The new iPad Air 5 reminds me of a magazine feature I wrote a very long time ago. It was a look at some of Apple's more outlandish patents, and one of the ones I liked best showed a computer – which at the time I assumed was a Mac – that could be lain flat to type on, propped up to watch stuff or used in a traditional laptop configuration. Looking at the image above, it's clear that Apple went ahead and built it.
The iPad Air 5 isn't a Mac. Or at least, it isn't labelled as one. But the line between it and the MacBook Air is so blurry it makes me feel like Mister Magoo.
Come together right now
The latest iPad Air and the 13-inch MacBook Pro have a great deal in common. They have the same M1 system on a chip, with the same number of CPU and GPU cores and the same standard RAM. They both have solid-state storage. And they often run the same apps: there are tons of iPadOS and iOS apps that'll run quite happily on my M1 Mac. And that's just the Air. How powerful is the next iPad Pro going to be?
Of course there are still differences. The iPad has a touchscreen and Apple Pencil support and the MacBook doesn't. The iPad can have cellular connectivity built-in and the MacBook can't. And so on. But at heart they're the same computer. They're just kitted out differently – and crucially, they run different user interfaces. Under the hood there's a lot of crossover between iPadOS and macOS. That's one of the reasons developers can write for one platform and run on the other. But what you see, what you touch and what you can do differ quite dramatically.
I know that Apple has said that it isn't interested in making touchscreen Macs. But Apple has always ruled out things right up until it does them, at which point it pretends that was the plan all along. So I can't help wondering if the iPad and the Mac are becoming so similar they'll end up becoming the same device. Sure, iPadOS's interface is better suited to touch and mobile use than macOS and macOS is better for multitasking and file management. But that's just the decor. At heart the OSes are the same.
Will they merge? Right now I doubt it, because they're still made for different kinds of use and different kinds of user – so as much as I'd love to have Logic Pro X on my iPad Air, I wouldn't want to do all my production and recording on it. I'm sure you have your own examples of things that just work better on iPad or on Mac too. But I think what we'll see over time is even more blurring of the line between the two kinds of devices. Fancy a MacBook Pro 5G or an iPad Pro Ultra?