iPad Pro vs MacBook Pro: What's the difference?

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

Still, the iPad Pro (7th generation) and MacBook Pro (M2) have different priorities. Most users expect either device to be adequate for daily use, but there are situations where one device outshines the other. Here's what you need to know before buying.

iPad Pro
  • Light, portable and multifunctional

  • Has a touch screen that supports Apple Pencil

  • Simple, intuitive interface

  • Multitasking is possible but limited

  • Limited support for external devices and displays

MacBook Pro
  • Great for multitasking

  • Excellent file management

  • Mass customization

  • No touch screen

  • The interface can be confusing

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

iPad Pro is suitable for anyone, even those new to Apple products. That's the way it's designed. However, the MacBook Pro runs a much more complex operating system than the iPad's (and quite different from the more popular Windows operating system), so there's a learning curve for the inexperienced.

You can't turn a MacBook Pro into a tablet, which highlights the fundamental difference. The iPad Pro can be used at a desk, on the bus, or in bed, while the MacBook Pro can only be used on a flat surface.

The MacBook Pro lacks versatility, but it excels in customization. MacBook Pro can run more software by accessing apps outside of the App Store. You can dig into options you won't find on any iPad. MacBook Pro can also connect to more external devices simultaneously.

You can use your iPad however you want, and iPadOS will adapt to how you use it. If you want to switch from tablet to laptop, you don't need to open the box to make your choice. Just connect your Magic Keyboard and start typing.

Apple's MacBook Pro running macOS prides itself on its ease of use compared to Windows. There's a good reason for this. The Mac operating system is approachable, and Apple has applied lessons learned from the success of iOS to the design of macOS.

Nonetheless, macOS's lineage can be traced back to the original Mac operating system, released in 1984. Apple designed it to be used by people familiar with home computers at a desk with a keyboard and mouse. Apple has removed friction from macOS over the years, but it will never waver from that legacy.

The MacBook has always been more complex than the iPad. If you're looking for simplicity, you should only view it as a negative.

Both the iPad Pro and MacBook Pro support multitasking, but the MacBook Pro is the most popular.

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

MacBook Pro has no limit on the number of apps you can open and use. You can watch multiple videos at the same time, export videos from Adobe Premiere Pro while chatting on Slack, watch your favorite reality TV series, and keep an eye on incoming emails.

iPad Pro has limited external monitor support. You can connect it to an external monitor, but the iPad Pro can only mirror its screen. All MacBook Pros can expand the available display space to at least one external monitor and handle multiple aspects and resolutions.

This is obvious. The iPad Pro has a touch screen and supports Apple Pencil Pro and USB-C models, something the MacBook Pro doesn't have.

Most people would think of this as convenience, but for many creatives it means something much deeper. iPad Pro with Apple Pencil is a powerful digital creation tool right out of the box.

MacBook Pro users looking for similar functionality must purchase a dedicated drawing tablet, some of which are more expensive than the iPad Pro.

Anyone who uses a stylus regularly will want an iPad Pro. For artists, this is an unbeatable value.

MacOS is complex but supports extensive customization. Here are just a few examples of options that are accessible on the MacBook Pro but don't let you touch on the iPad Pro:

  • Resolution or aspect ratio of the internal or external monitor
  • File directory settings
  • Advanced printer or scanner settings
  • Advanced power management such as Wake on LAN or critical battery levels
  • Install apps not obtained from the App Store

The iPad Pro doesn't support many features, especially those related to external devices. You cannot use iPad Pro as a file server. You can use it with a wired printer, but it's not easy to set up. iPad Pro does not support external scanners. Apple's App Store bans virtualization software, so you can't run Windows or Linux in a virtualized application.

At this point, you may be thinking, "Who cares?" Most people don't care about the above tasks. Still, it's crucial to understand these limitations before buying, as the iPad Pro may not support a niche feature you need.

Speaking of limitations, there is an important one. The iPad Pro is not a programmer's tool.

The iPad Pro doesn't support Xcode, Apple's integrated development environment for app developers. Ironically, Xcode is used to create iPad apps, but there's no sign that Apple plans to change direction at this point.

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

iPad Pro has Internet access, so you can build software using web apps. However, these tools won't meet the requirements of most programmers, and you will need other equipment to properly test your work.

The choice between iPad Pro and MacBook Pro is between approachable versatility and powerful customization and functionality.

iPad Pro is intuitive and easy to use, making it valuable to many users in many situations. Digital artists will use it differently than videographers, and videographers will use it differently than gamers, but all three will find the iPad Pro simple.

The MacBook Pro is incredibly complex and customizable. You can extend its capabilities in powerful ways to accomplish specific tasks that your iPad can't. You can use it to host files, create apps for your iPhone or iPad, or power a three-monitor workstation, but you'll have to do some work.