The M4 iPad Pros

The consensus from product reviewers — including yours truly — has been remarkably consistent for the latter half of the iPad’s entire existence, especially when it comes to iPad Pros: incredibly powerful and beautiful hardware hamstrung by infuriatingly limited software. That was the consensus regarding the new iPad Pros in 2022, in 2021, in 2020, and in 2018. In fact consensus is arguably too weak a word. I’m not sure there’s any product in all of tech that has been so consistently regarded by product reviewers for so many years.

Incredibly powerful and beautiful hardware hamstrung by infuriatingly limited software.

But what if we’re thinking about this wrong? This conclusion — that iPad Pros are great hardware let down by underpowered software — starts from a hardware-first perspective. In the abstract, given this amazing hardware, what type of software should power it? What kind of OS? What metaphors for the UI? iPad Pros have been — since the debut of the Pro fork in the iPad lineup — portable-workstation-class computer hardware. iPadOS has never been a workstation-style OS. The obvious truth — reiterated in recent weeks by the EU calling bullshit (or perhaps, conneries) on Apple’s claim that iPad and iPhone are separate platforms — is that iPadOS is a souped-up tablet-oriented variant of iOS.

This has never been more true than now — the M4 iPad Pros are, by some practical measures, the fastest computers Apple makes. But iPadOS is not the sort of system that the typical power user would think to run on super-powerful hardware.

But let’s invert our thinking on this. Instead of starting with the hardware and pondering what the ideal software would be like to take advantage of its power, let’s start with the software. A concept for simplicity-first console-style touchscreen tablet computing. A metaphor for computing with smartphone-style guardrails, with tablet-specific features like stylus support and laptop docking. A tablet OS that is unabashedly a souped-up version of iOS, not a stripped-down version of MacOS. What type of hardware should Apple build to instantiate such a platform?

Obviously Apple should build affordable iPads for the mass market: iPads that are pretty thin, pretty lightweight, with very nice displays, good performance, and great battery life. The original 2010 iPad — offered in only one size, 9.7 inches — had an entry price of $500. Inflation adjusted, that’s a little over $700 today. The new 11-inch M2 iPad Air starts at just $600; the 13-inch iPad Air at $800. The very nice no-adjective 11-inch iPad (officially marketed as 10.9-inches) costs just $350 — effectively half the price of the original iPad in inflation-adjusted dollars.

Those are excellent devices at compelling prices to fit the good (iPad) and better (iPad Air) slots in a good / better / best lineup. But what about best? What should Apple offer for the iPadOS user who is willing to spend more?

For the sake of this argument, let’s posit that there exist tens of millions — perhaps 100 million — users who love the iPad for what it is. People who feel empowered, not hamstrung, by how it works, and who have no or very little need for a computer that exposes the complexity of a desktop OS like MacOS or Windows. And that there exist tens of millions more people who enjoy having an iPad to complement, not replace, their desktop computer. That in broad strokes there exist two types of iPad user: (a) those for whom iPadOS, as it is, suits them well as their primary “big screen” personal computer; (b) those for whom an iPad, due to its very deliberate computing-as-an-appliance-style constraints, can only ever be a supplemental device to a Mac, Windows, or Linux “real” computer. Neither group needs a more powerful iPad, and so because of this, everyone — power-user nerds and typical users alike — tends to use iPads until they break, wear out, or age out of software support.

Personally, I fall squarely in group (b). I feel severely hamstrung trying to use any iPad for my day-to-day work. My personal iPad is a 2018 11-inch iPad Pro, and it’s still very much fine for my needs, even after spending the last week testing this new 13-inch M4 iPad Pro. And so the power-user thinking is that if I’m fine with 6-year-old hardware that is utterly blown away, spec-wise, by this new M4 generation of iPad Pros, then, ipso facto, something is profoundly and fundamentally wrong with the software platform. That if the iPadOS software platform were what it should be, it would compel users — like me, perhaps like you — to upgrade to this latest and greatest hardware to “take advantage of” the hardware’s extraordinary capabilities.

But what if that’s misguided? What if the iPadOS platform is great? Or at the very least, the software is very close to the mark of what it should be and how it should work? What then should Apple apply its hardware engineering resources to, to create a best tier in the iPad lineup?

In that case Apple would prioritize things like optimizing the hardware for thinness and lightness, while maintaining long battery life. To those ends, they would apply the extraordinary performance-per-watt of Apple silicon not so much to making slow things faster, but to making everything the iPad does more power efficient. Twice as fast for the same energy consumption is the Mac way of thinking. Same performance with half the energy consumption is the iOS way of thinking. But those are two sides of the same performance-per-watt coin.

From this viewpoint, going from better (iPad Air) to best (iPad Pro) shouldn’t be about power and performance and the ability to use the device for any and all complex computing tasks, but instead about being just plain nicer. Like going from a Toyota to a Lexus.


For a device that is fundamentally all-screen, that means making the nicest possible displays. Every iPad Apple has ever made had a nice (for its time) display. Every iPad Pro has had a great display. But there remains so much room for refinement.

Consider printers. In my lifetime I’ve gone from crude, painfully slow, annoyingly loud dot-matrix printers, to inkjets, to 300 DPI black-and-white laser printers, to 600 DPI laser printers, to 1200 DPI color laser printers. During the decades-long era when printing was an important part of most people’s computing lives, the quality of the output improved steadily. No one needed higher-quality output but nicer is nicer.

There may well be an endpoint to display technology, where tablet-sized displays are so good that there’s no point improving them. Printers, in my opinion, got to that point a decade or two ago.1 But we’re not there yet, and Apple’s foot is seemingly pedal-to-the-metal pushing iPad Pro display quality forward.

Everything about this new tandem OLED “Ultra Retina XDR” iPad Pro display is excellent. Blacks are black, whites are white, and everything is far sharper than my middle-aged eyes can discern. Oh, and it is bright. It is so bright that when reading in bed at night, alongside a trying-to-fall-asleep spouse, I had to turn the brightness way down in Control Center. It is so bright that it seems perfectly usable outdoors in direct sunlight.

No one really needs a display this good on an iPad. But most people would surely enjoy having a screen this good on their iPad. And some of those are happy to pay a premium for it.


My review unit is a 1 TB model, with 10 CPU cores and 16 GB RAM. Here are benchmarks from Geekbench 6 (higher scores are better):

M4 iPad Pro (2024)3,78014,61653,555
M2 iPad Pro (2022)2,6279,98746,643
M2 MacBook Air (2022)2,6319,99746,486
M3 MacBook Air (2024)3,09212,03647,785

All devices have 13-inch displays. iPads running iPadOS 17.5. Macs running MacOS 14.5. All scores averaged across 3 runs.

There exists no iPad model with an M3 chip, and I suspect there never will be one. So I chose the four devices in the above table to speculate about how a hypothetical M3 iPad would perform. iPadOS and MacOS are very different OSes, but the Geekbench 6 results for an M2 iPad Pro and M2 MacBook Air aren’t just close, they’re effectively identical. Presumably, if there existed an M3 iPad Pro, its Geekbench scores would be nearly identical to those of the M3 MacBook Air.

I don’t know if Geekbench is a good benchmark for making such evaluations, but if it is, it would appear that, regardless of whether it’s in an iPad or MacBook, the M3 is about 1.2× faster than the M2, in both single- and multi-core performance, and the M4 is about 1.2× faster than the M3, in both single- and multi-core. Geekbench scores improved only about 1.1× going from M1 to M2. But if we can expect ~1.2× improvements with each successive M-series generation, the M6 will offer double the CPU performance of the M2, and the M8 triple. (As Intel has learned the hard way, it’s quite a big “if” to assume that this 1.2× improvement per generation can be maintained.)

I’ll also include results from Speedometer 3.0, a benchmark for web rendering engines (higher scores are better):

Speedometer 3.0
M4 iPad Pro (2024)33
M2 iPad Pro (2022)26
M2 MacBook Air (2022)27
M3 MacBook Air (2024)38

All results using Safari on iPadOS 17.5 or MacOS 14.5.

These results don’t make much sense to me. The M2 iPad Pro and M2 MacBook Air perform nearly identically, but the M3 MacBook Air is quite a bit faster than the M4 iPad Pro, despite the above Geekbench results suggesting that the M4 ought to be 1.2× faster than the M3. I don’t think this discrepancy is worth racking our brains over; I suspect that this is more about the differences between the iPadOS and MacOS versions of Safari/WebKit.

The bottom line is that the M4 is very fast, and according to both Apple’s stated specs and my own observations after a week of use, very power efficient. It appears that Apple is playing no marketing tricks, and despite its appearance only six months or so after the M3, the M4 is worthy of its next-generation name.

That leaves us pondering the fact that the M4 is a better chip than the M3 that hit the MacBook Air lineup just two months ago. That’s not ideal, but it is what it is. Ideally the new MacBook Airs would have the M4 too. Apple has not and almost surely is not going to fully explain the rationale behind this, but you don’t need to be Morris Chang to surmise that this is about TSMC’s production capabilities. The MacBook Airs are Apple’s best-selling laptops; the iPad Pros are Apple’s least-selling iPads. I think it’s as simple as this: the current MacBook Airs have the M3, not the M4, because there isn’t yet sufficient supply of M4 chips to satisfy demand for MacBook Airs. M4 supply obviously is sufficient to meet iPad Pro demand, and, further, according to Apple, only the M4 is capable of driving the Ultra Retina XDR displays, which are effectively two OLED displays stacked atop each other.

So I think there’s no way today’s MacBook Airs could have the M4, because TSMC can’t yet produce enough M4 chips on their second-gen 3nm process. And conversely there’s no way today’s new iPad Pros could sport the M3 because the M3 lacks a display controller that can drive the tandem OLED Ultra Retina XDR displays — plus, I suspect, the extraordinary thinness and low weights of these new iPad Pros wouldn’t quite be possible without the M4’s thermal advantages over the M3. Apple could make thin and light iPad Pros with the M3, but not iPad Pros this thin and light.

The Meaning of ‘Pro’

Which brings us back to the entire question of what the iPad Pro is supposed to be. It’s easy enough to say they’re all just computers. A MacBook could in theory run iPadOS. An iPad could in theory run MacOS. (The developer kits Apple supplied after announcing the Mac’s Apple silicon transition in 2020 were, effectively, iPad Pros in Mac Mini chassis.)

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard someone declare that Apple should “just” add touchscreen support to MacOS and allow iPads to dual-boot between MacOS and iPadOS, I’d be a very annoying customer at the bank tomorrow. Those who espouse this opinion are often so adamant that such an arrangement would be both an undeniably good idea for users and “easy” for Apple to do that they are convinced that the only possible explanation for why Apple hasn’t done this is that it’s all part of a scheme to sell both an iPad and MacBook to users who might otherwise just need one.

Apple clearly sees these two platforms from an entirely different perspective. Sure, there’s no denying that Apple is in the business of selling devices. But the idea that Apple deliberately hamstrings the iPad in order to sell more MacBooks makes no long term sense. Apple thrives and truly only succeeds when it makes the best devices possible. If iPadOS is fundamentally deficient, why does Apple sell so many iPads? Why are so many iPad users so happy with their iPad as their only computer other than their phone? “I want to work in ways that iPadOS does not support” does not mean “Everyone wants to work in ways that iPadOS does not support”.

I have observed numerous times that Apple uses the adjective pro in a multitude of ways. Sometimes it means professional, but sometimes it just means deluxe. This difference is exemplified by the iPad and MacBook lineups. With MacBooks, the Pro models are more professional. They have nicer displays and nicer speakers, yes, but primarily they’re about doing things faster. They are thicker and heavier than MacBook Airs. iPad Pros go the opposite way: they are thinner and lighter than the iPad Airs. Yes, it’s ironic that with iPads, the “Air” models are neither the thinnest nor lightest. But this really does explain the philosophical differences Apple sees between the iPad and Mac platforms. A better Mac is faster. Nicer too, but primarily faster. A better iPad is nicer. Faster, too, but primarily nicer. These new iPad Pros are just incredibly nice. And optimizing for niceness is underrated.

I’ve seen it suggested by the “amazing hardware hamstrung by iPadOS’s limitations” crowd that everyone who likes or even loves using an iPad should settle for the iPad Air or even the just-plain iPad. That the iPad Pro’s power is going to waste, and thus there’s no sense paying a premium price for it. But how is it a waste to put that power to use in ways that can’t necessarily be measured objectively? The new iPad Pros sport the M4 not just to accomplish more powerful tasks but primarily to make everyday tasks as nice as they can possibly be, starting with how it feels to simply hold an iPad Pro in hand.

The New Magic Keyboard

As is my wont, I’ve written this entire review using the M4 iPad Pro itself, using the new Magic Keyboard.2 What a fabulous upgrade this new Magic Keyboard is. The trackpad is bigger and undeniably better. Aluminum palm rests feel better. The keys have great typing feel — I think better than the feel of the old Magic Keyboards, but certainly no worse.

So the new Magic Keyboards offer sturdier construction, better typing feel, much better and bigger trackpads, and they add a function-key row, complete with a top-left Esc key.

The new Magic Keyboards are about 5 percent lighter than the old ones. Oddly, Apple doesn’t list the weight as a spec for the Magic Keyboards, but by my scale, the original 13-inch Magic Keyboard weighed about 700g; the new one weighs about 660g.

Some weights, with the iPads encased in their corresponding Magic Keyboards (all measured on my scale):

  • 13″ M3 MacBook Air: 1,227g
  • 13″ M4 iPad Pro: 1,247g
  • 13″ M2 iPad Pro: 1,398g
  • 14″ M3 Max MacBook Pro: 1,607g

Until now, a 13-inch MacBook Air was a noticeable 170g lighter than a 13-inch iPad Pro with Magic Keyboard (~12 percent). Now, though, a 13-inch iPad Pro with Magic Keyboard is only a negligible 20g heavier than a MacBook Air. That’s something. You can absolutely feel the difference in hand.

I have one significant complaint about the new Magic Keyboard: it’s hard to open. MacBooks have a notch carved out of their aluminum base, under the trackpad. When closed, this notch gives your thumb a place to begin exerting upward pressure on the display to open it up. There is no such notch on the new Magic Keyboard. So instead of lifting the “display” (which is really the iPad itself) up to open it into laptop configuration, I find myself starting with the iPad Pro perpendicular to the desk, and pulling the keyboard/trackpad down. You don’t have to pry it open, per se, but the top-heavy nature of an iPad in a keyboard case inherently makes it harder to open than a MacBook with their lightweight display tops. Top-heaviness also requires that the Magic Keyboard hinge be quite a bit stiffer than any MacBook hinge. It’s the nature of the beast. An iPad in the original Magic Keyboard isn’t easy to open either.


  • The new Pencil Pro feels just like a Pencil 2 but with a haptic-feedback “squeeze” action. Just like with Apple’s recent trackpads (including the trackpad on the new Magic Keyboards), the Pencil Pro doesn’t really have a clicking button. It’s faked through haptics. But the fakery is so convincing that it’s indistinguishable from an actual clicking button. I am not even vaguely an illustrator or sketcher, so I can’t claim to have put the Pencil Pro through its paces over the last week. But the cleverness of the new tool-switching radial menu for switching between Pencil tools is so fun that it makes me wish I had more use for a Pencil than annotating PDF documents. It’s really nice, and it’s great that the Pencil Pro works just as well with the new M2 iPad Airs.

  • Battery life has been excellent. As I type this sentence, I’ve been using the iPad Pro non-stop for hours, and the battery is still at 83 percent.

  • Moving the front-facing camera to the long side, optimized for use in laptop orientation, is an obvious win overall. I continue to think it’s a bit weird that Apple didn’t pull the trigger on this change years ago, when they first embraced the fact that many people wish to use their iPads in laptop-style keyboard cases. But there’s one downside: the Face ID sensors are in the same sensor array as the camera, and when holding the iPad Pro as a tablet, in portrait orientation, that’s where my right hand often is. I’ve gotten used to this change over the course of the week, though — I encountered the “hey, your hand is blocking the Face ID sensors” animated arrow warning far more frequently the first few days than the last few.

  • My review unit hardware is in space black, which I think looks great.

  • The remarkable thinness of the new iPad Pros — this 13-inch model I’ve been testing is just 5.1mm thick; the 11-inch models 5.3mm — has raised questions about durability. Is it going to bend? It feels quite sturdy in hand, with no flex. I asked representatives from Apple about durability, and they claim the new iPad Pros should prove every bit as durable (and in particular, bend-resistant) as previous iPad Pros. Arun “Mrwhosetheboss” Maini did me one better, and asked John Ternus about durability in an on-camera interview posted to Twitter/X. Ternus’s answer echoed what I was told on background: the new iPad Pros have their main logic board and a supporting rib running down the middle of the hardware in portrait mode. This design both better dissipates heat and adds rigidity to the chassis. Durability questions can only truly be answered through extensive real-world use, but my money is on these new iPad Pros being as durable as promised.

  • The cameras — front and rear — are both fine. No raves, but no complaints. It is a bit weird that the previous generation iPad Pros had both 1× (“wide”) and 0.5× (“ultra wide”) cameras, and the M4 models are back to just the lone 1×, but this seems less like a regression and more like a sign that adding an ultra wide camera to the previous generation was overkill. The microphone seems excellent for one that’s built into a tablet.

  • My review unit does not have the nano-texture display finish. If I buy one of these iPads, I’ll probably opt for the nano-texture, but I’m curious to see what reviewers who did get to test it think. (And I’m curious to see it in person, again, at an Apple Store this week.)


iPadOS is what it is. Whatever you (or I) think of it as a productivity platform, you’re a fool if you think it isn’t beloved by many. It’s popular, even for some “professional” use cases, not despite iPadOS’s guardrails but often because of them. Those guardrails feel limiting to me, often very much so, but those same guardrails are liberating to others. There is tremendous power in having a computer that is simple not merely by suggestion but by hard and fast technical constraints.

Should you only buy what you need, or splurge for what you’d most enjoy? A Lexus instead of a Toyota. A first-class seat instead of coach. Craft IPA instead of Budweiser. In other aspects of life, few question the mere existence of premium-priced superior experiences. But with the iPad, those unsatisfied by the nature of iPadOS seem to think those who do love iPadOS don’t deserve a premium tier of hardware.

And there are professional apps used for serious work on iPads. Apple’s own Final Cut and Logic for iPads are not toys. Both are very serious siblings — and for non-extreme projects, peers — to their respective Mac versions. For visual artists there are a plethora of serious iPad apps: DaVinci Resolve (video color grading), ZBrush (3D sculpting), Procreate Dreams, Affinity Designer, Frame IO. There’s even a paint app from Adobe called Photoshop, which apparently has been around for a while. Arguing that “no one can do real work on an iPad” reminds me of Yogi Berra’s “No one goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.”

A “pro” device that goes pro by getting thinner and lighter, not heavier and thicker, is not a non sequitur. Or at least not necessarily. What makes for a better iPad is simply orthogonal, in many regards, to what makes for a better Mac. Way back in 2010, when the iPad was new (and ran what was called iOS) and it felt like the Mac’s days might be winding down, I wrote, “It’s the heaviness of the Mac that allows iOS to remain light.” I meant that figuratively. But these new M4 iPad Pros make it quite literal.

  1. Well, printer output quality. Not the printers themselves, which if anything, have gotten more maddening in recent years. ↩︎︎

  2. Well, almost the entire thing. There’s nothing I’m aware of for iOS that makes HTML/Markdown table creation as easy as TableFlip, an excellent $10 (cheap!) Mac utility by Christian Tietze. And I added many of the hyperlinks to the text from my Mac, while copy editing in BBEdit before publication. Inserting dozens of links from open Safari tabs or from web search results is a tedious task that I’ve automated all the tedium out of using Keyboard Maestro, AppleScript, and Perl — none of which are available on iPadOS. ↩︎