iPad Pro vs. 12-inch MacBook Retina: How to choose between Apple's very similar lightweight options

The super-sized tablet with a stylus and a keyboard, or the ultra-thin laptop?

iPad Pro vs. Macbook Retina

The Apple Pencil, sold for use with the iPad Pro

Credit: Apple

If you're in the market for a new powerful-but-portable laptop for yourself or your company's users, Apple has just given you an intriguing but also perplexing choice. The release of the 12-inch MacBook earlier this year seemed to set a standard for ultra-portable laptops with high-resolution screens and long battery life. But the release of the new iPad Pro—and especially its Apple-made Smart Keyboard—promise to make it a viable laptop competitor.

So how do you choose which one is right for your needs? Few people have actually gotten hands-on with the iPad Pro yet, but a quick comparison of the specs and capabilities answers some questions while raising others.

Screen size and resolution

The iPad Pro's screen is bigger and higher-resolution than the MacBook's, 12.9 inches to 12 inches, and slightly higher-resolution: 2732x2048 to 2304x1440, respectively. Realistically, though, both screens are beautiful and offer plenty of pixels for most purposes, so for most people this will be a wash.

Size and weight 

The iPad Pro weighs in at 1.57 pounds, not counting the keyboard and stylus. The MacBook weighs 2.02 pounds. The iPad Pro is 12 inches high, 8.68 inches wide, and just .27 inches thick. while the MacBook's dimensions are 11.04x7.74 x.52 inches.

Processor and battery life

The iPad Pro runs on a new Apple A9X chip, compared to the MacBook's fifth-generation Intel Core M processor. It's just not possible to make meaningful performance comparisons at this point. The MacBook claims 9 hours of battery life, the iPad Pro says it's good for 10 hours. Call it a wash.

Connectivity

The MacBook comes with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, but you can get an iPad Air with broadband cellular. Meanwhile, there is an LTE-capable iPad Pro, but it is the most expensive.

Cost 

When you add the $169 Smart Keyboard and the $99 Apple Pencil (really, $100 for a pencil?!), the base-model iPad Pro is almost as expensive as the MacBook, $1,067 to $1,299. Of course, adding options can change those calculations. The high-end MacBook model starts at $1,599, while the cellular-equipped iPad Pro lists for $1,079.

Operating system and apps 

Critically, the MacBook runs Mac OS X, originally designed for desktop computers, while the iPad Pro runs iOS, originally created for smartphones. Although the two OSes have been coming closer and closer in recent years, their bloodlines are clear. iOS is all about the mobile consumption experience, while Mac OS X focuses on productivity and creativity.

So what do all the specs and comparisons mean? Pretty much what you'd expect, actually. If you need a laptop primarily to do your job on-the-go, the MacBook is hard to beat. It's got a great keyboard and innovative trackpad in a slick, compact case. The iPad Pro offers a marginally bigger, better screen, but remains at least slightly optimized for content consumption, not creation.

If you need to do a traditional job, the traditional laptop remains a better choice. But if you want a single device that can handle a wide variety of tasks and amusements, the iPad Pro makes a lot of sense. Unless you'd prefer a Microsoft Surface 3, of course. 

See also:

To comment on this article and other Network World content, visit our Facebook page or our Twitter stream.
Must read: Hidden Cause of Slow Internet and how to fix it
Notice to our Readers
We're now using social media to take your comments and feedback. Learn more about this here.