Dreaming of an 'iPad Ultra'

Apple, let us boot iPadOS or macOS on the iPad
MacPad: The Hybrid Mac-iPad Laptop and Tablet
...that Apple won’t make

I've been meaning to link to this for a couple months, which Federico Viticci's appearance on The Talk Show this week reminded me of, and it seemed perfect timing leading up to Apple's new iPad event next week. What Viticci did – rip off the monitor from a MacBook and replace it with an iPad screen is both crazy and fun. And it started from another place entirely:

It all started because I wanted a better keyboard for my Vision Pro. I had no idea that, in looking for one, I’d accidentally create the hybrid Apple computer of my dreams.

As I quickly discovered after working on the Vision Pro daily, you can get by without an external trackpad, but a keyboard is necessary if you want to type something longer than a passcode. That’s where my journey began: if I wanted to write and edit articles on the Vision Pro, what would the best keyboard-trackpad setup be?

I'd go even further: typing anything on the Vision Pro virtual keyboard beyond a short passcode is a huge pain in the ass. And actually, even just "typing" the six-digit code to unlock the device isn't great. You really need a keyboard to type anything, but Apple's own options aren't really conducive to how you're likely using the Vision Pro – unless you're using it with a MacBook. But then you have a superfluous screen. Unless you rip it off, that is!

You see, I’d been thinking about creating a headless MacBook Air and relying on Universal Control, but I was only considering one side of the story – the Mac-to-Vision Pro side. It was only when I remembered that Mac-to-iPad Universal Control and Sidecar also existed that everything clicked:

I didn’t just want to make a headless MacBook anymore. I had to figure out how to combine the MacBook Air and iPad Pro into a single machine.

And thus, the "MacPad" was born.

For the past three weeks, I’ve been using something I call a “MacPad” as my new laptop. The MacPad is a hybrid device that serves multiple purposes:

* It’s a keyboard and trackpad for my Vision Pro;

* It’s a Mac with a detachable display;

* It’s an iPad Pro with an external keyboard and trackpad.

You know where this is going. These aren’t three separate devices: it’s one computer made of, well, two computers working together thanks to the magic of Apple’s ecosystem. It’s a Mac with an iPad display that I can detach and use as a tablet whenever I want; it’s an iPad that transforms into a Mac when docked. And, it’s the ideal keyboard and trackpad accessory for the Vision Pro.

I can't imagine it's going to happen this coming week, but Viticci's "hack" points to something myself and many others have long wanted: a Mac/iPad hybrid machine. I'm not talking about combining macOS and iPadOS. I'm talking about running both of them on the same machine. Now that both types of devices run on the same chips, it's obviously possible.

There are a few user experience elements to think through, but at a high level: if the iPad is docked to the (new) Magic Keyboard, you should have the option to run macOS or iPadOS. This can be set in settings, including an option to pick each time. If you undock the device, it goes back into iPadOS mode by default. I honestly don't think you even need an undocked macOS option because I don't think you should use the iPad as a touchscreen when running macOS.

Maybe we get that eventually, but to start, just let us use the iPad as a monitor when docked. Just as Viticci has created.

The biggest issue may be RAM. But iPad Pros these days come with 8GB standard – which is the same amount that low-end MacBook still ship with as well. And actually, the larger storage options for iPad have come with 16GB of RAM (though this isn't touted) for a couple cycles now. You could see Apple restricting such functionality to an "iPad Ultra" which has 16GB or perhaps even 24GB (or 32GB?!) of RAM. Maybe it's a $1,999 iPad. But I think many people would be okay with that because again, it would also be a Mac!

I mean, I would buy this device in a split second. For next week, we may have to "settle" for an M4 iPad Pro. But this can easily be a software tweak, of course. iPadOS 18 and macOS Joshua Tree are inbound in a few weeks.1 Just saying...

1 Yes, I made up the 'Joshua Tree' name. But you could totally see it. Redemption for U2 with Apple. "I want to reach out... and touch the flame..."