iPad Pro (2021) vs MacBook Air (late-2020): Which should you buy?

Ipad Pro Macbook Air
Ipad Pro Macbook Air (Image credit: Apple)

Here we have the age-old quandary: iPad Pro or MacBook? Chances are this is not the first time you've had this internal debate, and the release of an all-new and more powerful iPad Pro only makes the decision more difficult. Let's take a look at all of the specifications of each machine before we decide.

iPad Pro (2021) vs MacBook Air (2020): Key differences

Ipad Pro Macbook Air

Ipad Pro Macbook Air (Image credit: Apple)

When you analyze the format of a standalone iPad Pro next to a MacBook Air, they may look like two completely different devices. But now more than ever, their technical specs are not so very different. Processors, displays, and storage capabilities are all pretty similar between the two, and when you pair the iPad Pro with a keyboard case, are they even all that different? Check it out:

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Header Cell - Column 0 iPad Pro 2021MacBook Air 2020
CostFrom $799From $999
Size11-inch or 12.9-inch13-inch
Operating systemiOSMacOS
DisplayLiquid Retina multi‑touch displayRetina LED-backlit display
Resolution2388x1668 at 264 ppi (11-inch), 2732x2048 at 264 ppi (12.9-inch)2560x1600 at 227 ppi
ProcessorApple M1 chipApple M1 chip
RAMUp to 16GBUp to 16GB
StorageUp to 2TBUp to 2TB
Camera12MP wide, 10MP extra-wide back, TrueDepth front720p FaceTime HD camera
PortsThunderbolt/USB 4 portTwo Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports and headphone port
KeyboardNot includedBacklit Magic Keyboard with multi-touch Trackpad
Dimensions9.74 inches x 7.02 inches x 0.23 inch (11-inch), 11.04 inches x 8.46 inches x 0.25 inch (12.9-inch)11.97 inches x 8.36 inches x 0.63 inch
Weight1.04 pounds (11-inch), 1.51 pounds (12.9-inch)2.8 pounds

Upon close scrutiny you will see that there are a ton of similarities here. When it comes to sheer power, memory, and storage, there isn't much difference between an iPad Pro and a MacBook Air. The differences that do exist however, are pretty crucial. Operating system, for example, and touchscreen versus monitor. These are the things you'll need to think about before choosing which device suits your needs.

iPad Pro (2021) vs MacBook Air (2020): The OS dilemma

Ipad Pro Macbook Air

Ipad Pro Macbook Air (Image credit: Apple)

In my opinion, the biggest difference between the iPad Pro and the MacBook Air is the operating system. Yes, I know, the touchscreen is big too, but we'll get into that later. For me, though, I use my MacBook Air to run some pretty robust programs like Photoshop (the full version), Adobe Illustrator, and InDesign. I have tried the dumbed-down counterparts on iOS and was decidedly unimpressed. That's why it would be hard for me to give up my Mac for an iPad Pro, even if it did have a cool Magic Keyboard case.

In my opinion, the biggest difference between the iPad Pro and the MacBook Air is the operating system.

With that being said, the iPad Pro now runs on the Apple M1 chip so it has the power to run these types of programs; it just doesn't have the interface. I am wondering if a hybrid device may come out in the future that can run both MacOS and iOS programs. I mean, the MacBook Air can technically run iOS apps now, so the idea doesn't seem too farfetched. Crazy ideas aside, if you use your laptop for big MacOS-dependent programs, then the iPad Pro might not be your best solution. If you don't use these types of programs, then you might not need a MacBook at all.

iPad Pro (2021) vs MacBook Air (2020): Which type of multitasker are you?

Ipad Pro Macbook Air

Ipad Pro Macbook Air (Image credit: Apple)

They say that MacBooks are better for multitasking, but I'm going to have to disagree here. It totally depends on the type of multitasking you're doing. If you like to keep multiple windows and programs open to work among them at the same time, I can see why the MacOS interface might be attractive. On the other hand, the iPad Pro does offer split-screen functionality now, which does allow a degree of multitasking. You also have to take into account the camera differences here.

With a 12MP ultra-wide camera and a 10MP ultra-wide camera on the back, as well as 4K video recording, the iPad Pro offers a different type of multitasking.

With a 12MP ultra-wide camera and a 10MP ultra-wide camera on the back, as well as 4K video recording, the iPad Pro offers a different type of multitasking. Using the iPad Pro, you can take high-quality photos and videos and then edit, manipulate, or publish that content all on the same device. For creating and editing content, the iPad does offer some amazing multitasking capabilities that are not currently available on the MacBook Air. If this is how you plan to use your device, then the iPad Pro can handle every part of the process.

iPad Pro (2021) vs MacBook Air (2020): Accessories and touchscreens

Now let's talk display. While the iPad Pro has a slightly better display (XDR Liquid Retina) and an ever-so-slightly higher PPI, there is not a great difference in display as far as visuals go. Since both of these devices have the M1 chip and up to 8-core GPU, their graphics are equally stunning. The main difference here is the touchscreen. Obviously the iPad Pro has a touchscreen that can be used with an Apple Pencil and the MacBook Air does not. So illustrators and other professions that use the Apple Pencil on a daily basis will probably prefer the iPad Pro. It depends on how important the touchscreen functionality is to you.

It's understandable why some budget-conscious shoppers might chose the MacBook Air.

Speaking of accessories, there's something to be said for a MacBook in that it comes with everything you need. Keyboard and trackpad are all part of the unit, which adds some convenience and affordability. In order to use the iPad Pro like you would use a laptop, you'll need a Magic Keyboard case, which includes a small trackpad. Altogether, that brings the grand total of the largest iPad Pro with keyboard case to $2,748 if you max out all the memory and RAM. The most expensive configuration of the MacBook Air, on the other hand, is only $2,049. That's a pretty big difference, so it's understandable why some budget-conscious shoppers might choose the MacBook Air.

iPad Pro (2021) vs MacBook Air (2020): Which one should you get?

After looking at all the specs and details, I personally would still choose the MacBook Air, but that's because I use more robust programs on the MacOS platform and I like the lower price point of the MacBook Air with the included keyboard and trackpad. Your decision, however, will depend on your own individual needs.

If you work with a lot of photos, editing, videos, and content creation, the iPad Pro might look a lot more attractive since you can perform all of these functions on one device. People who depend heavily on the touchscreen and the Apple Pencil will also like the iPad Pro for obvious reasons. Think about your own needs when it comes to your next high-powered Apple device, and pick the one that best suits you.

Jaclyn Kilani

Jaclyn Kilani is a content writer at iMore. She's a longtime Apple addict with a flair for creating (written works, design, photos; you name it!) on her devices. Jaclyn has also worked in the marketing sector for over 16 years, dabbling in a bit of everything from writing to graphic design and digital marketing. In her heart of hearts, however, she is a born writer and an avid reader who adores everything about the written word. Someday she may even churn out a book or two. Throughout her career, Jaclyn has also developed something of an addiction to all things Apple. Her professional and personal life is enhanced by an ever-growing collection of iPhones, iPads, MacBooks, Apple Watches, and even AirTags. Luckily, this expensive habit is of great use to her work at iMore, where she writes with authority on Apple products and the accessories that go with them.