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Apple's most recent innovation in the tablet computer market has accelerated the question of whether an iPad can replace a laptop. The 2020 iPad Pro – a device once thought of as a larger, less cellular version of the iPhone – is now closer than ever to being a true competitor in the laptop market. I wanted to put Apple's claim that "your next computer is not a computer" to the test, so I decided to spend a week using my iPad Pro as a complete replacement for my MacBook Pro. Here's what I learned.
An iPad Pro can replace your laptop if…
You work on creative projects
The most distinguishing feature of the iPad Pro is one that most laptops inherently lack – the touch screen. I loved how easily I could go from typing an email to scribbling notes by hand in my note-taking app to typing up an article. If you're someone who works with audio or visual design elements day in and day out, I can see how that would be an even more impactful feature.
You're looking to adopt a mobile POS system
For years, small business owners have opted to use an iPad over traditional point of sale (POS) systems. In fact, a 2020 survey by Capterra found that nearly 50% of businesses are using mobile POS technology exclusively. An iPad Pro can support mPOS software like Square and Clover no matter where you are or what type of transaction you need to process. Then, once the sale is complete, you can instantly switch back to using your iPad for other activities like sending emails or tracking orders.
You're able to adapt to a slightly different user experience
Unlike the traditional desktop user experience, the iPad OS experience relies on native apps that consume the entire screen when in use. Thankfully, the Split View and Slide Over functionalities make it possible to work with two apps simultaneously, but keep in mind that adapting to an iPad-as-a-laptop set up will mean you'll need to adjust to a slightly different way of interacting with applications.
You frequently need to use a computer while on-the-go
The iPad was designed with portability top of mind. Case in point: my 16" MacBook Pro weighs approximately 4.3 pounds, whereas my 11" iPad Pro weighs approximately 1.04 pounds. The difference is noticeable when holding the two devices at the same time and even more dramatic when carrying them between meetings or while traveling long distances. Likewise, the iPad Pro can be purchased with cellular capabilities, meaning you can access the internet without Wi-Fi while on the move.
An iPad Pro won't replace your laptop if…
You use proprietary software that the iPad doesn't support
Obviously, if you rely on a native application or proprietary software that can't be run on an iPad, it won't do everything you need it to do. Most web apps have a seamless user experience and there are many native apps you can download from the App Store, but this point is moot if you can't access the applications you need to keep your business running.
You like having a bigger screen
Some activities like data entry and programming are much easier (and more comfortable) to do with a bigger display. Unfortunately, Apple hasn't fine-tuned the iPad Pro's ability to connect to external displays and designate a second monitor, although there are some adapters and apps that will let you mirror your iPad to a larger screen. Plus, if you like having a larger screen built into your device for traveling or working remotely, the iPad Pro alone might not cut it.
Budget is your top priority
My 11" iPad Pro with 256 GB of storage (the second-highest amount available) and no cellular capabilities retails for $899 USD. If you prefer a larger screen, more storage, or want your iPad to function without Wi-Fi requirements, you could be looking at a price tag as high as $1,649 USD. These prices don't include any of the accessories that help make the most of iPad functionality, like the Apple Pencil. By comparison, the 13" MacBook Air with 256 GB of storage retails for $999 USD and there are certainly other laptops available from different manufacturers at lower price points. If portability and versatility are less important to you than the cost of the device you're using, the iPad Pro is most likely not the best choice for you.
You want it to behave exactly like a laptop
As mentioned above, the iPad Pro takes a bit of getting used to if you want it to behave like a laptop. Even with accessories like the Magic Keyboard or the Magic Trackpad to help the iPad Pro mimic the behavior of a traditional laptop computer, there are some laptop features that the iPad Pro cannot accommodate. For example, there is only one USB-C port; you might prefer a laptop that has a variety of ports. Also, though there is a "Files" app, there is no desktop screen where you can save files for quick access or arrange your windows according to your preferences. These are small quirks, but they can make a big difference in how satisfied you'll be with the iPad Pro as a laptop replacement.
Should you replace your laptop with an iPad Pro?
An iPad Pro doesn't behave exactly like a laptop, but in many ways, that's the point. The iPad Pro was designed to be supremely portable and versatile, whereas laptops are effectively desktop computers that you can unplug. If you prefer the traditional laptop experience, want to save money, or use business-critical applications that don't support mobile, the iPad Pro will fall short of your expectations and needs. However, if you work on a lot of creative projects, travel frequently, or want to maximize the capabilities of the devices you use, replacing your laptop with the iPad Pro will be more than worth it.