Technically Speaking: MacBook vs. iPad Pro

By Stephen Dolter, M.D., Chief Medical Informatics Officer

This week’s article is a response to a question asked by Greg Johnson, M.D., one of my Pediatric Hospital Medicine colleagues. Greg asks, “I’m thinking about getting a new MacBook, but wonder if an iPad Pro might be better—which one do you recommend? I own both, and this was what I told him:

It depends.

Yeah, I know—lawyer answer. But it really does depend on what you’re going to do with it.

Let’s start with the similarities. Web browsing, email, messaging and entertainment are pretty equivalent between the two devices. Because the iPad runs Apple’s iOS mobile operating system, the experience is a little less precise than on the MacBook, but it’s close enough. Both have eye-popping displays, both are extremely portable, and both can get you through a Zoom or WebEx meeting without flinching.

The iPad shines when it comes to ease of use. It’s always on, wakes in less than a second, and has FaceID. The operating system (OS) is intuitive because it shares the same features as the iPhone, and the touchscreen is ultra-responsive. When paired with the second-generation Apple Pencil, which, in my opinion, is a mandatory accessory, it allows users to take written notes. I would also recommend purchasing a keyboard, which makes typing much easier. For computing neophytes or users who want the simplest experience, the iPad is a no-brainer. If you want a larger screen, pony up for the 12.9” iPad Pro; if not, save hundreds and get the iPad Air. Yeah—that’s what I said. The little iPad Pro is dumb. In my opinion, the only reason to get an iPad Pro is for the bigger screen. Either one weighs about a pound and is startlingly thin, even with the keyboard cover.

The MacBook, on the other hand, is the more powerful of the two. It runs the full versions of web browsers and Microsoft Office applications. It supports external displays that can extend your desktop. File storage is more familiar. But the biggest difference for providers is that it runs Epic Hyperspace (to be fair, the iPad can, too, but the text is so small that it’s unusable).  So if you plan on doing lots of work in the EMR or if you want a portable device that can also serve as a desktop computer, the MacBook is the easy choice.

Now let’s talk cost. Warning: these things aren’t cheap. MacBooks start at $999 (Air) and top out at $2,399 (16” Pro). A happy medium is the 13” Pro at $1,299. The 12.9” iPad Pro with a pencil and Magic Keyboard will set you back a little over $1,500, while the iPad Air with pencil and basic keyboard comes in around $1,100.

So, like I said—it depends. It depends on whether you prioritize ease-of-use and portability or power and flexibility. When I’m on service, I like to round with Hyperspace open on my MacBook. It also doubles as a second computer at home when I plug an external display into it.  For everything else, I get by just fine with my iPad. When travel resumes, that’s what I’ll take with me. But if I could only have one or the other, I’d prioritize flexibility and get the MacBook…the big one, of course!

As always, if you have ideas for future columns, please let me know.  Thanks for all you do!

Stephen Dolter, CMIO

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