Your Tech Night Owl Newsletter — Issue #983

Gene Steinberg

Forum Super Hero
Staff member
***Issue #983***
April 7, 2020


When the first iPad debuted in 2010, its reasons for existence were not altogether clear. In large part, it seemed little more than a giant iPod, with the added capability of being able to access cellular data, as an option. It used iOS, and worked with mostly scaled up version of iPhone apps.

Over time, developers learned to take advantage of the larger displays, but it took a while for apps to truly exploit the product differences, and it’s been a long decade.

At first, the iPad was largely regarded as a media consumption device, designed to watch videos from Netflix and YouTube. Despite a growing number of productivity apps, they were largely limited-function subsets of equivalent desktop PC apps.

For all its shortcomings, the iPad was the first successful realization of the tablet concept. In the previous decade, Microsoft, in the person of Bill Gates, and later with Steve Ballmer, would extol the virtues of tablets, but they weren’t successfully realized. At best, they were clunky laptops with touchscreens that mostly reached vertical markets, such as physician offices, where being able to tap rather than type data entries supposedly had an advantage.

But I can’t help but recall seeing our family doctor taking twice as long to enter data via touch. Patients couldn’t receive proper attention when a physician or assistant was busy futzing with those nasty devices. Eventually, they returned to typing.

Almost from the beginning, iPad sales soared. For some it seemed as if the numbers might ultimately eclipse the iPhone, and was it truly a PC replacement? Well, not yet.

In 2014, Apple’s first fiscal quarter — the holiday quarter — some 26.04 million iPads were sold. It was on a roll. But by next year, sales were falling by the double digits. While sales have recently begun to slowly improve actual unit sales are subject to speculation. In the December holiday quarter, Apple tallied sales of $5.977 billion, but unit sales are no longer being revealed. Industry analysts had to make a good guess based on the perceived average sale price. If you assume it’s $500 each, that would mean 12 million. If it is $400, which accounts for the cheaper models, it would be 15 million. Either way, it’s quite a drop from the sales recorded in that 2014 quarter.

Now some suggest it’s very much because of saturation and the fact that iPad users aren’t upgrading near as often as with a smartphone. My wife has an iPad Air 2, first introduced in 2014, but purchased at closeout a year or so later. In 2020, it continues to run the latest iOS, and performs quite well thank you.

Barbara uses her iPad mainly for email and web browsing, plus an occasional app or two. She’s hardly a power user; she leaves all that to me.

Despite its charms, such functions don’t really make the iPad much more useful than an Android tablet.

However, the iPad has seen steady adoption in the enterprise, becoming a very useful tool, especially for remote users. But they have made their mark in offices too. So my eye doctor gives them to patients to enter intake information, which frees the staff from having to reenter this data, thus causing the risk of errors.

Over time, Apple has enhanced iPad features, and last year forked the OS as iPodOS, making it similar but separate from iOS. More multitasking features have been added, and, with the recent 13.4 release, support for external input devices was expanded to provide an experience close to what you’d get with a mouse and/or trackpad on a laptop.

With the release of the iPad Pro in March of 2020, Apple announced a “real” keyboard attachment based on the Magic Keyboard, which includes a genuine laptop-style trackpad.

Now it wasn’t so many years ago that Apple rejected the possibility of a Mac with a touchscreen, likening it to comparing a refrigerator to a toaster oven.

Then again, Apple even dismissed the need for a small tablet until the iPad mini arrived, presented as a superior small tablet that has since been largely supplanted with the larger iPhones. It’s typical of Apple to dismiss products until they have one of their own to sell.

In the meantime, the iPad has grown up, crowned by a model with a 12.9-inch display, thus putting it four-square into laptop territory. That, iPad OS multitasking enhancements, and the addition of a Magic Keyboard and input device accessory, takes us closer to the mythical refrigerator/toaster oven marriage.

But just how close does today’s iPad Pro come to matching a Mac laptop in the same price range.

For that, AppleInsider’s Andrew O’Hara wrote an article comparing “performance and features” of the new iPad Pro compared to the recently-released MacBook Air.

On the surface, the 2020 versions of both don’t seem to have changed all that much from the previous models. When you type on the MacBook Air, however, you’ll see the changes, since Apple ditched the controversial butterfly keyboard, and replaced it with a variation on the Magic Keyboard. I’m not going to get into the complaints about the previous keyboard, which was said to be less reliable among other things.

Price for the entry-level model returned to its previous $999 price point, but I wonder if that wasn’t done because of the coronavirus pandemic, rather than just trying to make it more affordable.

With growing rumors that Apple is fixing to move Macs to ARM processors, the benchmarks are telling.

Apple outfitted the 2020 iPad Pro with an A12Z Bionic processor, rather than a variation on the A13. The “Z” version performs about the same as its “X” predecessor except for improved graphics, and you’ll see how that changes things shortly.

The initial Geekbench 5.1 benchmarks from AppleInsider revealed a 1117 single core result, and a 4653 multicolor result. The basic MacBook Air, with an a dual-core Intel i3 processor. scored 1074 single-core, and 2412 multi-core. Clearly Apple’s claims that its A-series CPUs can deliver performance in the range of Intel CPUs is true.

For another $250, AppleInsider bought an upgraded MacBook Air with a quad-core i7 CPU. Here the results were mixed. The revved up MacBook Air delivered a 1294 single-core rating, and 3514 multi-core.

All things being equal, that makes the iPad Pro a tad slower than the enhanced MacBook Air in single-core functions, and quite a bit faster for multi-core.

But benchmarking apps don’t always reveal results that match what you’d get by running regular apps and functions.

So a six-minute 4K movie was exported from iMovie on both the iPad Pro and MacBook Air. The i3 version of the latter did it in six minutes, two seconds, the i7 model managed the task in five-and-a-half minutes. It’s hardly worth the extra investment. But get this: The iPad Pro managed the task in three-and-a-half minutes!

Outfitted with that accessory keyboard, it would seem that the iPad Pro is the superior device due to its speedier graphics. But it’s not that easy. Despite its growth, iPadOS isn’t quite in the league of a Mac all all respects. While the typing experience ought to be similar, and the touchscreen and Apple Pencil will surely appeal to many graphics pros, that’s not the entire picture.

While iPadOS apps are getting more sophisticated, they aren’t quite as sophisticated as Mac apps for many purposes. You still can’t do all of the things on an iPad that you can do on a Mac.

As I’ve written many times in these columns — and discussed on my radio show over the years — I cannot produce a radio show on an iPad, not even the very latest one. Sure, I can record output from Skype, but mixing it with an outboard analog mixer is not possible. The audio editing tools aren’t near as flexible either.

On a Mac, Rogue Amoeba has Audio Hijack, an app that can record from any input source, and save it as a file that is easily edited in many apps. For my radio shows, I use my outboard mic mixer and Skype. It’s a fairly simple workflow that I’ve used with success for years.

Again, I cannot accomplish similar functions on an iPad. At least not yet.

Indeed, I have never taken to the iPad. My wife loves hers, but the work I do isn’t flexibly accomplished on an iPad. I use my iPhone for email, web browsing and a number of apps that are not related to actual productivity. So I can manage my web server, do research and pay bills. But my Mac remains a critical tool for my workflow.

With the iPad’s success in the enterprise, it is clear more and more businesses are finding solid reasons to use them. The Apple Pencil and iPad OS allow developers to build more and more solid productivity apps for the platform. So Apple has clearly seen that the iPad’s future success is more as a potential PC replacement than a consumption device, and that’s the main focus of recent ads.

The performance stats from AppleInsider make it clear that an iPad Pro can meet or exceed the performance of a MacBook Air, and approach and sometimes exceed the level of a regular MacBook. With growing rumors of Apple’s future direction, I can well see where an A-series CPU, allowed to run full bore on a notebook or desktop, might very well smoke that of many Macs.

Indeed, ARM-based chips have already become credible replacements for Intel Xeon in some datacenters.

Does this mean that a future MacBook Air will simply be little more than an iPad Pro with an integrated keyboard, running Apple’s own CPU?

Or Apple may, in the not-too-distant future, introduce a new enhanced computer that incorporates the best of the iPad and the Mac in a single package. The handwriting is clearly on the wall.


The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible.

Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
Marketing and Public Relations: Barbara Kaplan
Worldwide Licensing: Sharon Jarvis

Copyright 1999-2020 Making The Impossible. All Rights Reserved.

Privacy Policy: Your personal information is safe with us. We will positively never give out your name and/or e-mail address to anybody else, and that's a promise!