I've owned stacks of iPads – standard ones, Pro ones, mini ones and Air ones – over the years, and I reckon that the iPad Air is the best tablet for semi-pro users: it's impressively powerful for the price, and for most of us the differences between it and the iPad Pro aren't significant. So I'm a bit baffled by the latest iPad Air 5 rumour, which says that today's Apple Event will show off an iPad Air with the same M1 processor that's currently in the iPad Pro (2021) and my MacBook Pro (2020).
I can sum it up in a word: why?
Why boost the Air when the iPad Pro is already overkill?
In our review of the M1 iPad Pro, we noted that the M1 power was, well, a bit much: "This iPad is screamingly quick to load apps or switch between them – but so was the previous model, and the iPad Air. Speed hasn't been much of a concern for the iPad recently." Unless you're doing very demanding multi-core work, the A-series processor of the iPad Air isn't significantly less powerful than the M1 in the iPad Pro. If you're not going to be doing really heavy-duty stuff in apps such as LumaFusion or Affinity Designer, you really don't need it.
The other reason it's overkill is that iPadOS isn't really made to take advantage of it. Given the choice of multitasking on my iPad and doing it on my Mac, my Mac wins every time: I find the iPad's multitasking unintuitive and clumsy. Maybe that'll change at WWDC later this year and with the release of iPadOS 16 in September, but for now the bottleneck in the iPad appears to be the software rather than the processor, and putting a more powerful chip in there won't change that.
I'm not suggesting Apple shouldn't upgrade the iPad Air. Of course it should. But personally I think an M1 is completely unnecessary right now when the A15 Bionic in the iPhone 13 is just as fast in everyday use and much more energy efficient. An M1 is overkill in a tablet unless you need those extra CPU and GPU cores. And right now, most of us don't.
So that's why it doesn't make sense for consumers. But it doesn't make sense for Apple, either. If the Air is indeed getting a better camera assembly in every model and 5G in the cellular version, adding the M1 processor would effectively remove one of the main reasons for buying the Pro – and given that there's currently a £170 price difference between the entry-level Air and the entry-level Pro, why would you buy the Pro when the Air is 99% as good for 77% of the price?