available, due to iPadOS limiting third-party apps to about 5 GB each.

This is a big deal because the option to get 16 GB of RAM is a big selling point of the new iPad Pro, but how valuable is that upgrade when most apps can't make use of all that power? The memory limitations iPadOS imposes on third-party apps have come to light thanks to a recent Procreate update aimed at making the painting app run better on M1-powered iPads. 

Procreate now runs faster and can handle more layers on an iPad Pro 2021, but when a fan asked what the new RAM cap is on the iPad Pros with 16 GB built in, the folks at Procreate claimed it's the same on all M1 iPads -- about 5 GB, according to developers discussing the issue on the Procreate forum.

"We tested RAM limit on iOS 14.5.x, 14.6 and  14.7beta, on both iPad M1 8GB and 16GB, and in all cases memory limit that app could allocate was exactly 5.1GB," reads one post from a developer. "We got these numbers by doing stress tests (allocating memory until app crashes), and by calling 'os_proc_available_memory()'."

We've reached out to Apple representatives to confirm this 5 GB limit on third-party apps's RAM usage and ask after any plans to change it. For their part, the team at Procreate have promised to update the app if Apple ever gives them access to more of the iPad Pro's RAM. 

Alex Wawro
Senior Editor Computing

Alex Wawro is a lifelong tech and games enthusiast with more than a decade of experience covering both for outlets like Game Developer, Black Hat, and PC World magazine. A lifelong PC builder, he currently serves as a senior editor at Tom's Guide covering all things computing, from laptops and desktops to keyboards and mice.