Apple’s Biggest Apps

Apple just announced the iPad Pro with M1 chip and now you can give Apple $1500 or more and get an iPad with 16 GB of RAM. With the same specs (or even just 8 GB on some $700 low-end Mac mini) on an M1 Mac, you can run Apple’s biggest, most demanding pro apps: Xcode (software development, free download but $100/year for membership to release apps on their stores), Logic ($200, pro audio / digital audio workstation), and Final Cut ($300, professional video editing suite).

In addition, Apple just announced that the Thunderbolt port on the newly announced iPad Pro now supports external displays up to 6K, their $6000+ Pro Display XDR monitor. Also, a year ago Apple released amazing software and hardware support for trackpads and mice for iPad. (I have a trackpad on my Logitech keyboard cover for my low-end iPad 10.2” and it is pretty great.)

So the question inevitably asked by pundits and Apple watchers: What do I do with all my iPad Pro’s powerful hardware? Where is the software? What can I do with a trackpad and an expensive external display? If I give Apple $7,500 and I have $500 more for their pro apps, why won’t they sell them to me to use on the iPad? Right now, the external display cannot be used for UI elements because iPadOS does not support this, making UI that is not on the primary touchscreen itself. Apple is like 15–35 years behind the Mac and Windows on this.

I have a handful of former coworkers that work on the Apple Los Angeles pro apps team (a holdover from when Apple bought the pro apps from a third party) and I have no inside information; however, I think I can state that Apple knows all of the above information, and is working on it. Apple has already ported all of the low-level code for all of these apps from x86 to the M1 Mac (ARM), a not insignificant project. They simply will not announce anything until it is ready.

I think I will be very disappointed if five years from now Apple continues to sell mind-bending iPad hardware but they have not brought their three biggest apps to iPad by then, if not sooner. In fact, in about six weeks, they basically have to announce iPadOS support for more complicated workflows (external monitor, better multitasking, better experience with trackpad-only or mouse-only workflows), or their developer base (especially their most dedicated developers, who make pro apps for iPad) will be sorely disappointed.

As it is, I absolutely love my (even low-end) iPad but I struggle to find ways to use it more. There is simply too much I cannot do without my Mac. However, it is getting closer every year, and the time may come when I can actually consider buying an iPad Pro instead of a MacBook Pro, but Apple has to make that case convincingly. I need Terminal and Homebrew, Xcode, and third party development apps. I think an iPad Pro as a software development machine would be amazing, running the simulator on a touch screen, vanquishing my need for an extra USB port to attach an external iOS device for testing. (Apple doesn’t even support touch on the iPad if you connect the screen via Sidecar and put a simulator window from your Mac on your iPad 😭.)

Stay tuned.

Update: June 6, 2022 Apple announced support for real external display and real multitasking like on a desktop. However no news about Xcode, Final Cut or Logic on iPad. (Although you can turn Swift Playgrounds into real App Store apps with no Mac, so that is a start....)

Update: May 9, 2023 Apple announced Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro for iPad. Massive amounts of work to get that together. Interestingly these are subscription apps. It should be noted that in my experience I prefer the iPad version of Affinity Photo to the desktop version. I’m really fast with it because navigating the touch-centric UI with fingers and Apple Pencil is not indirect like a mouse. Direct manipulation of buttons and tools and touching targets directly with the pencil is much more precise and swift and muscle-memory-based than using a clumsy old mouse. I wonder if some of the same will be the case for iPad. Someone will edit an important film or television episode on iPad and this will definitely not be the case for Android tablets. Not gonna happen.