Reviews of Apple’s new iPad Pro tablets with Apple M1 processors are in, and unsurprisingly reviewers are praising the speed, performance, and displays of the new tablets – particularly the 12.9 inch model, which is the first to feature mini LED display technology for more vivid colors and deeper blacks.

But now that Apple is selling iPads that have the exact same processors as the company’s latest MacBook, Mac Mini, and iMac computers, it’s increasingly unclear why the company won’t let you run Mac apps on an iPad.

And it’s also not entirely clear why you need a laptop-class processor in these tablets if you can’t run laptop or desktop applications anyway. The M1 seems like it might be overkill for most iPadOS applications and use cases.

Apple has long insisted that it has different operating systems for different form factors. MacOS is a desktop operating system for laptop and desktop computers, while iOS is for phones with touchscreen displays, and iPadOS is basically a souped up version of iOS with support for devices with larger screens.

But it’s increasingly clear that the distinction is arbitrary. For years Apple has refused to release a Mac with a touchscreen display, even as they’ve become common in Windows and Chrome OS devices.

And when Apple released the first Macs with Apple M1 processors last year, the company also introduced a new version of macOS optimized for the new architecture… along with support for running iOS apps on Mac computers.

But while the Apple M1 processor was based on the same ARM-based architecture as the chips Apple used in iPhones and iPads, it was a more powerful chip than the company offered in any iOS devices… until now.

The 2021 iPad Pro lineup features the exact same processor as Apple’s newest Macs. And if you can run iOS apps on a MacBook Pro with a 13 inch non-touch display, why exactly can’t you run Mac apps on a 12.9 inch tablet with a touchscreen display and support for optional accessories like an Apple Pencil and Magic Keyboard?

As far as I can tell, only because Apple wants customers to continue buying multiple devices. If your iPad Pro did everything your MacBook did, then why would you buy one of each?

Maybe there’s another reason. But I’m not seeing it.

Anyway, if you want to read more about what you can and cannot do with the new iPad Pro 11 inch and iPad Pro 12.9 inch tablets that will be available starting May 21, 2021, here are some reviews:

A common theme? The hardware is great, but the software doesn’t really require it yet. Maybe high-performance apps that can leverage the full capabilities are coming soon. But for now, unless you really want that mini LED screen, you could probably save some money and keep using a previous-gen iPad Pro.

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32 replies on “It makes no sense that Mac apps don’t run on iPads, now that they have the same chips”

  1. On the M1 introduction, Apple has promised to make macOS apps available on i(Pad)OS within 2 years. In particular, I await Finder to replace Files.

    Apple insists on i(Pad)OS because Apple wants to a) sell 2 devices instead of 1 and b) make certain decisions instead of allowing the users to make them. The result is that I as a user buy 0 new Apple devices because I want to a) buy only 1 device and b) make the right and best decisions on my own.

    macOS, or both macOS and i(Pad)OS modes, on iPad / iPhone would be very attractive. Getting a fully functional file manager is literally 100 times more important to me than an initially clumsy touch GUI experience. If Apple really cared about user experience (instead of only for touch and its delay in macOS until they can fully solve the design), they would abandon the Walled Garden completely immediately and provide desktop functionality of file management on the mobile devices.

    Security? Just another excuse! By using modes, a user preferring i(Pad)OS security can simply keep. By giving users the choice, users can use their devices responsibly. By investing 1bn, Apple can make the macOS mode secure, and if they still can’t, see before. Come on, Apple, you have copied a lot – you can also copy security concepts from other operating systems! By the way, start to make i(Pad)OS secure instead of using security gaps, such as possibly executable MP4 files, allowing to share malware between different apps or not fixing some security bugs.

  2. The reason is simple: MacOS apps aren’t designed and optimized to be used on a touch screen with a finger. So Apple could do various tricks at the OS level (as Microsoft did with MS Windows) did to try to make MacOS apps usable from a touch screen with a finger but, at best, the end result is clunky. And, to Apple, “clunky” is not acceptable. Try using MS Windows apps for a whole day on a touch-screen laptop just with your finger and you will quickly see how clunky it is.

  3. The title of this post says: “It makes no sense that Mac apps don’t run on iPads…” When I read that, I just shook my head. The folly of “Unification” is a mistake destined to repeat itself endlessly.

    The Holy Grail of of the “OS Gods” (both for-profit and non-profit) is something called “Unification”; where the same OS works seamlessly across all platforms (e.g., the desktop, mobile phone, tablet, even in the automobile). The pursuit of “Unification” has wasted many years, tortured countless users, wasted uncountable amounts of money, and in the end became one of the most spectacular failures in human technological history.

    The reason why “Unification” failed is simple: Most applications are designed and optimized for a specific platform. Just modifying an application’s user interface so it “works” on a different platform, usually does not turn out well. Case in-point: I am very productive using a spreadsheet application on a desktop or laptop platform. But just because the same spreadsheet “works” on a small touch screen platform, doesn’t mean it works well in reality.

    1. that’s cool and all but you can attach a keyboard and mouse to the ipad (an official one, made and sponsored by apple after years of refusing to do so!) which makes the input the same as any macbook, no need for a different interface

      so what’s your argument again?

  4. Amen brother. I was holding out for a full MacOS tablet, but touch-enabled right from when the first iPad came out. First it was the excuse that the processors were not up to the task. But just like with SD storage, it is becoming increasingly clear, that Apple wants to cram an inferior kiddy-touch OS down our throats so we buy more of their stuff. SD would have made countless updates of iPhones unnecessary, just because their memory was getting too small. Pop in a bigger SD-card and voilà. Never played the game, though. I am still on Android phones, running with 512 GB SD cards. I’ll ride my late 2019 MacBook Air until it breaks, or a full MacOS iPadPro pops up, whichever happens first. I am software developer, do audio and video recordings on my MBA, the hardware is totally sufficient. I would have liked to see Apple introduce iOS as a skin on native MacOS, that way every user has a choice if they want to point with their fingers at stuff or want an OS running at full power with menus and windows and real multi-tasking. Not happening. Instead we keep getting inferior software on both ends of the spectrum: Non-touch-enabled MacOS and iOS without menus and multitasking. Just for a quick buck.
    If Apple had a MacMini with an external AC adapter, I would have jumped ship entirely from the MacBook, bought an iPad and side-cared the heck out of it via the MacMini.
    And don’t get me started on their keyboard for the iPadPro: How is it not totally detachable? As with every notebook, either you get smartphone-neck from looking down too much on the screen, or you tense up your shoulders for having your arms too high, so you can look halfway straight at the screen. Just so that Apple can continue selling external keyboards. It’s all a scam.

  5. It doesn’t make sense from a logical user perspective, but Federighi’s testimony at the Epic case revealed their priorities as profit-focused company: iOS/iPadOS, not macOS, is their golden goose. So if they had to keep one or the other, they would keep their walled garden in tact and throw away their open ecosystem. Sad, but true. They want the fat profits of the App Store and to heck with users and their freedom.

  6. I don’t know if anyone else remembers, but I think it’s pretty entertaining that during the iPhone launch one of the selling points that Steve Jobs touted was that it used the same kernel as MacOS (then OS X). He talked about how that would make it fairly trivial to write software that could work on both platforms. I haven’t kept up on many of the internal details of Apple’s various operating systems, but I’d be surprised if they don’t still all share the same BSD kernel (or at least something pretty close). I just think it’s so canonically Apple to say that something is the best thing ever when you think it will help you sell stuff, and then completely ignore it when you think it won’t.

  7. Very interesting writing, I personally believe that you might be right. They only launch something when they are sure that it will be profitable. At the end of the days is good for end users, I’m dying to run win10 on the newest Pro my mate told me that he has it on his Mac M1

    1. Nothing wrong with making a profit. The lying part is what has me riled up. There was never a real reason you could not skin iOS onto full MacOS and leave the choice to the user which UI they wanted to use. Sure enough, it makes somewhat more sense on little phones, as long as you don’t have a stylus. Palm had a stylus, and they had menus, and I always preferred that as long as possible; now I have a Galaxy Note 9 with Graffiti installed, and always use the stylus anytime I have something that requires somewhat more complex interaction or text editing.
      But now, that the hardware is equal, the separation is more than arbitrary. Offering iOS as a skin on MacOS will give users a choice. There will always people who are perfectly fine with modal computing. Or me, when I watch Netflix, modal makes usually more sense (and MacOS gives me fullscreen to reflect that), so it is a use-case decision. Having that decision made permanent for me by Apple is what is not oK.

      1. True but again, if the iPad Pro can do the same as the MacBook Air, I’ll say the Air will disappear as the Pro is cooler and lighter

  8. I think an iPad that runs on MacOS (MacPad?) would be a great device. Now that MacOS already supports iPad apps, it seems like a small step to add support for a capacitive touch screen. As with a Microsoft Surface, you would still connect a keyboard and mouse if you really wanted to get work done using desktop applications, but if you are browsing or using tablet apps, then you can be untethered and using the touchscreen.

    They could separate the lineup in 2 streams and let the purchaser decide whether to buy the iPadOS or MacOS version. I guess the main issue for Apple is that plenty of developers and power users that currently have both a Macbook and an iPad would no longer require two devices.

    1. I get that… but… I’d love for OSX to be a DeX like launcher on my iPad Pro. Let me choose when to run it. Sure, there will be a little overhead, but iPadOS and OSX share so much, it wouldn’t be too much. The new iPad Pro has either 8GB or 16GB RAM, so why not?! It can even be sandboxed. so it wont create a security risk to iPadOS. This would allow me the choice to use my iPad as an iPad or Mac, depending on my need — instead of locking me into on or the other.

  9. Apple has long been pushing for the iPadOS model (walled garden with only apps installed from approved sources with Apple taking a cut) down to the MacOS platforms.

    They have no reason to go the other way, it just cuts into their bottom line.

  10. I don’t think the chips were the hold up at all… desktop apps that require precise control just don’t work on touchscreens, as Microsoft (repeatedly) proven to us.

    1. I think it’s great Apple gives users a choice between Desktop and Touchscreen interfaces. Microsoft really blew it when they tried to force the unified Metro Tiles “Modern UI” touchscreen interface on desktop users. Ask Steve Balmer how that worked out. But Microsoft’s mistake was great for MacBook Air sales.

      I also think Cannonical blew it with Ubuntu, when they tried to force the Unity touchscreen interface on desktop users. Most Linux users were alienated by this and switched to something else.

    2. I think it’s more current touch screen paradigms not working for desktop applications than desktop application not working with touch screens.
      A stylus can make up for the lack of precision provided good palm rejection, and you can long press to right click…but a precise middle click, which is used to accelerate workflows in a lot of programs is still elusive AFAIK. You’d need a stylus with a button and industry standards for it.
      And of course the confusion of long press to right click and long press to click and drag doesn’t help.
      Then, as far as I know, the cursor is usually not visible so you’ve got less feedback with what you’re doing, which they probably shouldn’t do if you’re using a stylus.

    3. I don’t think it matters if the desktop application experience is not ideal with a touchscreen. Use the touchscreen while you are reading an ebook, browsing the web or using an iPad app on the train, then plug in the keyboard and mouse for word processing, coding, using a terminal, CAD, etc….

  11. If the iPad Mini with LTE can run macOS applications and have a keyboard attachment with a built-in mouse, I’d buy it. It’d probably replace my GPD MicroPC running a Linux distro.

    Although, given it’s Apple, there’re plenty of reasons why they wouldn’t do this. Some of which are seemingly arbitrary per-the article in addition to the technical/business (ie. profit) reasons.

  12. Aside from iPadOS lacking the necessary libraries, and APIs for MacOS software to even function, I think the biggest thing holding Apple back from doing this is their insistence on ensuring the “user experience”.

    Most MacOS software is centred around the mouse and keyboard, with some software absolutely needing keyboard input (sometimes a combination of keyboard and mouse). For example, some software relies on the user holding the Option key while clicking something.

    I think Apple is just to careful about their user experience to open the floodgates, and risk having thousands of complaints over things like “It’s not even possible to use Photoshop, because I can’t perform this one specific action”.

    It would require huge amounts of coordination with software vendors to redesign some aspects of their software to be usable on a touchscreen, and without a physical keyboard.

    Another thing that I think holds Apple back is that it would change the pricing models of their iPad lineup and Mac lineup. I don’t think they want to be forced into adjusting pricing.

    1. I put more credence in your final thought. If the company really cared about user experience, they wouldn’t have brought iOS apps to the Mac, opening the door to using touch-first applications on a non-touch operating system.

      1. Yes, thats absolutely true. Perhaps Apple isn’t as worried about exposing power-users to “dumbed down” apps, as much as they are worried about exposing average users to advanced software that is difficult to use?

        1. This would be solved by making it be a separate product. Keep the existing iPad line, and add a new MacOS iPad. Or add a touchscreen Macbook with a detachable keyboard 🙂

    2. Another thing that I think would prevent Apple from doing this is that it would probably go against their App-vetting security model for iPadOS.

      Currently, they vet iOS/iPad apps for the app store with OS and user security in mind. Their vetting process for MacOS apps in the Mac App Store is probably different, as there aren’t the same security risks involved, MacOS software is allowed FAR more permissions, and Apple doesn’t need to worry about security holes that assist with Jailbreaking (because Macs can run side-loaded software already).

      If Apple suddenly allowed MacOS software on iPad, it would ruin their attempts at keeping out software that helps users bypass Apple’s security requirements. It would be very easy for someone to develop software for MacOS, but with the intention of helping users circumvent Apple’s efforts at keeping unwanted software away from iPads.

  13. “it’s increasingly unclear why the company won’t let you run Mac apps on an iPad.”

    Ummm, operating systems provide app developers API libraries they can use. Each OS’s APIs are considerably different. You can’t just switch OS’s unless you are doing something simple at a non UI level leveraging lower level APIs such as POSIX. Unless Apple builds a library that (a) unifies the APIs of MacOS and iOS or (b) builds an abstraction layer that makes one of the two OS’s APIs consistent with the other, it’s not going to happen. For them to merge the two into a single OS requires they do (a) or (b) or ask everyone to rewrite their apps.

    1. You know they’ve already made it possible to run iOS apps on macOS, right?

      1. But can you run macOS apps on iOS? You can run Android apps in Windows (through emulation or VM) but you can’t run Windows apps in Android.

  14. Very good article.

    Just take Samsung’s DeX into account and you can clearly see the point you are making. Desktops become obsolete (apart from gaming or pro work).

    I have LG V20 and been using it as desktop for years, just plug it in monitor. Sure I have a powerful desktop for gaming, but not for everyday browsing ..

  15. First of all, MacOS is still in the dark ages, doesnt even do touch screen… So that would be the first reason. MacOS sux, they should just upgrade ios and move it to the mac.

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