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If Apple's environmental rhetoric is meaningful, Macs and iPads should converge

An Apple a day keeps the doctor away, but too many might be a burden on the planet.

Opinion Apple's Mac hardware keeps getting thinner and lighter, and its iPads keep becoming more and more capable. I'm hardly the first to observe that the two products are getting closer together - but if Apple's environmental claims mean anything the products are now so close it's irresponsible they don't overlap.

I say that after using Apple's 4th Generation iPad Pro for three weeks. With an M2 system-on-a-chip and 8GB of RAM, along with Apple's always-gorgeous Retina display, it's both fast and beautiful – the Lamborghini of tablets. So far, no complaints. That Apple claims "The new iPad models are designed to minimise their impact on the environment" doesn't hurt either.

But I do have an observation.

When I purchased the iPad Pro, I also bought Apple's expensive-but-worth-it Magic Keyboard, sporting both a reasonably nice keyboard and a trackpad. I'm still getting used to it, as I've been trained to touch the screen when positioning an iPad cursor. But this accessory has a little feature that changed my entire perspective on Apple and its products.

On the left hinge of the Magic Keyboard, there's a USB C interface. This port lets me charge the iPad Pro, keeping the cable well out of the way. And although this interface can only be used for charging, it does give my iPad Pro a second USB C port.

Back in June, Apple introduced a new generation of MacBook Air – the first of its product line powered by the M2. These stripped-down machines have Retina displays, 8GB of RAM … and two USB C ports. Given that one of those ports will frequently be used for charging, the device effectively has one free USB C port.

The only significant differences I've been able to note between a MacBook Air and my iPad Pro + Magic Keyboard combo are that the MacBook Air has a larger display. The iPad Pro swaps size for touch-sensitivity. (The differences between a MacBook Air and the larger 12.9" iPad Pro are almost trivial.)

For this, my iPad Pro setup costs twice as much (here in Australia at least – elsewhere the dark art of Apple pricing may shift the ratio a little either way).

I'm not really complaining about the pricing. But I do marvel at Apple's cheek – selling effectively the same hardware at two price points, differentiated only by user interface hardware and a change of operating system.

For some time – especially since Apple moved the Mac away from Intel CPUs – many have openly wondered why the iPad has not had an option to run macOS. The Darwin operating system underlying both macOS and iPadOS has been on a convergent course for half a decade. Many iPad apps can even run – unmodified! – on the latest versions of macOS. From top to bottom, macOS and iPadOS do a lot of the same things in the same way. The only significant differences reside in the user interface – the Mac's mouse-driven Finder versus iPad's touch-based home screen.

Apple makes a good argument that the simplicity and consistency of iPadOS – and its tight control of how software makes it onto the device – makes it both easy to use and highly secure. All very well.

But shouldn't that be a matter of choice – by which I mean user choice, not Apple's? Why should I carry both an iPad Pro and a MacBook Air, when it's nothing more than a wasteful duplication of hardware resources?

We need to constrain our consumption in order to manage our environmental footprint. This should not be a controversial thing to say at this point in time. I can see how it helps Apple's bottom line to sell me the same hardware twice, but doesn't imminent environmental collapse call for an approach emphasizing flexibility and re-use?

The security issues of a single machine running two OSes are real – but they could be managed. The resource issues, however, will continue to plague us until we operate within an understanding that general-purpose computing devices aren't simply landfill-in-waiting. Nor are they meant to be tied to any particular set of tasks at the whim of the manufacturer.

We've already seen various jurisdictions strike out against Apple's hardware lock-in – mandating USB C ports on its next generation of iPhones, for instance. Perhaps someday I might dual-boot this really quite wonderful iPad Pro, making it even more useful for a wider range of tasks. That's not even hard – all it requires is a desire to "think different". ®

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