On iPads Replacing Laptops

The newest iPad Pro seems like a killer machine, and many reviews of it are quite positive. But a lot of reviews that I saw all came back with similar thoughts:

  • Ars Technica – “The iPad Pro raises the bar for performance, but has too many other limitations.”
  • CNET – “It’s got a big, laptop-like screen. It’s more portable than the last version. But it doesn’t solve the final few things I need to make it a true laptop.”
  • TechRadar – “(…)that would help elevate the new iPad Pro towards the level of a real laptop a little more.”

Everyone is expecting iPad to replace laptops at some point in the future. But what exactly are they wanting?

It seems the expectation is that, if iPad is the future of computing, that we’ll eventually not need laptops (and maybe desktops) because iPads will replace the PC category for what we do. Thus, iPads need to eventually do everything current PCs can do and more.

However, Apple itself gave a hint about that. And I don’t think any of that is a good expectation to have.

Here’s what Phil Schiller said in an interview with Charlie Rose for 60 Minutes:

Charlie Rose: Is there danger of one product cannibalizing the other product?

Phil Schiller: It’s not a danger, it’s almost by design. You need each of these products to try to fight for their space, their time with you. The iPhone has to become so great that you don’t know why you want an iPad. The iPad has to be so great that you don’t know why you why you want a notebook. The notebook has to be so great, you don’t know why you want a desktop. Each one’s job is to compete with the other ones.

When I read that, I see each segment in its own tier, competing with the one above it. But it doesn’t imply that one category would eventually eliminate the others. It just forces each tier to keep improving.

Let’s look at the notebook tier. You can split that into two segments: consumer and pro. How am I doing that? I’m basically looking at MacBook and MacBook Air, and comparing that against the MacBook Pro line. They all do similar things, but the Pro line has more power, more ports, and is typically used for a lot more work. But they’re all in the notebook tier.

In the iPad tier, we can simplify it between iPad and iPad Pro. iPad Pro gives you more capabilities and more features to do more work on it. The USB-C port in the new iPad Pro can enable a lot of new functionality now, and it has the potential to open up even more with iOS 13 and beyond.

Yet, it’s still an iPad. It’s on the higher end of the iPad tier, but it’s in no way meant to completely replace the MacBook Pro. Again, looking at Phil Schiller’s comments, it’s competing against the notebook. It’s not replacing the notebook.

This seems confirmed in The Verge’s review of the new iPad Pro:

(…) when pushed on the iPad’s limitations, the company insists that the iPad is still an ongoing attempt to build the future of computing, not a laptop replacement.

Sure, you can review the new iPad Pro against a laptop and see what it can and can’t do. But looking to see if it’s a complete notebook replacement is futile. Sure, it may replace a notebook for some people. If someone just used a laptop for email, news, and staying in touch with family, then an iPad can definitely do all that that person wanted a laptop for. But, implied by Phil Schiller’s own words, there will always be things that a notebook or desktop do better that can’t be done by an iPad. Always.

As the iPad Pro gains more features, I’ll continue to be interested in reviews showing how people can do work on it compared to laptops. I know there are some that live the iPad life already. But I’d also be interested in seeing things from the other angle: How improvements in devices like iPad Pro drive changes and improvements to the Mac line.

The notebook is essentially defending itself from constant attack from the iPad tier. It has been from day one. As each tier improves, so do the tiers they are competing with. iPhone and iPad eventually lead to the inclusion of multi-touch on the Mac line, which I think was a very important addition. Those kinds of influences will only continue.

But whether or not an iPad replaces the notebook tier for you has no relevance to whether or not iPads will replace laptops in general. They won’t. Apple has said it as part of their own intentions. And eight years of iPad history can prove it, too. Notebooks will remain. Desktops will remain. Their differences in UI/UX will remain.

Just like any advancement in iPhone doesn’t threaten the existence of iPad, or any Apple Watch can’t kill the iPhone market, iPad won’t kill the laptop. They’ll just keep getting better and better.

It’s all about survival.

Why I Buy Apple

Over the years, there have been some articles looking at the differences between owning a Mac and owning a PC. Some people try to create a comparable PC to an available Mac. Others have noted the difference when it comes to enterprise support costs.

Over the last decade, I’ve had my share of laptops. Before I became an Apple user in 2009, I had used a Gateway and Dell portable. I still own the Dell, though I don’t use it anymore. Once I got my first Mac, a mid-2009 15-inch MacBook Pro, I knew I wasn’t going back. It was not just the hardware quality but also the software. OS X was such a change from Windows, and the features built into each Mac, whether with the multi-touch gestures or the operating system itself, meant I was never going back to Windows as my primary system.

Earlier this week, I had to drop off my current Mac at the Apple Store. In short, my trackpad stopped functioning as it should. While a minor issue in itself, proper use of the trackpad is required for me to use my computer on a daily basis. So, early Monday afternoon, I dropped off my MacBook Pro at the local Apple Store. Thursday morning, I got a call saying that it was complete and ready to be picked up.

Since being a Mac user, I’ve never had to drop off my computer for repair work. Having faith in Apple’s support system, I knew that my trackpad would be repaired. But that wasn’t all that they touched. Upon receipt of my computer, I saw the product repair summary, which had a total of three items:

  1. Top Case w/ Battery – The retina MacBook Pro is created with the trackpad and keyboard being part of the top case on the laptop. To fix the trackpad meant replacing that entire piece. So, this I expected. (Though the new battery wasn’t expected, but I’ll gladly accept it.)
  2. Bottom Case – According to the summary, there was a sign of a wobble in the enclosure. If there was some kind of battery issue that lead to my failed trackpad, I can see why this might come in. Wasn’t expecting this, but I’m glad they found it.
  3. Audio Board – While I typically use headphones with my Mac, I haven’t noticed any issues with the sound from the internal speakers. Yet, somewhere along the lines, someone checked my system and determined that there was distorted audio coming from my computer. This replacement was definitely not foreseen by any means.

After three days without my computer, I had it back with the issue fixed and with other items that I didn’t even suspect also fixed. And while the laptop is a mid-2013 model, I bought it refurbished back in September, meaning that it is still in the one-year warranty that comes standard with the laptop. So the cost to me for all of this repair work was nothing.

I realize that this is a typical Apple story. But for me, I have a prior negative story to contrast it with. Back in 2006, I was still attending university. I had a laptop I was working to death in my engineering courses. Going with the advertisements in the day, I ended up with a Gateway. While I don’t recall the specs of my device at the time, I do recall trying to get that laptop fixed.

While I had some experience with custom desktops, I had no experience with troubleshooting issues on a laptop. So, when my 1-year old laptop started taking over 12 minutes to come out of hibernation, I knew something was going on with it but wasn’t sure what it was exactly.1 I decided to bring it back to the place where I had bought it, Best Buy, and see what the Geek Squad could do. After a check of the system and hearing about the symptoms, they packed it up and sent it off to be taken care of.

After a week, I got the call that my laptop was ready to be picked up. So, driving to Best Buy, I excitedly picked up my laptop and brought it home. I wanted to see how much better it performed. Would it be just like the first day I turned it on?

In a word, no. The computer still took over a half hour to boot. What did they do when I had shipped it in? Investigating the paperwork and making a few phone calls, I found out what was fixed: the case protecting my laptop screen. The techs apparently saw a crack and replaced it. Of course, replacing my laptop case wasn’t related to the symptoms I was seeing. The techs did nothing to address my actual concern. It wasn’t until the 2nd time that I sent it in that I was able to finally get it addressed.

That one experience turned me off from computer support for many years. And it is also one of the things that I truly appreciate about Apple. I have a friend that once went through a handful of iPod Touches. Why? The home button stopped working. The device was in warranty, and each time he took it in, they would replace it with a duplicate device.

For me, being able to take in my MacBook and get it repaired to an extent beyond what I had even expected is the kind of support I would gladly pay for. And it was provided for free. Apple might sell their devices for more than the competitors, but their service is top-of-the-line. I can’t think of any other tech company that provides similar service. If there is any reason to buy Apple, this is it.


  1. Yes, it was the hard drive, though I do recall there were other problems with the laptop at the time. I wasn’t good with this stuff back then.