If we can’t have macOS apps on the iPad Pro, Apple might as well kill it

Things have now come to a head, here’s how the company could finally make its best tablets worth buying


Apple may have never meant for the iPad Pro to become as useful or versatile as a Mac computer, but in the case of the iPad Pro it will now have some decisions to make on that front. (Image: Daniel Romero, Unsplash)

Apple’s “Let Loose” event has come and gone – bringing with it new iPad Pro and iPad Air models, as well as some totally unnecessary drama – so all we’re waiting for now are the actual devices and accessories themselves. There was a number of different takes on Apple’s presentation, announcements and products in the media, but the vast majority of commenters seemed to agree on one thing: while the new iPad Pro models are impressive, it was not their hardware that actually needed an upgrade. It’s rather their software that’s in need of some serious changes, as the iPadOS is still holding back the most powerful iPads from realizing their true potential.

Needless to say, we’ve been here before – but, this time around, something is different: people are not asking for a better version of iPadOS anymore. No. What they are asking for is macOS apps on the iPad Pro: a notion that’s hardly unheard of, yes, but also one that somehow feels timely or even necessary now. It’s a possibility that could mark a major change in Apple’s strategy and prove to be a major development for the tablet category as a whole. Here’s why that is – and why it’s finally time.

The “macOS on the iPad” saga: how did we get here anyway?

The idea of the iPad Pro running macOS applications is by no means new. Yours truly, for instance, has been an advocate for Apple granting the iPad access to macOS ever since the company unveiled the M1-based iPad Pro – all the way back in spring 2021. For that long, you say? Yes, because even then it had already become apparent that the iPad Pro was not living up to its potential. Not just as a “Pro” device, as a tech product in general.

The M1-based iPad Pro had many of us hope that Apple would be offering consumers the choice between a MacBook and an iPad form factor for their macOS user experience at some point down the line. It’s been three years since then. (Image: Apple)


It’s no wonder that Monica Chin’s well-known “Put macOS on the iPad, you cowards” piece published at The Verge around that time was followed by several others like it. It struck a cord: that’s exactly how most of us tech reporters who had tried using an iPad Pro productively in previous years immediately felt while watching Tim Cook put an M1 processor into an iPad in that famous video Apple surprised everyone with.

In the year that followed there were certain signs that Apple had started to, at the very least, entertain the idea of putting macOS on the iPad. But as the company continued to not offer any updates on the matter, it made easy for everyone to question whether an M2-based iPad would make any sense if based on the same old iPadOS. Many people, like yours truly, even started to challenge the very concept of an iPad “Pro” that has no access to proper, desktop-level professional macOS applications.

In time, more and more people seemed to lean towards that point of view and, sure enough, there were way more voices expressing disappointment after WWDC 2022 changed nothing and Apple just released even more powerful, M2-based iPad Pro models in October. Who were these tablets for anyway?

Since iPadOS is clearly holding back the iPad Pro, Apple is under more pressure than ever to finally allow macOS programs to run, one way or another, on this powerful device.

During all of 2023 – a quiet year for the iPad in hardware terms – it became progressively more frustrating to watch Apple go through the motions of “improving iPadOS for productivity”. It was clear that this is an operating system never designed for that, so various experiments or half-baked ideas did little to no difference. It was only natural for professionals – once the iPad Pro started getting the exact same underlying hardware as the Mac – to ask for a proper operating system built for work: the macOS.

With the new iPad Pro plus Magic Keyboard combinations now costing more than their MacBook equivalents, even Apple’s well-documented fear of the former devices cannibalizing the sales of the latter does not hold water anymore. As a result, the company is under more pressure than ever to finally allow macOS applications to run, one way or another, on the iPad Pro. So how could the company go about doing that? What limitations or restrictions would it impose on such an feature and what would that mean for the future of the iPad Pro?

How would macOS work on an iPad Pro?

There are several different ways that Apple could go about this, but the simplest one would probably work best for consumers: the dual-boot option. The company could just offer an app which would walk consumers through the process of partitioning the internal storage space of the iPad Pro, downloading macOS and installing it on their tablet. They would then be able to switch between the two in the same way we used to do between macOS and Windows on Intel-based Macs i.e. by restarting the device and choosing an OS on boot.

There are several approaches Apple could follow in order to allow for the iPad Pro to run macOS programs natively and they would all offer different levels of flexibility to professional users and demanding consumers alike. (Daniel Romero, Unsplash)


Another way Apple could allow macOS to run on an iPad Pro is through a virtual machine. Consumers would use the same setup app in order to install macOS on Apple’s tablets but, instead of rebooting each time they’d like to switch operating systems, they’d just “open” the macOS environment (probably maximized) whenever they need to use a desktop application and “close” it when finished.

That approach would offer the advantage of instant switching between macOS and iPadOS, along with some other security and privacy advantages – virtual machines can run on “boxed mode” i.e. in a specific, protected memory space with adjustable system access privileges – at the possible cost of reduced application performance because of the system resources shared.

A third way would be a less transparent one to consumers but it would offer Apple maximum control of how macOS applications work on the iPad Pro. The company could allow for the installation of an “invisible” version of macOS which would only be called upon request: that is, whenever consumers need to run a macOS application. This system would allow any macOS program retain full functionality on the iPad Pro without actually exposing the operating system itself to owners of the device.

Would what’s best for Apple work well for consumers?

The third approach, as described, has obvious disadvantages for consumers – it would probably make file management and multitasking harder, for instance – but it would work in the familiar “locked-down” way that Apple prefers. Users would not have access to the traditional desktop environment of the Mac that way, but applications would still run full-speed on the iPad Pro. Apple would be able to claim it’s offering “Mac programs on the iPad Pro” – and not technically lie – but it would not be offering the full macOS user experience.

Of the three approaches outlined above, dual-boot would probably be the best way for consumers to experience macOS software on the iPad Pro, even if Apple would have to do some extra work to ensure that the iPadOS and macOS partitions of the same device would be completely inaccessible to one another (for all kinds of reasons). The virtual machine approach would work too, even if it would obviously be more demanding on system resources, which in turn could have an impact on performance without proper management.

It’s not just about Apple finally allowing for the use of Mac programs on the iPad Pro, it’s also about how the company would choose to implement such an option. The company’s track record leaves little room for optimism here. (Ernest Ojeh, Unsplash)


If yours truly was a betting man, though, he’d put money on the “locked down” approach being the one most likely to be implemented. It is right up Apple’s alley when it comes to controlling the user experience. It would also be the most beneficial to the company’s bottom line, as many would consider it more of a Mac application compatibility mode rather than the actual “MacOS on an iPad Pro” option power users need. It would be a “Want the full macOS user experience? Get a Mac!” kind of thing. So very Apple, no?

What kind of limitations could Apple impose on macOS on the iPad Pro?

It would be great, of course, if it didn’t impose any limitations at all, but Apple being Apple means that macOS would be offered on the iPad with at least a few strings attached. The first, obvious one: we’re only talking about the iPad Pro models getting macOS in any shape or form here. The regular iPad and the iPad Mini ever having the same option is out of the question and, honestly, that’s OK: it’s people who want to use a powerful iPad productively that actually need macOS. The entry-level models are designed for other things, so no complaints there.

Then, a widely-discussed patent unearthed by Patently Apple back in May 2022 suggested that Apple would only be willing to grant the iPad Pro “a macOS-like interface” if it was connected to an accessory like a Magic Keyboard. That would be wrong on so many levels – exposing Apple’s greed for higher sales of said accessory, despite the fact that many consumers would prefer using a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse of their choice instead – but… let’s be real here: the company is perfectly capable of doing that and getting away with it too.

Of the three, the “locked down” approach to macOS programs running on the iPad Pro would be the most likely. It’s right up Apple’s alley when it comes to controlling the user experience.

Another limitation Apple could impose on a possible dual-boot macOS/iPadOS installation has to do with storage. Since 256GB is the minimum amount of storage space offered by any Mac computer nowadays – around 230GB in truth, obviously laughable by 2024 standards – Apple would be able to claim that the necessary macOS partition created on an iPad Pro should at the very least match that. Such a requirement would mean that only iPad Pro models equipped with 512GB of storage or more would have access to macOS, which would obviously benefit Apple’s bottom line.

In an ideal world consumers should be able to adjust how much internal storage space they wish to reserve for their macOS needs – even the latest macOS does not need more than 32GB of storage for itself, after all – but, again, Apple could easily put that 256GB limitation in place and get away with it. Apple could also allow the installation of macOS on an external SSD if it wanted to – although that would definitely come with its own set of requirements and limitations, so it would not work as seamlessly as most consumers would probably like.

Another, similar kind of limitation Apple could impose on using macOS with an iPad Pro relates to system memory – but it all depends on how the desktop OS is implemented to run on the company’s most powerful tablets. If this implementation is designed in a way that allows macOS to run alongside iPadOS, making the switch between the two instantaneous, then Apple could very well claim that such a scenario would require 16GB of system memory (which is only offered by iPad Pro models sporting 1TB/2TB storage configurations).

The iPad Pro has been in that awkward spot of “almost, but not quite, a computer” for years. Things have come to a head though: either its software side catches up with its hardware side, or there is no point for the iPad Pro line to exist. (Daniel Romero, Unsplash)


If, on the other hand, we’re just talking about a simple dual-boot implementation, then it would be rather difficult for Apple to claim that 8GB is not enough to run macOS effectively… since it’s been trying to convince everyone otherwise for years now. Right?

Last but not least: should Apple decide to allow macOS on the iPad Pro, it could find some excuse in order to restrict the use of its desktop OS on the M2 and M4 generations of processors. That would obviously be another shameless cash grab – the M1 is perfectly capable of running the latest macOS without any issues whatsoever – but, by autumn 2024, it will be almost four years since it was introduced so… you know. Apple.

The iPad Pro is at a crossroads – so what will Apple do?

Whatever Apple chooses to do in terms of iPad macOS compatibility, however it plans to implement such an option if it does choose to offer it, what’s clear to everyone is this: the iPad Pro is officially at crossroads. It’s been in that awkward spot of “almost, but not quite, a computer” for years, patiently waiting for its software side – a slowly evolving tablet OS that’s basically an extension of a smartphone OS – to catch up with its hardware side. Patiently and pointlessly waiting, as it turned out, because Apple never really wanted to let the iPad Pro become as versatile or useful as a Mac: all the company ever did was make its flagship tablet progressively more powerful so as to encourage consumers to upgrade… and that’s about it.

No wonder, then, that – with the iPad Pro’s hardware side now becoming so advanced it’s getting kind of crazy – things have come to a head. Apple has, essentially, gone too far: it will simply have to do something about the software side of the iPad Pro, and do it soon, or it might as well kill it. There is absolutely no point in releasing a new model of this kind ever again if it’s to run on the current form of iPadOS. We’ve tried that. It doesn’t work. Apple must now let this device finally prove what it can really offer… and there’s only one way to do this: allow for macOS and desktop applications to run on the iPad Pro, preferably in dual-boot mode.

There is no point in Apple releasing a new iPad Pro model ever again if it’s to run on the current form of iPadOS. We’ve tried that. It doesn’t work.

That’s why WWDC 2024 will be the most important event in the history of the iPad: it will prove to the world, once and for all, what kind of a device Apple always meant for the iPad Pro to be. The company is out of excuses, it is out of time and it knows it. If we are to just use the iPad Pro as an iPad Deluxe – instead of pretending to “work” on it, when all we’re actually doing is the same stuff any regular iPad or even iPad Mini can do – then so be it. Let’s all just drop the act, forget about the iPad “Pro”, get a simple iPad and be done with all this. Your call, Apple.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Kostas Farkonas

Veteran reporter with over 30 years of industry experience in various media, focusing on consumer tech, entertainment and digital culture. No, he will not fix your PC (again).

Veteran reporter with over 30 years of industry experience in various media, focusing on consumer tech, entertainment and digital culture. No, he will not fix your PC (again).

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