At this point, the MacBook is a really overpriced iPad that doesn’t have a touchscreen

A classic. Still.
A classic. Still.
Image: AP Photo/Jeff Chiu
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In the six years that it’s been on the market, Apple’s iPad has always been a bit of a confusing product.

When it debuted, some mocked it as essentially being the equivalent of four iPhones stuck together. Steve Jobs referred to it as the device that was ushering in the “post-PC era.” But in Apple’s most recent advertising campaign, it’s referred to multiple times as a computer, as an antidote to a Windows PC.

In the last few years, Apple has pretty much abandoned its customers interested in buying a cheaper laptop. The most affordable Mac laptop model, the 11-inch MacBook Air, has barely been touched since 2011. The base model is about $100 cheaper now than it was then, but it has the same amount of RAM, the same speed processor, and only a 256 GB hard drive (compared to 128 GB back then). There are options to upgrade to a slightly faster processor and a larger hard drive now, but essentially Apple has been peddling the same PC for the last five years.

In the same period, the iPad has been greatly improved in terms of power. The 12.9-inch iPad Pro released last year is a far more powerful machine than the standard MacBook Air, on paper. And if you want to pick up Apple’s newest, cheapest model, you’ll have to fork over at least $1,300 for a MacBook, which is not that much more powerful than an iPad Pro—it has twice as much RAM, but a slower processor, and you can only upgrade its hard drive to 512 GB, which is about twice the size of the iPad Pro’s but not particularly massive for a relatively expensive laptop.

Apple is apparently working on an updated version of its top-of-the-line laptop, the MacBook Pro, but it’s unclear when they’ll be available, or whether the Air would be included in this refresh. It’s been suggested that Apple is trying to kill off the Air, and have the MacBook as its base model.

The iPad Pro costs roughly same as the current 11-inch MacBook Air, and performs about as well. But if Apple is killing the Air, the iPad Pro becomes the lowest-priced “computer” product that the company sells. Does the tablet really work as well as a laptop?

Some believe that if you strap a nice keyboard onto the iPad Pro, you can use it as you would your laptop.

Others do not.

The iPad Pro is an excellent device if all you want to do is check the occasional email, watch a movie or two, and maybe check in on Facebook. Editing Excel spreadsheets without a mouse, typing up long emails (or trying to build a post like this), or editing photos is still far, far easier to do on a real laptop. It was recently revealed that the poster for the popular new Netflix show Stranger Things was conceived of and sketched out on an iPad Pro. But the final design was touched up and finished on a computer, using actual Photoshop.

If you’re after a great Facebook machine that also works well for sketching and note-taking, the iPad Pro is a terrific device. But if you want a powerful, contemporary computer that you can actually get work done on, the MacBook and the MacBook Air are not good choices right now. The only Mac choice left is the MacBook Pro, which starts at $1,300.

Two-thirds of the laptop models that Apple produces right now are far too expensive for what they are, and the average person would be absolutely fine with an iPad Pro, which makes one consider what the future of the Mac laptop is, beyond college kids in need of keyboards for their essays, and media types like me whose offices swear by Macs. Whether that’s a large enough market to support three different lines of laptops remains to be seen, especially at a time when Apple’s sales are stagnant across all its product lines.

Then again, if it were all about price, people could buy a computer with a bigger screen, more storage, and a faster processor that costs $400 less than a MacBook—but then they’d be buying a Dell.