We were wrong about the M1 iPad Air. What on Earth is Apple up to?

The iPad Air is now as powerful as a MacBook Pro. Where does that leave the iPad Pro?

Apple event 2022 M1 iPad Air
(Image credit: Apple)

Sometimes your hot takes age like milk, and my iPad Air one from earlier today is one of them: I really didn't think the rumour of an M1 iPad Air was credible when the A15 Bionic is so good. My thinking was pretty straightforward: if there's an M1 iPad Air, why buy an iPad Pro when you can get essentially the same thing for a lot less money?

I was wrong, of course, and that leaves me with a question. Why buy an iPad Pro when you can get essentially the same thing for a lot less money?

Also, what is Apple up to?

More power than anybody needs right now

I still think the M1 is overkill for the iPad Air, which is now as powerful as the M1 MacBook Pro. But the way it was presented during Apple's keynote tonight wasn't really as a stand-alone iPad; it was shown more like a MacBook Pro with a detachable screen. So we saw people doing cool-people things on their Magic Keyboards before whipping the iPad off its case to do more cool-people things on the sofa. 

If you're a student or a home worker, that's an awfully compelling use case – provided, that is, you're okay with the iPad's multitasking. I'd still rather use a Mac for the serious stuff, but I'm fortunate to have that choice. Even taking into account the cost of the Magic Keyboard, the iPad Air is much cheaper than the MacBook Air, let alone the MacBook Pro. And if Apple gives iPadOS some significant updates come September, it could make the iPad Air a real alternative to a laptop Mac for even the most demanding users.

Where does that leave the 11-inch iPad Pro, though? If I were the Pro, I'd be checking the small print of my life insurance policy while telling Tim Cook his trainers look great  – because the gap between it and the iPad Air has become almost insignificant. There are still things the Pro does better – that ProMotion display is very nice, for example – but as I wrote earlier, the iPad Air delivers 99% of the good stuff for 77% of the price. I downgraded from a Pro to my current Air and don't regret it, and I think by making the iPad Air so much better Apple has made the 11-inch Pro a lot less compelling. 

I suspect we'll see some big changes to the iPad Pro this year. A larger version has been rumoured for some time, and perhaps that's what we'll see this year. That would enable Apple to kill off the 11-inch Pro and slot the 12.9-inch one into its place, re-establishing the gap between Air and Pro tablets. Then again, judging by today's event nothing's impossible when it comes to Apple right now. Bring on the next event!

Carrie Marshall

Writer, musician and broadcaster Carrie Marshall has been covering technology since 1998 and is particularly interested in how tech can help us live our best lives. Her CV is a who’s who of magazines, newspapers, websites and radio programmes ranging from T3, Techradar and MacFormat to the BBC, Sunday Post and People’s Friend. Carrie has written more than a dozen books, ghost-wrote two more and co-wrote seven more books and a Radio 2 documentary series. When she’s not scribbling, she’s the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR (havrmusic.com).