Back when Apple first introduced the iPad, it was positioned as the company’s alternative to “netbooks” — cheap but heavily compromised Windows laptops. While Apple’s A-series iPad chips have steadily increased in power, Intel-based laptops have been on a gentler curve, setting the stage for an eventual intersection. Could this be the year when iPads and Macs are tied in performance?
At the rate Apple’s chips have been improving, the answer could be yes — though I would argue that Apple has had the ability to do this each year for the past few years, and hasn’t exactly pulled the trigger. Technically, the current-generation 10.5-inch iPad Pro already matches or exceeds the performance of a current-generation 12-inch MacBook, but the latter machine uses Intel’s slowest, lowest-powered laptop chips. Even 2017’s iPhones blew away that MacBook in benchmarks.
It’s reasonable to expect that the new iPad Pro will jump to 13-inch MacBook Pro levels of performance. To quantify that, Geekbench 4 benchmarks show the mid-2018 MacBook Pro hitting the following scores:
Now look at what happened the last time Apple updated the iPad Pro. It started by introducing the A10 Fusion in the iPhone 7, which benchmarks at around 3400 single-core and 5720 multi-core. Then it released the A10X Fusion for the iPad Pro, with benchmarks in the 3910 single-core and 9320 multi-core range. The iPad’s larger body gives it extra space for larger, hotter chips and accompanying batteries, which meant the A10X gained around 15 percent single-core and 63 percent multi-core performance over the A10.
If the same gains carry over from the A12 Bionic to the A12X Bionic, iPad Pro users are in for a treat. The iPhone XS is benchmarking at around 4790 in single-core tests, and 11200 in multi-core tests. With 15 and 63 percent gains, respectively, that would give the A12X Bionic-equipped iPad Pro single- and multi-core scores of 5715 and 18256.
That’s faster than any 2018 MacBook Pro for single-core tasks, and somewhere between the 13- and 15-inch models in multi-core. Digest that for a moment.
Last week, I noted that Google had taken the somewhat crazy approach of offering its new Pixel Slate convertible tablet with four Intel CPU options: a $599 Celeron up to a $1,599 Core i7. Since Geekbench suggests that not a single one of those Pixel Slates even matches the current $599 iPad Pro, what is going to happen when Apple drops an even more powerful A12X into this year’s models — before Google even gets Slates in stores? It’s hard to imagine any serious professional user opting for a Slate over an iPad Pro.
Of course, there are some caveats here. The A12X might not see such sharp gains over the A12; for various reasons, Apple’s year-over-year improvement from A11 to A12 was around 14 percent single-core and only 11 percent multi-core, albeit offset by much bigger gains in GPU and AI performance. And due to cooling and power considerations, big performance gains are a trickier proposition any time the iPad’s chassis gets smaller or thinner, as both iPad Pro models are expected to do this year.
That said, the iPad Pro certainly has the ability at this point to rival a MacBook Pro laptop in power, whenever Apple wants to make that happen. If rumors pan out and the iPad Pro gets both a USB-C port and 4K monitor support this year, the line that once clearly distinguished it from a laptop will blur even further … except in the highly unlikely event that Apple rolls out even more powerful Pro laptops at the same time.
With its discussion of creating easier ways to create apps that run on both iPads and Macs — a process Apple has already started and will roll out for developers in 2019 — this year’s WWDC seemed to clearly foreshadow a future where the platforms look and feel even more similar. When Apple holds its “more in the making” event for iPads and Macs on October 30, I suspect that we’ll start to see that future more clearly.
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