Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

The 2022 iPad Air

Federico Viticci, MacStories:

Now that the iPad Air also has the M1, I’m here, once again, writing the same things over and over: everything is plenty fast on this iPad, but you can never shake the feeling that Apple imposed a virtual cap on the platform’s performance and flexibility and that, so far, the M1 has meant very little for the evolution of the iPadOS platform. At this point, I look at it this way: I can buy a $999 MacBook Air with the M1, 8 GB of RAM, and 256 GB of storage and get access to features such as more advanced multitasking, background utilities, extended display mode, and all kinds of system-wide customizations; an iPad running the same configuration is still limited to two apps in Split View, Slide Over, and basic external display mirroring.

If you know my history, you know that I’m not implying iPads should run macOS. I never wanted that and never will. I’m saying that it’s disappointing the M1 is so vastly underutilized on iPads and that all iPadOS progress feels stuck to two years ago. The same chip has kickstarted a renaissance for macOS as a powerful, customizable, pro-user-friendly platform; on iPadOS, it’s just another chip that hasn’t unlocked any concrete new possibilities yet.

Nobody does iPad reviews like Viticci. Great footnotes, too.

I remain confused about the vision for the iPad. The move to dedicated “iPadOS” branding and sharing chips with the Mac suggests the higher end of the lineup will rival a MacBook Air’s existing capabilities, yet add a wildly better display and Apple Pencil support. What a combination that would be.

But here is the thing: my 2017 base model iPad benchmarks similarly to my 2012 MacBook Air. These are both old products, but it is downright embarrassing how much clunkier my iPad feels by comparison, and how much more fluid the multitasking experience is on my Mac. That is not solely the result of technical differences; there are software choices that present as much of a hurdle.

Many of us want the iPad to be as brilliant to use as it is on paper. We ride this rollercoaster every year where the hardware high is followed by a software struggle. Nobody said reinventing the personal computer experience would be easy or fast. But this flagship product line turns twelve years old next month, and it still feels like we are often picking at ground-level issues.

Update: One thing I think Viticci’s review does especially well is illustrate the difference between the iPad Air and 11-inch iPad Pro. They may contain the same SoC and similar-sized screens, but there are multitasking advantages to the iPad Pro.