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iPad vs Mac is the wrong discussion when buying devices

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We’re 12 years into the iPad industry, and it was the last product line that Steve Job introduced at Apple. Over the years, the iPad has been positioned in various ways by Apple, with the latest being the “What’s a Computer” ad campaign from 2017. The iPad and Mac have had this somewhat awkward coexistence. The Mac has seen somewhat of a renaissance, while the iPad has gotten more expensive on the high end. In recent conversations with businesses who use both, I wanted to take time today to appreciate the iPad in a new light. Comparing iPad vs Mac is the wrong discussion. The reality is that you need to consider each device’s unique benefits.

About Apple @ Work: Bradley Chambers managed an enterprise IT network from 2009 to 2021. Through his experience deploying and managing firewalls, switches, a mobile device management system, enterprise-grade Wi-Fi, 100s of Macs, and 100s of iPads, Bradley will highlight ways in which Apple IT managers deploy Apple devices, build networks to support them, train users, stories from the trenches of IT management, and ways Apple could improve its products for IT departments.


iPad vs Mac: It’s not either / or

The iPad has always been compared to the Mac in a competitive limelight. If I buy an iPad, can it be my only computer? Why do I need an iPad if I have a really small and portable laptop? These are all valid questions. I do not believe there’s a reason to own both a high-end iPad and a portable Mac unless you have a use case for them both; understanding the value of the iPad is about disassociating it from the Mac and traditional use cases.

For someone sitting at their desk most of the day, unless you prefer iPadOS over macOS, the Mac is probably a better computer for you. There are fewer restrictions and more advanced multitasking, and you’ll require fewer workarounds. This statement is not a discounting of the iPad, either. It’s just the same as if you said what’s better: a laptop or a desktop? If you sit at the same place every day, do not need portability, and have a big enough desk – an iMac is probably the best computer for you because of the big screen. There’s no tribalism between people who love iMacs vs. people who love MacBook Pros. Different use cases call for different devices.

iPad goes where no computer has gone before

In a recent episode of Apple @ Work, I talked with Dan Tyke from North Shore Fire / Rescue about his experience using Apple Business Essentials with iPad. For their use case, the iPad is the perfect device. It’s handheld, streamlined, and offers extreme portability. There’s no world or price point where the MacBook Air makes sense for them to use in the field. The iPad form factor is much better suited for their needs. They’re taking a large 3-ring binder of health conditions and dematerializing it into the iPad, where it can be quickly searched and updated. For them, it’s not a competition on which type of device, it’s a question of whether we want a handheld digital device that can be used in the field or on paper. The Mac does not work in this use case. They’re not complaining about the lack of multitasking options (but iPadOS should do more). They’re getting onsite to a disaster, assessing the situation, and using the iPad to help people.

iPad vs Mac

As the iPad matures, we understand that it’s the right tool for some people in certain situations, but it’s not the only tool for all situations. The MacBook Air or MacBook Pro falls into this same category. Sometimes, an Air is a better device (portability), but in others, the Pro (power) comes into play. If you need even more power and less portability, maybe you look at an iMac or a Mac Studio.

Every device has various points of emphasis, benefits, and drawbacks. Steve Jobs’ truck vs. cars analogy still holds up well in my mind. The difference is that it’s not about if more people need a truck or a car, but rather finding the best tool for their situation. Let the iPad be the iPad just as we let laptops be laptops. If you do not see the value of the iPad over the Mac, then you probably aren’t the target market. Different use case and jobs are better suited for iPad than they are Mac and vice versa. Both types of devices excel at their intended use.

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