Apple’s iPad line is getting bigger and more powerful with every new release, and while tablets have some distinct differences from classic laptops, their capabilities are progressing to overlap with or in some cases extend beyond those of laptops. With the release of Apple’s new iPad Pro and upcoming iOS 9, the distinctions are becoming even less, so if you are in the market for a new system, you might find yourself wondering whether to go for an iPad or a comparably priced OS X system such as a MacBook Air, especially if it will be your only computer.
By including an optional keyboard, the iPad Pro’s approximate $1000 price tag and components arguably put it very close to Apple’s MacBook Air. For each, you will essentially get a slender and highly portable system with a 13-inch display, a keyboard and multi-touch input options, approximately 10 hours of battery life, 4GB RAM, and about 128GB of storage for your files.
With this in mind, there are four major differences between iOS running on an iPad Pro and OS X running on a MacBook air, that will help you decide:
1. Multi-Window multitasking
Apple is supporting picture-in-picture and split-view multitasking in iOS 9 on the iPad Pro and some more recent iPad models; however, this pales in comparison to the abilities of OS X, where you can keep as many programs and windows open that will fit on your screen (or multiple screens). Even though you chance potential clutter in OS X, you can greatly benefit from simultaneous view of content from multiple applications, without need to flip between full-screen apps all the time.
2. App Store requirement
Your ability to get things done will depend on what apps are available to support your needs. With the App Store’s offerings, you have access to high quality apps; however, to ensure stability and security Apple imposes many restrictions on these apps. Unfortunately this means iOS systems are limited to these restrictions, so if a nuance task may require an old or obscure version of an app, or you need to do any coding or other technical application, then OS X is the option for you.
3. Filesystem access
Perhaps the largest difference between iOS and OS X is the extent of filesystem access. In OS X, you have full access to the file system and can store your files in whatever hierarchical structure you wish, and in practically any location. You also have the flexibility of reading files in many different applications and customizing how they are handled. This is not the case with iOS, where you have no direct filesystem access, and data is instead stored on a per-app basis. Even though you can organize files in iCloud Drive, Dropbox and similar services, you must do so within the context and limitations of those services and manage them in specific programs. This means for relatively simple needs, services like iCloud Drive and Dropbox may suffice; however, for more complex file management you will likely require the access provided by the Finder and launch services in OS X.
4. Multi-touch options
Both OS X and iOS support similar multi-touch inputs, but nuances aside, iOS has the edge with the ability to draw directly on the screen with your finger or a stylus. This allows you to take notes and draw sketches, which cannot be done effectively on a Mac running OS X without the use of special third-party hardware like a Wacom tablet. However, if you do not need to draw or take notes, then you must weigh whether you prefer a classic mouse pointer input, or if relying only on multi-touch is better for your needs.
My bottom line
Despite its advances, iOS is still not mature enough to be a complete computing platform, especially if you might find yourself doing any development, needing at least moderate file management, or performing similar technical tasks. In this respect, OS X is far more flexible than iOS, so unless you have specific drawing or note-taking needs, the iPad Pro will serve to augment a Mac system instead of replace it. This is especially true if you already have an iPhone or even an older and cheaper iPad to give you at least some of iOS’ benefits.
Overall, if you only need to check e-mail, browse the Web, manage photos, and compose a document or two, then either platform will work. If in addition you will benefit from drawing and note-taking, then the iPad will be a solid choice, but if there is even a remote possibility you will require anything more technical, then your best bet is still to stick with OS X.