There's a rumor going around that Apple could be working on larger iPads that may continue to blur the line between its tablets and MacBooks. Yes, it's reportedly considering larger iPads, maybe even up to 16 inches, which would match its largest MacBook Pro.
For a company that made its bones making things smaller, it does seem odd Apple would want to supersize the iPad. But as we’ve seen with smartphones and the iPhone 12 mini's reportedly less than stellar sales, people seem to think bigger is better in the tech arena.
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However, while the latest 12.9-inch iPad Pro 2021 is excellent while being arguably closer to the MacBook Air M1 and MacBook Pro M1 than ever before, I’m not convinced that bigger iPads are going to be the thing that closes the gap between slate and laptop.
It's the software, not the hardware
Tom’s Guide has heaped praise on the latest iPad Pros and the iPad Air 2020, both which dock with the Magic Keyboard for a pseudo-laptop experience. And for years, iPad hardware have been superb, easily keeping Android rivals at bay; I can only think of one person who regularly uses an Android tablet.
iPadOS is also a wonderful tablet operating system. Pretty much every app runs well (Android tablets still have issues here), and it feels slick, even on a 60Hz refresh rate display. But while I love using my iPad mini for small productivity tasks such as hacking out notes or tapping out an opinion piece while lounging on a sofa, iOS is not a work-grade OS.
As Tom's Guide's Mark Spoonauer discovered there are at least 5 reasons the iPad Pro 2020 won't replace his laptop, and the top one is related to the software. Despite the improvements to iPadOS, it's still delivering as robust a user experience that isn't 1:1 with what you get on macOS. Yes, there is a Files app, but it's not on par with Finder.
I wouldn’t expect iPadOS to be functionally the same as macOS, although I’d love it if the iPad Pro with its Apple M1 chip would dual boot macOS and iPadOS. But iPadOS's sandboxing limitations and its lack of a true windowed interface hinder it from being a true workhorse platform — at least for me.
Apple can make future iPads the size of one of our best TVs but that still won’t make them MacBook replacements if they don’t have the software that’s up to the task.
Bigger iPads creates a tricky balancing act
When combined with the Magic Keyboard, the current 12.9-inch iPad Pro is heavier than the MacBook Air. And that weight is more top heavy than the MacBook, which has the majority of its weight on the bottom part of the laptop.
I can’t see how making future iPads much bigger will solve this, unless the Magic Keyboard is made heavier to prevent the iPad from toppling over when used in a laptop form. While bigger may be better, heavier rarely is. So I’m not sure how Apple, even with its engineering nous, will successfully make a 16-inch iPad, for example, that can still be used as a slim, portable laptop-like machine.
But what design should Apple take on? Apple could take the Microsoft Surface Book approach can put a more powerful processor, graphics accelerator and bigger battery in a new Magic Keyboard Pro to counterbalance the weight a large tablet display. But I don’t feel this would be a very Apple thing to do, bigger iPad with a larger display is one thing, but a hulking laptop-tablet hybrid is another.
And I’d also ask what would the point be? iPads may have drawn closer to MacBooks, but they are still rather separate machines. Apple has been rather adamant at keeping the iPadOS and macOS ecosystem separate. So making a bigger, MacBook-like iPad would seem rather odd.
What kind of touchscreen MacBooks could Apple make?
So, even though Apple doesn't seem to want to do so, I feel it would be better off putting a touchscreen in the MacBook Air or Pro — or even a 2-in-1 MacBook with a 360-degree hinge so that it could turn into a form of tablet. Add in Apple Pencil support and you’ve got a device that could have the power and flexibility to appeal to more digital artists and other creative professionals. The kind who still haven't warmed to iPadOS' differences.
This touchscreen MacBook of my dreams makes even more sense, now that Apple Silicon-based Macs support iOS apps. But Apple’s made no sign that such a device is in the works, despite it seemingly being a logical move.
Of course, the whole concept of larger iPads might not come to fruition. The source of the rumors is rather reliable tipster Bloomberg's Mark Gurman, who did note that there's a chance big iPads might not happen. I rather hope they don’t and that Apple uses its research and development clout to come up with something new; perhaps it could accelerate work on the Apple Car or make the long-rumored Apple Glasses a reality.