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iPad Pro vs. MacBook Pro: What's the Difference? 2021

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Apple's iPad Pro and MacBook Pro are often used to accomplish the same tasks. You can use them for browsing the web, shop online, send emails, edit videos, or play games.

Despite this, the iPad Pro and MacBook Pro have different priorities. Most users can expect either device to handle everyday use, but there are situations where one clearly beats the other. Here's what to know before buying.

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Overall Findings

iPad Pro

Light, portable, and versatile

Has a touchscreen with Apple Pencil support

Simple, intuitive interface

Multitasking is possible but restricted

Limited support for external devices and displays

MacBook Pro

Great for multitasking

Excellent file management

Plenty of customization

No touchscreen

Interface can be confusing

The iPad Pro and MacBook Pro are similar in many ways, and more so today than they ever were in the past.

Apple's Magic Keyboard for the iPad Pro, and the addition of mouse support for iPadOS, mean you can use the iPad Pro as a laptop. The MacBook Pro line is switching to Apple Silicon, unifying processor design across Apple products.

You can't turn a MacBook Pro into a tablet, though, and that highlights a fundamental difference. The iPad Pro can be used at a desk, standing on a bus, or lying in bed. You can only use the MacBook Pro on a flat surface.

What the MacBook Pro lacks in versatility, it gains in customization. A MacBook Pro can run more software because it can access apps outside its own App Store. You can dig into options you won't find on any iPad. The MacBook Pro can also connect to more external devices simultaneously.

Ease of Use and Versatility

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You can use an iPad however you feel comfortable, and iPadOS adapts based on how you're using it. If you want to switch from tablet to laptop, you don't open a box to make that choice. Just attach the Magic Keyboard and start typing.

Apple's MacBook Pro, which runs macOS, takes pride in its ease of use compared to Windows. That's for a good reason. MacOS is approachable, and Apple has applied lessons learned from the success of iOS to the design of macOS.

Still, macOS traces its lineage back to the original Mac OS released in 1984. Apple designed it for use at a desk with a keyboard and mouse by people knowledgeable about home computers. Apple has removed friction from macOS over the years, but it will never shake this legacy. A MacBook will always be more complex than an iPad. You should only count that as a negative if you are looking for simplicity.

Multitasking

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The iPad Pro and MacBook Pro both support multitasking, but the MacBook Pro is the favorite.

The iPad Pro's multitasking is rudimentary. You can open two apps side-by-side in Split View or use a feature called Slide Over to place one app on top of another. The iPad Pro also supports picture-in-picture, and the iPad has several touch gestures designed to make flipping between apps easy.

The MacBook Pro has no limit on the number of apps you can open and use. You can watch multiple videos simultaneously. You can export a video from Adobe Premiere Pro while chatting on Slack with coworkers, watching your favorite reality TV series, and keeping tabs on incoming emails.

The iPad Pro's external display support is limiting. You can connect it to an external display, but the iPad Pro will only mirror its screen. All MacBook Pros can extend usable display space to at least one external display and handle multiple aspects and resolutions.

Touchscreen and Apple Pencil Support

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This one is obvious. Every iPad Pro has a touchscreen and Apple Pencil support, something no MacBook Pro has.

Most people will view this as a matter of convenience but, for many creatives, it goes deeper. An iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil is a potent digital creation tool out of the box.

A MacBook Pro owner looking for similar features has to buy a purpose-built drawing tablet like a Wacom Cintiq 22, which is more expensive than an iPad Pro. Even then, the Wacom setup is only suitable for use at a desk in a studio.

Anyone who spends a lot of time with a stylus will want the iPad Pro. It's an unbeatable value for artists.

Customization

MacOS is complex but supports extensive customization. Here's just a sample of options accessible on a MacBook Pro that an iPad Pro won't let you touch.

Resolution or aspect ratio of a built-in or external displayFile directory settingsAdvanced printer or scanner settingsAdvanced power management, such as wake on LAN or critical battery levelInstallation of apps not acquired from the App Store

The iPad Pro doesn't support many features, especially those related to external devices. You can't use an iPad Pro as a file server. You can use it with wired printers, but it isn't easy to set up. The iPad Pro doesn't support external scanners. Apple's App Store bars virtualization software, so you can't run Windows or Linux in a virtualization app.

At this point, you might be wondering, "who cares?" Most people don't care about the tasks above. Still, it's essential to know about these limitations before buying because the iPad Pro might not support that one niche feature you need.

You Can't Code on an iPad

Speaking of limitations, here's an important one. The iPad Pro is not a tool for programmers.

The iPad Pro doesn't support Xcode, the integrated development environment Apple provides for app developers. It's ironic because Xcode is used to create iPad apps, but there's no sign Apple plans to change direction on this point.

You can't use the iPad Pro to run other software development environments, either. From Microsoft BASIC to the Unity game engine, you're out of luck.

The iPad Pro can access the Internet so that you can access online tools like GitPod. These tools won't be enough to satisfy most programmers, however, and you'll need other devices to test your work correctly.

The Final Verdict

The choice between iPad Pro and MacBook Pro is a choice between approachable versatility or powerful customization and capabilities.

The iPad Pro is intuitive and easy to use, yet useful for many users in many situations. A digital artist will use it differently than a videographer, who will use it differently than a gamer, but all three will find the iPad Pro simple.

The MacBook Pro is complex and customizable. You can expand its features in powerful ways to accomplish specific tasks the iPad can't do. You could use it to host files, create an app for iPhone or iPad, or power a triple-monitor workstation, but you'll have to put in some work.