Can Apple’s iPad Pro actually replace a laptop?

Most modern tablet ads emphasize how the iPad or Surface can become your daily device, completely replacing the functions of a traditional Mac or PC. But can a tablet really replace your laptop or desktop?

Over the last few weeks I set out to find the answer after switching over to the 12.9-inch iPad Pro for many of my daily tasks.

Both Apple and Microsoft are currently running various ads attempting to sell the idea that people can use their iPad, particularly the iPad Pro — or in Microsofts world, the Surface — as both a laptop and a tablet. Over the past month, I’ve been using a combination of my MacBook Pro and the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, and I’ve concluded that Apple really does makes a compelling argument that the Pro is capable of offering the same functionality as a standard Mac.

Overall, I like the 12.9-inch iPad Pro’s large display and the ample screen real-estate it gives me for spread sheets, various applications and of media content like Netflix or YouTube. I’ve also found that the Apple Pencil (it’s unfortunately sold separately) adds functionality for both creative and business use cases. Lastly, the optional Smart Keyboard has made a significant difference as well in terms of the tasks I’m capable of completing with the iPad Pro.

Here is a brief look at how the iPad Pro fit into my day as MobileSyrup’s social media manager:

Friday 5:45am — My alarm goes off

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At 5:45am my alarm goes off and my Phillips Hue lights flip on signalling the start of my day. If I was still using my Mac, I would have had the laptop sitting on on my night side table, but that’s no longer the case with the iPad Pro. I open my eyes, attempt to get adjusted to the brightness, and flip open the iPad Pro.

Next, I open Facebook and Twitter side by side using the iPad’s multitasking feature in order to get caught up with any news I’ve missed while sleeping. Then I open MobileSyrup and look at what content was published throughout the night and to see the comments the community has written. At this point it’s about 6:15am, and my final task is a quick check of the site’s social media accounts before preparing to head into the office.

7:00am — My commute

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MobileSyrup’s office is located in downtown Toronto and I live within about an hour drive of the city. Unfortunately driving into the city at 7:30am is torture, so I typically take the Go Train. It’s now 7:39am and the train is pulling into the station. I grab a seat and pull out my iPad. My commute on the train is about an hour, so I have a decent amount of time to get some work done, or watch Netflix.

The particular iPad Pro I’m using right now features LTE connectivity, so I’m able to check my email or watch an episodes of the Walking Dead on the train (if I wasn’t using the LTE version I could always tether to my iPhone). I sometimes use this time to catch up on Sunday’s Walking Dead episode. Is Glen okay? That episode was a whirl wind.

Next on my commute ritual is my daily email session. With the iPad Pro I have my email and iMessage app open side by side, multitasking for the win! Now we’re at Union station and it’s time to pack up the tablet, which is an easier process when compared to a traditional laptop. It requires less work than booting up my computer and trying to straddle is on my lap in a crapped train car.

8:45am — At the office

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When I started this experiment I spent a lot of time sitting at my desk thinking, “can I actually got through a day with just this iPad Pro?” though those thoughts slowly disappeared after a few days.

Next, I open Sprout Social, our social media platform, an easy process. Now I get an email and hit command tab on the iPad keyboard in order to flip between sprout social and mail. This is when it clicked for me and I began thinking to myself “I can do this.” Now I need to edit an image in Photoshop; okay I’ll need to use my Mac for this one, but thats okay. The keyboard case made typing emails and replying to comments from the MobileSyrup community easy. Touchscreen keyboards are nice, but nothing beats full physical QWERTY input.

12:00pm — Lunch

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On a typical day I’ll use Uber Eats or Ritual to order my lunch. This is where the iPad Pro once again comes in handy. It of course has access to the full iOS App Store, so I can use the native app for either food platform.

It looks like Nook has a deal on for double the points; I’ll go with that.

3:00pm – Newsletter time

Time has surprisingly flown by and using the iPad for most of my daily tasks instead of the MacBook has been surprisingly easy. I’ve only had to use my Mac a few times, but to some extent, I expected that’s how things would pan out. Now it’s time for me to build our weekly newsletter (signup for MobileSyrup’s newsletter if you haven’t).

To completely this task I unfortunately can’t use the iPad Pro. I need to use advanced Photoshop features along with a few desktop specific applications. I really wish the iPad Pro supported mouse input because that would make completely tasks like this actually possible. Luckily I’m still able to do a quick transfer of the photos needed for the newsletter from the iPad to my Mac with iCloud. I was also able to use the Apple Pencil to mockup the newsletter in Adobe Comp CC or use it to Fill & Sign to fill out a PDF.

4:00pm – Days end

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As the work day draws to a close I typically do one last check of my emails, an incredible easy task to complete with the iPad. Next, I use the Pro one last time to schedule content in order to fill out our weekend social presence. Thanks to the the iPad Pro’s multitasking feature this process is a breeze. And, I’m done! That was easier than I expected.

6:30pm – I’m home

The day is now over and I managed to use the iPad Pro for about 90 percent of what I need to accomplish on a daily base. Now, today wasn’t a day that I needed to update any spreadsheets, but I don’t think it would have been an issue if I needed to. The tablet supports Microsoft office, so there are no issues there. While today ran smoothly, I’m still hesitant when it comes to using the Pro as a full-time laptop replacement — I’ll have to sleep on that one.

So there you have it, this has been my day using almost only the iPad Pro.

In my role at MobileSyrup I could almost use an iPad Pro as a daily driver, but I feel it fits better into my daily workflow as a more accessible supplement to my laptop. There are many occasions where the iPad Pro is more convenient, for example, like during my train ride into the city. I think there is added benefit to using the iPad Pro around with the keyboard in situations where I don’t want to carry a heavier laptop in my bag, or if I’m headed to the cottage for the weekend.

For many people, depending on their job and expectations, the iPad Pro, whether it’s the 9.7-inch or 12.9-inch iteration, could actually be a laptop replacement. For me, however, I’ve found it to be a solid supplement to my Mac.

Related: 9.7-inch iPad Pro review: The hybrid device conundrum continues

Comments

  • GabGagnonca

    Pixelmator is available on iPad and it’s quite powerful. Have you tried it?

    • Zach Gilbert

      Downloading as I type

    • YoGoerz

      I use it as a photoshop alternative on my iPad Pro ???? love it!

  • Ankur

    You’re forgetting about developers. Until a bash app and a text editor like sublime text is available on the iPad, it can’t replace computers for that demographic.

    • ciderrules

      For that extremely small demographic.

    • Graham Fluet

      There are multiple “extremely small demographics,” enough that they all add up to a sizeable chunk of customers with the same root problem.

    • Dan Svensson

      A extremely small demographic that also tends to specialize in cutting edge tech.

  • Jim Pauls

    TLDR; I could get a surface and do everything… but that would be to easy

    • ciderrules

      Surface is garbage. Bought one and returned it after 2 days (the i7 version, not a base model). Horrible as a tablet as the software just isn’t properly set up for touch.

      Funny thing I mentioned this to a coworker the other day when we were talking about computers and he had the exact same experience 6 months earlier. Bought a Surface Pro 4 and returned it after a couple days for the same reason. Could have saved me the hassle of finding out for myself. At least Microsoft has an excellent return policy.

      When I went to do the reset to remove all my user information it sat for almost 2 hours re-installing Windows. Fan came on full blast and got hot to the touch. From installing Windows. Ridiculous.

    • youretard

      get a load of this apple shill

    • Gewurttraminer

      Coming from an Apple fanboy like you people should take your comments with a grain of salt. The Surface is not garbage and I use both the iPad Pro and SP4 each of which has their own purposes depending on use.
      If anything is “garbage” it’s you’re totally inappropriate comment

    • ciderrules

      Typical response from someone with no argument. Call someone a fanboy to try and dismiss what they say.

      Why don’t you tell me all the great touch enabled software you use on your SP4? We still have one at work for testing. I’ll go load them up and see if they’re as good as you say they are. I’ve tried numerous including Toon Boom (which my daughter uses for animation). I stand by my comment that the SP4 is garbage as a tablet, due to lack of software.

    • Rev0lver

      I agree with virtually nothing the grape smuggler says, but obvious fanboy is obvious.

    • Gewurttraminer

      The ‘grape smuggler’? Cute.

    • Gewurttraminer

      You’re out to lunch. The SP4 is not strictly a tablet device and the lack of applications really defines that which is why I said the iPad Pro has its uses alongside a device like the SP4 which in my estimation is very much a laptop requiring the keyboard and trackpad to use to its full potential.
      MSFT may advertise the Surface as an all-in-one solution but really its not anymore than the iPad pretends to be either.
      You also seem to forget the SP4 is more geared towards using the Surface Pen for tablet applications and uses than your fingers.
      The bottom line is that just because you can use more applications in iOS like “Toon Boom” doesn’t mean the Surface is garbage. Fact is buddy I don’t use my SP4 as a tablet very often and I know few others who do either, but in no way does that make it garbage. If MSFT had more applications for W10 it would be highly desirable but as a piece of hardware/software its about as solid as any Windows device gets.

    • MassDeduction

      I replaced my iPad and my Windows laptop with a Surface Pro 3 and never looked back. The iPad hasn’t been charged up in years (I should sell it) and I don’t even own a laptop anymore. Whether it’s web browsing, or Office, or games, or email, it’s great for me. It truly replaced both tablet and laptop for my use-case. And touch works just fine for the things I do with it.

    • Thomas Milne

      To be fair. The Surface Pro or just Surface was never really sold as a “tablet” device. There is that Balmer interview where the interviewer tries to compare it to an iPad and Balmer said that they were not the same class of devices.

  • loupdidou

    So basically your job is surfing the net and email, yes, that’ll do the trick then

  • Bok Choy

    Wow, 90% of your day is nothing. E-mail and browsing social media can be done on any device. The only real work you did was Photoshop editing and file transfers where you needed a real PC to do the Photoshop stuff. Maybe you can justify the iPad Pro for your job but for anyone else that does real office work, a laptop is needed as a minimum. I can see the Surface Pro doing real office work since it is a full PC. I can also see the iPad Pro performing art related work where you need to do sketching or markup editing but not office work.

    • Zach Gilbert

      “For me, however, I’ve found it to be a solid supplement [not replacement] to my Mac”

    • MassDeduction

      I think @demigod79 makes the point that a Surface Pro could replace your Mac, not just supplement it. I replaced my iPad and my Windows laptop with a Surface, so that’s been my experience. I don’t even own a laptop anymore. Why would I when I have a Surface Pro 3?

    • demigod79

      Indeed, the author’s workload is pretty light so an iPad would suffice for most things. I work in IT as an application developer and I am constantly switching between half a dozen apps (Outlook, browser, development IDE, communicator, Excel, Words, etc.). Also, everyone at my office uses multi-monitor setups for maximum productivity. For us, a Surface Pro (or Book) might be okay but an iPad would be a non-starter.

      The author’s description of his work day makes me think a Surface Pro/Book would be ideal. The touchscreen is great for casual consumption, the Pen makes it an excellent sketching/markup device, it supports a mouse, supports external devices, and can run desktop apps (and of course it has native multitasking/windows support). One device that can do everything.

      The big problem with an iPad is that you still need a Mac/PC to do certain tasks, and Apple seemingly wants it this way (they are pretty adamant about the iPad/Mac divide). Until Apple changes their tune, I expect the iPad to always be a companion device at best.

    • Zach Gilbert
    • Rev0lver

      Too soon!

    • Eluder

      This was funny because two of my newest teammates are from Shomi (they’re phenomenal too, FYI). We’ve all been poking jabs at them for Shomi and it’s been fun. But on the more serious side, Rogers and Shaw seriously f’ed up because they let a lot of excellent talent go. I’m thankful two of them joined my team.

    • Bok Choy

      And how long did that take? You cutting and pasting images together and adding Photoshop effects or did you draw every single line and color/ shade every single shape? Unless you do this on a daily basis for at least 4 hours, iPad Pro is just a glorified tablet for browsing social media and e-mail.

  • Graham Fluet

    The problem is that Apple seems very intent on killing off macOS and their laptop/desktop line completely. What happens then?

  • ed anger

    A lot of my work has migrated to online, basically just need full-fledged Adobe products on iOS. Not sure why they haven’t done it yet.

  • thomas nguyen

    I think the real question is not whether it is truly a laptop replacement as a whole, but can it functions as a person’s primary device.
    the definition of a laptop replacement must mean it can do most if not the majority of what you can do in a computer. But if you define laptop replacement as browsing facebook and online shopping, I’m sure this is fine. Unfortunately I don’t truly think people really think that much into what they purchase, and force themselves to use one thing or another, not based on if its right for them, but because they think they need based on peers / marketing.

  • Omar

    12.9′ 128GB iPad Pro – $1179
    Apple Pencil – $129
    Smart keyboard – $169
    Total = $1477

    Why would somebody spend that amount of money on a Tablet with a mobile OS over a full-fledged laptop? You can get a great laptop for $1400. You can get a good laptop, a phone, and a tablet running a desktop OS for $1400.

    Can the iPad replace a laptop. Sure. But why would you buy one over a laptop?

    • Poul

      I need ipad pro for drawing/painting and it’s touchscreen. Some laptops have touchscreen ability but they are not meant for drawing directly on the screen. By the way i also own surface pro 4. But i dont use it as drawing tablet as the battery per charge is relatively short and heavier.

  • Vish

    OK just laughed so loud. Not at the article but because last week I did go down the path of replacing my MacBook Air with my 12.9 iPad Pro. What a joke it is to think of it as a replacement. Apple is lying when it says so and people are just lapping it up.

    Try creating an email with 1 file from Google drive, another from Dropbox and a third from another email attachment? When you’ve done that as easily as you can do it on your Mac, then reply to my post.

    It’s a media consumption device and it always will be. My setup now is iPad Pro for iPad type stuff, MacBook Pro for real work and a Surface Pro 4 for in-between and travel.

    • YoGoerz

      I understand where you’re coming from Vish, but I have to say that I have a MacBook Air and I replaced it with the even smaller 9.7inch iPad Pro. There are a LOT of things that require MORE effort to get done, but the cost savings and portability really are beneficial to me as a student.
      I also would say that using multiple cloud storage services is not a traditional consumer task, and rather a prosumer one. I would expect the average person to have the problem you are describing.
      Where I find it superior is when I am doing photo editing and reading academic papers. There isnt anything better.

  • Eluder

    A resounding hell no, and I have an iPad Pro. I found it hilarious when I took my iPad Pro in to the Apple store to get AppleCare+ and the genius said this thing is amazing, so nice that it can replace your PC. I laughed at him and said not even close. I explained to him how it couldn’t come close from my perspective and he said, well I suppose for someone like you, it’s not possible, but for some it might.

    • To be fair, you were speaking to an Apple Store “Genius”.

  • Stephen Cornthwaite

    I have a surface pro 2. when I’m doing basic media consumption (like netflix, movie watching etc. you know… what I would use my phone or a tablet for) it’s touch interface works great. the thing is, when I need a full blown computer, it also works great when I attach a keyboard and bluetooth/corded mouse. I don’t think it was designed to be one or the other. it was designed to bring the two worlds together. I find I’m most productive when I am zooming in and out, or scrolling with the touch aspect, but with the keyboard/mouse input at all times as well. iPad is excellent at touch, can be used if needed with keyboard and mouse (mouse I’m not sure of, nobody has ever mentioned one), but it still runs a mobile or, and so is going to be limited. a mac doesn’t have touch. period. so you can’t even bring that into the argument.

    the surface gives you the best of both worlds, on a full development OS (aka desktop). it’s made for production first, consumption second. Ipad pros are reversed, and macs are, well, production only.

    that’s my opinion at least. IMO, Apple has yet to properly enter the hybrid market. the iPad pro was their failed attempt at one.

  • Robert

    How is it that every screenshot from 7:00am to 4:00pm “– Days end” your at the same 14% battery life. Hmmmmm. I have an iPad Pro and I know that is not possible unless you just wake up the iPad Pro to take a screenshot every so often just for this article.

    • Zach Gilbert

      To not impede my flow I took the screenshots after my day in the use.

  • Cowpoke

    So you likes the Netflix?
    Have you seen that show called ‘The Crown’..? It’s about the merry ol’ Queen o’ England…where all them folks with bad teeth come from…she’s one hot gal, I tells ya!

  • Marc Palumbo

    I’m seeing all kinds of issues with iPads connecting to AD. if this is the case, why would you want to use it as a laptop? If it is for your own personal laptop and you don’t need to do much like @Zach_Gilbert:disqus showed us, then ya, it’ll work. But for work where you need to access files, network drives, etc… the iPad Pro won’t stand a chance. At least not yet. Whereas a Surface can do all. Buy your devices that cater to your needs.

    • Zach Gilbert

      Spot on Marc. That’s why I said it was a good supplement to a full computer. I can’t do everything I do everyday on an iPad, but I can do a lot and they work well together.

    • The only issue is having to spend around $1500 to get something that can ‘supplement’ your Surface Book or Mac, Instead of using that spare $1500 and getting a better Surface Book for instance.

    • MassDeduction

      I’ve been using Surface devices entirely instead of laptops for years now. The ability to run full Windows, and the fact that the Surface Type Covers have trackpads, make them stronger laptop replacements than iPad Pros, based on your article.

    • “But for work where you need to access files, network drives, etc… the iPad Pro won’t stand a chance. At least not yet. ”

      Weak argument – especially in Zack’s MacOS environment. 4-5yrs ago working in a dual Windows (infrastructure) and Mac OS/ Windows7 user environment any corporation can enable shared drives SharePoint access with ADUC group access – and just like on OSX/macOS(X) and iOS various apps or natively can access modify such documents and shares. I’ve personally done this with aplomb on iPhone 5 with various even free applications. I can unlock password reset and apply group membership – using my admin account and credentials along with VPN access from the iOS device directly. Better tools exist today.

      People easily look for excuses rather than research for he solution when they just don’t know nor have the access to apply solutions. Microsoft iOS office apps have made it so simple with office suit apps that allow us to keep windows office formatting unique to MS Office desktop applications.

      I’m quite curious what specific photo editing tasks Zack required hay just was not possible via any app in the iOS ecosystem?! Sometimes it’s reasonable app costs vs no posible solution. This is what needed more clarity in the article not about Netflix on a trip for work to replace a laptop. Netflix is a web service so it exists on any platform so not relevant for this article.

  • Eiren

    The vast majority of users will be able to use the iPad Pro as their sole computer without any issue whatsoever. The areas where laptops and desktops still maintain a solid footing, primarily with respect to research and development tools and services, will continue to erode just as applications.

    Most people only need a browser and basic office tools – they seldom use much, if anything, more.

    Don’t confuse the requirements for someone like ourselves — being technically enthusiastic and switched on — with those of the general populace.

  • BetelgeuseOrion

    in my situation the ipad as well as and any iOS device is worthless since it cant run silverlight properly and i need it for trading charts. some stock charts require flash and that is definitely a nogo on apple. Also the trading platform on mobile devices is horrendous, you cant do anything in a timely manner.

    for the price, i would rather just get a laptop with a quad core i7 that is about 30x faster than that gutless arm proc.

    i dont know why people are even trying to switch to something that is slower and less productive, dont you do any real work? you cant be fighting with your tools when a critical situation arises.

    • Marc Palumbo

      All you needed was your last paragraph. But let’s be honest, a huge majority of people buying the iPad Pro are those that just want an expensive iPad.