When the iPad was released back in 2010, there was a sort of implied hierarchy of iPhone → iPad → Mac. As you stepped from one to the next, the device became less portable, with a bigger screen and more power. And the price went up. In the middle spot, the iPad was clearly better suited than the iPhone for “work”, but didn’t measure up to the Mac for capability. I’m a Swift developer and an old Linux geek, so the iPad has never fit into my life in a significant way. It won’t run Xcode. Other solutions to write code usually involve a remote server somewhere. The terminals are crippled by security restrictions. 14 years after release, these limitations of the iPad haven’t really changed.

What has changed is the iPad is now as powerful as a Mac and just as expensive. The base model MacBook Air has an M2 processor and 256GB of storage, available for around $1000. Compare that with a mid-range iPad Air, the new M2 model, with 256GB of storage. Add a Magic Keyboard and that clocks in at right at $1000. Exactly the same price! That old hierarchy has fallen apart. The iPad is no longer cheaper and also no longer less powerful than a Mac. (At least in terms of hardware, software is another story.). But for me, as a developer, the iPad still doesn’t do the things I need, so if I want a small(-ish) portable device that I can use for email, web and do a little work on, I’m going to go for the MacBook Air, no question. The craziest part is that WalMart and BestBuy are selling the older MacBook Air for ~$700! Not the top of the line, but it’ll have no problem with email, web and streaming. And it can run Xcode and a real terminal, all with great battery life. Turns out, in 2024, the best iPad for a developer is an MacBook Air.