iPad Pro or MacBook Air For My Friend? Which To Get?

I have a really good and close friend who is not a tech geek like I am. Recently, his 2012 13-inch MacBook Pro broke down. I told him it was time he should get a new device. I suggested he get either an iPad Pro or a MacBook Air. I gave him the pros and cons of both devices: on one hand the 12.9-inch iPad Pro and on the other hand either the 13-inch MacBook Air.

Now mind you my friend didn’t do much with his prior 13-inch MacBook Pro. He is a writer. So the most he did with his MacBook Pro is write. He also used the mail app to send and receive emails. He also used the Safari and Chrome browsers to go on the internet. But that was about all he did with it. He didn’t have photos on that MacBook Pro. He never edited videos. As for sending messages or texts? He sent and received messages and texts on his iPhone, not on his MacBook Pro. He did watch videos on the MacBook Pro on the internet. And also listed to some music from the internet. He doesn’t have a tv, so his only movies or audios were on the MacBook Pro.

In the end, he went with a 13-inch MacBook Air. He is very happy with his purchase. It is a great upgrade from his 2012 MacBook Pro. But I think he made a mistake. I believe he should have purchased instead the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. Here is why:

Technology-wise, he gets much more technology from an iPad Pro than a MacBook Air.

Cameras. The iPad Pro has much better camera than the MacBook Pro and it has it on the front facing you and also on the back. The MacBook Air has a 720p FaceTime camera. The iPad Pro’s TrueDepth Camera, which is on the side with the screen, has an 1080p camera that shoots 7mp photos. In addition, it has two great camera lenses on the back that can shoot 4k video and photos at 12mp and 10mp. Now why should he care about these differences? Well, during the shutdown, like all of his, he is making many Zoom video calls with people. And if you have a better camera for the calls, then the Zoom or video calls you make are better. So right there for that reason the iPad Pro would be better for him than the MacBook Pro. But the cameras on the back are also better for him. He doesn’t take many pictures and he has an iPhone. But the cameras on the back would allow him to do more things with his iPad Pro than the MacBook Air. For one, he could scan documents with the iPad. You can’t scan papers with the MacBook Pro unless you have a good scanner connected to it. A good scanner can cost an additional $500. I do all my scanning now with my iPhone 11 Pro or my old iPad Pro.

Also, the cameras on the back have new technology for the iPad Pro. They have LIDAR sensors. Here is what the National Oceanic Service describes LIDAR as:

Lidar, which stands for Light Detection and Ranging, is a remote sensing method that uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to measure ranges (variable distances) to the Earth. These light pulses—combined with other data recorded by the airborne system— generate precise, three-dimensional information about the shape of the Earth and its surface characteristics.

A lidar instrument principally consists of a laser, a scanner, and a specialized GPS receiver. Airplanes and helicopters are the most commonly used platforms for acquiring lidar data over broad areas. Two types of lidar are topographic and bathymetric. Topographic lidar typically uses a near-infrared laser to map the land, while bathymetric lidar uses water-penetrating green light to also measure seafloor and riverbed elevations.

No my friend isn’t going to be interested in LIDAR technology because he doesn’t know how it it will help him. But the thing is he will probably keep his new device for at least 7 years. And clearly Apple plans to do something with LIDAR on the iPad and also third-party developers will create programs that use LIDAR. Right now, without LIDAR, my iPhone 11 Pro has a measurement app which allows me to measure stuff with the iPhone. With LIDAR, the measurement app will work even better. By purchasing the MacBook Air rather than the iPad Pro, my friend is missing out on all the possible apps that could use LIDAR.

In addition to LIDAR, the iPad Pro has other sensors that the MacBook Pro doesn’t have. It has a Three-axis gyro, an Accelerometer and a Barometer. Plus it has FaceID security rather than a fingerprint security. The MacBook Air does not have these sensors.

Screens. How about the screen? The iPad Pro’s screen is superior to the MacBook Air’s screen. The 12.9 inch iPad Pro has 2732-by-2048-pixel resolution at 264 pixels per inch (PPI). The Macbook Air is 2560-by-1600 native resolution at 227 pixels per inch.

Weight. The 12.9-inch iPad Pro is lighter than the 13-inch MacBook Air as it weighs 643 grams while the MacBook Air weighs 1.29kg (or 1290 grams). But if you get the Magic Keyboard for the iPad Pro that combined weight will be about the same as the MacBook Air. But the point is you can have the iPad Pro naked with no cover and you can easily read it in your bed or sofa or when you are on a public transportation because its so light.

Power. The MacBook Air got a single-core Geekbench score of 1110 and multi-core score of 2862. The newer iPad Pros got Geekbench scores of 1118 single core and 4704 for multi-score. So the iPad is more powerful in multi-core processing.

Other Differences. There are a couple of other things that are different between the iPad Pros and and all the Mac.

  • First, the iPad Pro you can get with a cellphone antenna if you pay extra. You can’t get that with any Macintosh. So with the iPad Pro if you have a cellphone antenna, you can always connect to the internet even if you you are not at home and don’t have a connection to a wifi that is connected to the internet.
  • Second, the iPad Pro has access to many more apps and programs in the iOS App Store than what the Macs have access to in the Mac App Store. In addition, the iPad apps are generally cheaper than the programs for the Macs.
  • Third, and the most obvious, the iPad screen has touch on it so you can navigate the screen using your finger. This is a big deal because some apps are better to use by using your finger than using a mouse, trackpad and keyboard. Say you are watching a video. Isn’t it better to hold the iPad Pro and use your finger to start the video or to swipe around for other videos? Same with looking a photos. Isn’t touch better for looking at them? I think so.
  • Fourth, the iPad Pro can work with the latest Apple Pencil. My friend writes. Sometimes you want to write with a pencil and take notes. With the Macintosh you don’t have a choice. The screen on the Macintosh doesn’t have touch screen or the ability to use a pencil. With the iPad Pro you have a choice, touch, keyboard, trackpad, mouse or pencil. Actually also voice control. The Mac has voice control but I don’t think it is as useful or as ingrained in the system as voice control on iOS devices.
  • Fifth, the Mac has some major advantages but mainly for pros. For example, on the Mac you can use Xcode to create apps for the iPhone, iPad, Macs, Apple TV and Apple Watch. On the iPad Pro you can’t do that. But my friend is not a developer so he should not care about that. The Mac lets you put apps that don’t come from the Apple App Store. That is a big deal for a power user like myself. For example, I have long used the Audio Hijack program from Rogue Amoeba, which allows you to record any audio that comes through your Macintosh. There is nothing like that on iOS as Apple doesn’t let third-party developers fool around with the system underneath.1 Similarly, because your have a Terminal App on the Mac, and because MacOS was built on UNIX, you can put UNIX commands and do crazy stuff on your Mac. On your Mac, you can download Homebrew on the Terminal App and then do additional crazy stuff. Like for example, there are programs that can make your Mac a server for HomeKit so you can have devices that are not HomeKit work with Apple’s HomeKit on your iPhone and iPad. And of course scripting. On the Mac, you can run AppleScript and other scripts to automate your Mac. On the other hand, on iOS, Apple has the Shortcuts app, where essentially you can create your own scripts and automation apps. And iOS now has a finder so you can navigate into the folders for each app pretty much to find the files you need. So iOS is closer to having a finder like on the Mac.
  • Sixth, the security on iOS is greater than on the Mac because you can’t install non-Apple approved programs on iOS. Also, because the iOS apps are siloed when they run, unlike on the Mac where the programs get closer to the underlying system, your iPhones and iPads are much less likely to get hacked or hijacked. On the Mac, you can still get locked out and have your computer hijacked if you click on the wrong thing form the internet.

What about cost? That shouldn’t be the difference in deciding to purchase the MacBook Air or iPad Pro. The MacBook Air ranges in price from $999 to $2249 if you max out the ram and storage to 16gb of Ram and 2tb of SSD storage as well as bump up slightly the processor speed. The 12.9-inch iPad Pro starts at $999 and ranges up to $1649 if you max out storage to 1tb and get the cellphone antenna built in. If you add in the Magic Keyboard for the iPad Pro, add another $349. If you get the Apple Pencil, add in another $129 for the second generation model. So the prices of the iPad Pro and Macbook Air are congruent on price range. Given that my friend is likely to own this new device for at least 7 years, he could splurge on either the iPad Pro or MacBook Air top price and it would be not very expensive for each month he uses it. For example, take $2000 and divide it by 7 years times 12 months; it totals $23.8 per month.

What about storage? That also shouldn’t be the difference for my friend. The MacBook Air gives you more storage than the iPad Pro if you pay for it. Up to 2 TB for the MacBook Air and only up to 1TB for the iPad Pro. My friend told me he only used 10% of all the storage on his 2012 MacBook Pro. That MacBook Pro had 4gb of ram and a 500mb hard drive. So my friend used approximately 50 mb of storage. The entry level iPad Pro comes with 128gb of storage. That is 256 times more storage than he use don his 2012 MacBook Pro. That entry model would probably have sufficient storage for my friend.

So why did my friend pick the MacBook Air instead of the iPad Pro when the above shows that that iPad Pro has more flexibility and much better technology?

I think he was prejudiced against getting the iPad Pro by a prior experience with an iPad that he purchase many years ago and quickly returned to Apple. Many years ago, when the iPad was in its nascent existence in 2012, the iPad and its operating system couldn’t do as much compared to a Mac. Back then, there were no keyboard covers. You connected a keyboard by bluetooth or lightning back then. Significantly, the operating system for the iPad wasn’t geared for physical keyboard back then. Also, there was no support for a mouse or trackpad. So if you used a physical keyboard a lot, you had to each out to change an app or edit. For someone used to writing a lot on a MacBook Air, the 2012 iPad and its operating system could not really well complete with a Mac. I remember my friend purchase the iPad on my recommendation back then and he promptly returned if to Apple after trying to use it. He doesn’t trust that the experience on the iPad has changed so much since 2012 that it would be easy for him to write and use the iPad Pro.

Second, I don’t think he can appreciate that new things that he never tried could enhance his life. I think most people in the World are like that. It is normal. We live in today. If things are working today, we are happy with that. Something new might not work and it takes additional effort to learn. This is why Apple is careful about how and when it releases new products. Apple knows it has to bring people to the new technology by seducing them with great design that is friendly to people and technology that is so good that people will quickly adopt it. Look at the original iPhone. Most people didn’t think it was a big deal or given its high price anyone would adopt it. Remember Steve Balmer then the CEO of Microsoft. He said no one would purchase the iPhone. RIM, the makers of the then very popular Blackberry said no one would purchase the iPhone because it didn’t have a physical keyboard. iPhones and iPhone-copiers (i.e. Android phones) now completely control the cell phone market. No one purchases cellphones with physical keys or keyboards. I think most people when they start using an iPad regularly will full embrace it as their main computing device. My mom, who is 90, started using an iPad about 6 years ago. She has access to regular computers. But when I see her she is always on the iPad.

Eventually my friend will have an iPad as his main device. Eventually.

  1. Apple isn’t approving Audio Highjack to get into the Mac’s system to highjack audio. Audio Highjack is not sold in the Mac App Store. Instead you download and install it directly from Rogue Amoeba. ↩︎

The State of Apple – Where Is The Excitement?

We are coming up to the week before WWDC, which starts on Monday, June 4, 2018, and I have been thinking about the “State of Apple.” How is it doing? As a longtime investor in Apple, I am obviously thrilled with its financial results and its stock price. Recently it reached an all time high of $190/share and it is now trading slightly above $188/share with a market capitalization of $926.7 billion dollars. Obviously investors are thrilled and are still bullish about how Apple will be doing financially. Among other things, the Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffet, recently increased Berkshire Hathaway’s investment in Apple and it is now one of the largest shareholders. Buffet is one of the most successful stock market investors, and that is why he is one of the richest person in the world.
But while Apple is really successful financially, something does not feel right for me. I don’t feel the excitement that I usually felt in the past when WWDC was approaching. In the past, I felt that WWDC was Christmas in the summer. Apple would release some application or some new IOS or Macs OSX system that had incredibly interesting features that made you feel Apple was pushing the human race forward into the future. In the past, Apple would announce a new software application that was so interesting and exciting that I could not wait to try it out. That is why for many years I participated in Apple’s Developer program. I joined mainly so I could check out Apple’s beta programs and apps. I just could not wait until fall when Apple would generally release the software to the public. Also in the past, Apple would announce some new hardware at WWDC. Many moons ago the new iPhone model would be announced at WWDC. But then Apple switched to announcing the new iPhone models in the fall.
I am also apprehensive about how exciting Apple’s WWDC will be this year because the few interesting things that Apple has announced in the last few years are overshadowed by the zillions of devices released by all sorts of companies. Of the devices Apple released in the last few years, I am really wowed by the AirPods. I use them all the time. They are not perfect, but they greatly improved how I listen to audio from my iPhone and iPad. The main thing is I am no longer hampered by wires and cords. And Siri works well on the AirPods. Of course, I am impressed with the iPhones getting better every year. But they don’t wow me. I expect that the cameras in the iPhone will get better and the processors will get more powerful. I expect that the iPhone’s screen will get better. Other devices haven’t wowed me. The HomePod has really nice sound, but the controls aren’t great (I can’t fine tune the audio volume among other things) and Siri isn’t great on it. The best thing about the HomePod is how well it recognizes one’s voice even when whispering.
In recent years I purchased AppleTVs, the upgraded ones after purchasing the 1st AppleTV many years go. They are nice and better than prior models. But gaming on the AppleTV has never really taken off. I have two kids, ages 12 and 13, and they never got into gaming on the AppleTV. They love games on their iPads and iPhones, but they never got into it on the AppleTV. As for the Macs, I guess I am wowed by the iMac Pro, but the problem is its hard for me to justify $5k or more. My 27-inch iMac from 2010 is running well. And if I want to edit videos, I can borrow one of the 2017 13-inch MacBook Pros that I purchased for my kids last Christmas. And even those computers are nice, but not a wow-factor. Among other things, there is a controversy about the keyboards on those computers. And while we haven’t had a problem with broken keys, I don’t like the keyboard action. It is too shallow. The keyboard on the Apple SmartCover for the 12-inch iPad Pro is better.
Speaking of iPads, I like them and use them heavily. I have the original 12-inch iPad Pro and use it all the time. And I would like to purchase the newer model because of the better screen and better refresh rate for the Apple Pencil, but I can’t justify getting it as the 1st generation 12-inch iPad Pro still works really well. In fact, I am writing this post on that device using the Byword app. I am bullish about the iPads future. I think Apple’s release of a $300 iPad that also works with the Apple Pencil will get more schools to adopt that device and also get more everyday people to use the iPad as their main computing device or as an auxiliary computing device. My 88-year old mother has long used an iPad as her main computing device, for surfing the internet with the Safari browser, or reviewing messages, photos and videos of the kids.
I am sure that Apple will continue to iterate on the iPad, as it does with the iPhone. Those devices will continue to get faster processors and better cameras. Also, at some point, they will get faster cellular speeds as 5G cellular services role out. And as in the past, Apple will add new sensors. Now if you could transport me 5 years from now I would be floored by the Apple iPhone and iPad models available then. The problem is that getting from here to there requires incremental steps. I am sure in Apple’s labs and internal strategic meetings they have a road map for where in 5 years Apple will be with those devices. And I am sure if I could peak at those plans I would say “wow” and be blown away. But I am pretty sure that next week I won’t be blown away. And then after I learn of the incremental improvements next week, I won’t be blown away at next year’s WWDC. What has happened is that during the last 10 years, I have gotten used to the incremental march forward of technology. Mind you, the increments are much bigger. One increment change in technology this year that Apple has put in the iPhone and iPad, compared to last year, is really like an incredible leap forward compared to the incremental change in technology that Apple had back in the mid–1990s. Can you even remember the changes in a Macintosh from 1995 to 1996?
Rather than by Apple, I am wowed today by the zillions of devices that are coming out that are cheap and innovative. For example, earlier this week, I ordered the Wyzecam (version 2), which that company sells for a mere $19.99 plus shipping costs. This tiny cube-like device has a 1080p Full HD camera which can stream through the internet to a Wyze app on your iPhone or iPad, and has motion tagging and night vision with no service cost and no need to purchase an SD card. You can purchase an SD card if you don’t want the internet streaming service and just record locally and also have stop time lapse shots. But it works well even without an SD card. It has a speaker in it and a microphone so you can listen in to the audio as well as watching streaming video from where you placed that camera. And you can talk through the speaker to anyone near the camera through your Wyze app. What blows me away is how cheap this device is and how well it works for that price. The people who created this worked at Amazon, so they know something about impressing consumers. Thus the low price for decent quality. But the concept that for a low price I can install video and sound monitors in all sorts of places is kind of mind-blowing.
Similarly, I was blown away several years ago, and also in recent years with updates, by the Raspberry Pi computer made by the Raspberry Pi Foundation. Basically, for a price as low as $35 or even $5 you can get a computer microprocessor with ports and sensors. People have created all sorts of interesting projects with these little devices. I used a Raspberry Pi to create an ad blocker on our family WiFi network at home so that anyone using our WiFi can automatically have ads on the internet blocked when they use a browser. And other than the cost of a $35 Raspberry Pi, this service is essentially free. You download the PiHole software onto your Raspberry Pi, and hook it up to your local network and boom, that is it, you have an ad-blocker for everyone on your network.
I used another Raspberry Pi to solve a problem. I have at home a Brother laser printer that is not AirPrint-enabled. I connected a Raspberry Pi to that printer by usb connection, then downloaded some software and drivers to the Raspberry Pi, and now all our Apple devices, mainly iPhones, iPads and Macs, can AirPrint to the laser printer.
I am also blown away with the crazy advances in drones that the Apple-like company DJI undertakes. The price of these drones and their abilities are extremely impressive. Similarly, I am impressed with the advancement of personal mobility devices like electric skateboards, and the advances that Boosted Board have made in creating some of the best electric skateboards.
Whenever I see devices like these, the Wyzecam, the Raspberry Pi, the DJI drones, the Boosted Boards, I sometime wonder why didn’t Apple come out with something like that. And then I think, of course Apple cannot do that. Apple’s finances require it to produce products that it can sell to a mass market and charge at least a 30% margin. Apple can’t experiment with releasing devices that have a small market that have a small margin. From a business perspective, it makes no sense for Apple. Such efforts would distract its engineers and more importantly impact Apple’s stock price and financial statement. That is because Apple’s stock prices is tied to its revenue growth and maintaining its large profit margin.
But maybe there is a way that Apple could tinker with devices that are low margin and might not at first sell to a mass market. Remember, years ago, when it first released the AppleTV, Apple called it a hobby and did not break it out on its financial results as it was such a small part of revenue. Why cannot Apple pursue more hobbies? What if Apple embraced the 20% model that Google has. That model allows Google employees (i.e. engineers) to spend 20% of their work time pursuing projects they find interesting. Many services that Google launched have come out of those efforts. Why not allow engineers at Apple to tinker with releasing innovative devices with low margins and smaller markets? I guess executives at Apple would worry that releasing such devices could hurt Apple’s brand. Apple is known for releasing polished products and maintaining secrecy until launch. Apple is know also for its premium products. If Apple engineers released various experimental devices that were cheap, it could hurt Apple’s brand. But what if Apple carefully rebranded that effort as something experimental that was apart from Apple’s regular brand. Apple could give it a name and call it the “Beta Hardware Program.” Apple could also tell its engineers to try to create projects that further Apple’s services. For example, there are devices that act as buttons to trigger HomeKit functions. You can hack an Amazon Dash button to work with services like IFTTT and even as a HomeKit trigger. Apple’s HomeKit service is competing with Amazon’s Echo service and Google’s Home service. If Apple released all sorts of devices that were cheap and worked well with HomeKit it would help HomeKit to dominate that market. Similar, Apple is competing with Spotify as well as Google Music and Amazon Music to become the dominant music streaming service. What if Apple released all sorts of cheap devices that have quality and work well with Apple Music and HomeKit? Wouldn’t that help Apple Music overtake Spotify? The AppleHome Pod is too expensive to count as such a device. Not enough people are going to pay $350 for a HomePod.
What I am proposing goes against what Apple had done to become the most valuable company in the world. But undertaking such efforts that allow its engineers to release cheap and innovative devices could help Apple engineers’ morale. Let the engineers experiment and release some devices. It will not only raise the morale for engineers to tinker and release devices, but it also could then make us consumers go “WOW” when something truly crazy is released. Apple, make me go “Wow” on WWDC’s first day this year.