When we’re asking for macOS on the iPad Pro, what do we really mean?

Let’s clear things up for the confused people out there so we can all be on the same page


The mightily impressive, extra powerful M4 iPad Pro would be perfect for running macOS and proper desktop applications on the go, but will Apple ever seriously consider it? (Image: Daniel Romero, Unsplash)


Just as expected, what followed the release of the new iPad Pro on May 15th was a flood of reviews about Apple’s latest flagship tablet and, tellingly, the majority of those did the exact same thing: they praised the amazing hardware the company’s engineers were able to put together while also pointing out all the ways that iPadOS is holding that hardware back. It’s clear to all, even to people who have not actually tried to use an iPad Pro for work, that this M4-based model cannot be used any more productively than the M2-based or even the M1-based one, while being hilariously overpowered for the everyday stuff any iPad is typically used for.

There was something else, though, that many people – yours truly among them – did not expect to see: an eagerness in the tech reporting community to talk about and then casually dismiss the notion of the iPad Pro running macOS. More journalists, bloggers and YouTubers than ever are now entertaining this possibility, but they seem to either not get what “macOS on the iPad Pro” would actually mean in practice or entirely miss the point of running full macOS applications on Apple’s most capable tablets.

As someone who’s been asking for and writing about this three years in a row, yours truly might be able to help. Even if we agree to disagree, let’s at least make sure we’re on the same page about all this, yes?

What most of us asking for “macOS on the iPad Pro” actually mean

That’s the easy part – at least in the minds of people who have thought about how they’d make good use of this kind of functionality. What we mean by “macOS on the iPad Pro” is an iPadOS option that would allow Apple’s best tablets to boot into macOS as any Mac computer normally would and just use them as MacBooks with the help of a keyboard and mouse. Then, once finished with working on macOS, it would be easy to restart and choose to boot into iPadOS so as to use the same device as a normal iPad. Yes. It is that simple.

To be clear, there are other ways that Apple could go about this: other possible implementations of “macOS compatibility” on an iPad Pro – a problematically vague concept – some of which Apple might prefer. But none of those would make people who actually intend to use macOS on the iPad Pro happy. No “compatibility layer” or “Pro Mode” or “macOS virtual machine” silliness. These are all half-measures. People asking for macOS on the iPad Pro want the same macOS that Macs are based on, the same desktop programs running at full speed, controlled in the same way by keyboard and mouse – but on the iPad Pro form factor.

It goes without saying that there’s no point running macOS on an iPad Pro without a keyboard and mouse. Touch controls are practically useless in a traditional, productivity-focused OS and that’s fine. (Image: Ernest Ojeh, Unsplash)


What we certainly do not mean when asking for “macOS on the iPad Pro” is resort to some dysfunctional, compromised hybrid of an OS, as many people (even some smart but clearly confused ones) seem to think. We’re not just talking about the usual Apple-hating trolls here either: ex-Microsoft president Steven Sinofsky, for instance, recently demonstrated how little thought even experienced industry executives have actually put into this notion, in a tweet that was in equal parts hilarious and insulting.

Commenting on Joanna Stern’s sharing of an MG Siegler Spyglass post, Sinofsky managed to get everything wrong: that people asking for macOS on an iPad Pro would like that operating system to be touch-enabled (we wouldn’t), that we’d try to run macOS on any tablet without a keyboard and mouse (we wouldn’t), that we’d seriously consider using desktop programs adjusted to accommodate touch points (we wouldn’t) or that we’d be happy with just a subset of Mac programs running on iPad Pro (we wouldn’t).

The icing on the cake: the claim that “only techies would be interested in something like that”. Well, yeah. This was never a request coming from mainstream iPad users but, then again, those are not the people getting expensive, powerful iPad Pro models. Professional or power users are – and they are already familiar with Apple’s Bootcamp or can work it out in seconds.

Most people asking for macOS on the iPad Pro do not intend to use touch but rather a keyboard and mouse.

So the whole “macOS on the iPad Pro” point is often entirely missed, it seems. Practically every one of us who’s been asking for this already understands that macOS will never truly work with touch. It was never designed to do that: the exact same reason why iPadOS will never be a Pro-level operating system, period.

Apple didn’t have to go through the motions with Stage Manager or Split View: without a proper file management system, effective multitasking and a freaking pointy mouse pointer, iPadOS will always be a touch-first operating system. Which is perfectly fine, even great for any non-Pro iPad model, but it’s just not made for actual work – which is what most of us have been saying all along.

Why are we asking for this and is it even doable?

Frankly, all the reasons why many people would love to run macOS and its applications on the iPad Pro probably come down to just two: convenience and choice.

Let’s talk convenience. Say that one is getting ready for a long flight or packs a few things for a weekend away from home. Why carry a MacBook and an iPad Pro? Do some or plenty of work usually done on a computer in macOS mode – it won’t be the same as doing it on one’s main computer, but it will be doable – then reboot to iPad mode in order to watch a movie or play some games. Did not plan to do any work on a vacation trip, but something important just came up that needs to be handled as quickly as possible? Boot into macOS mode, get it done without going through the hoops of iPadOS, reboot to iPad mode. A Magic Keyboard-type accessory is not that hard to carry around for these or other similar scenarios. Apple made sure of that.

Then let’s talk choice. The iPad Pro is a confusing mess right now: it’s needlessly overpowered for the usual iPad stuff but not flexible enough for anything other than that, let alone pro work. Artists using Apple Pencils might disagree and rightly so, but almost everyone else gets why doing day-to-day work on an iPad Pro is currently frustrating. All we are asking for here is to be allowed to use a pro operating system on a pro device. For the cost of an iPad Pro plus Magic Keyboard – which now exceeds that of a number of MacBook laptops – we should be given that choice. Many will not make use of it, others will, it’s all good. But the choice needs to be there.

Apple added a number of extra “pro-friendly” features to iPadOS during the last three years, but it was just going through the motions. The iPadOS will never be a true computer operating system so let’s all stop pretending it ever could, yes? (Image: Apple)


It is that simple: if Apple means to continue selling these powerful iPad Pro tablets as “pro” devices (so that it can charge more for them) it will have to stop holding them back and offer consumers the option of running macOS on those tablets. If it doesn’t, then any iPad Pro is not worth any professional’s hard-earned cash.

Is that iPadOS/macOS dual-boot option… well, doable? Of course it is. We’ve been doing this for almost a decade on Intel-based Macs with Bootcamp and Windows with no issues at all – if anything, it should be even easier for Apple to do the same thing now, being the company that designed the iPad hardware and both operating systems. Yes, Apple would have to keep the two OS “partitions” of the same device inaccessible to one another (not hard to do on a system level) and yes, it would probably make sense to offer that option to iPad Pro models equipped with 512GB of storage or more. But it absolutely is doable and at Apple’s sole discretion.

So, Web dogmatists, social media trolls and smart but ignorant people alike: please, stop “explaining” to us why Apple would never give us macOS on an iPad Pro “because it wants to sell us both a MacBook and an iPad”. We know. We’ve known for years. You bring nothing new to the table. What you are actually doing is justifying Apple’s position (and financial interests) by making it sound like it’s perfectly fine for a company to practically charge consumers twice for the same hardware instead of allowing them to use the one they purchased to the fullest. It’s not fine. It’s anything but.

On a pro device, costing pro money, people should be given the option to use their OS of choice when doing actual work.

We never asked for all tablets to become laptops overnight. We never asked for iPads to become all-powerful business tools capable of fully replacing Mac computers all of a sudden. But on a *pro* device, costing “pro” money, we should be given the option to use our OS of choice when doing actual professional work.

If that’s too hard for some people to understand, then those people have no business “explaining” anything to the rest of us. Chances are that they are the ones who don’t get it and that they never did. Results of one’s work, and what consumers ultimately made of it, sometimes speak for themselves, don’t they?

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).

LATEST STORIES

OTHERS ARE READING

THE POINT NEWSLETTER

Let us keep you up to date with the latest in tech and entertainment