M1 MacBook Air vs iPad Pro 12.9” for Writing

I write a lot and I use the Ulysses app to get that writing done. The Ulysses app on the 12.9” iPad Pro with the Magic Keyboard is something special. You would have to try it to understand. I feel Ulysses is the best app for writing and storing any other notes or musings you may have. If you keep everything in one place, it makes life a lot easier.

What Do I Use My Computers For?

The 27” iMac in my office has a 5K screen. I love that computer, but I never loved how small the text was. I wanted to start this article off by letting the audience know how I use a computer. This will give some perspective on how my devices are used and whether this article is relatable.

I run a small service company and manage websites. I primarily use Google Drive, iCloud Drive, WordPress, Apple Photos app, Google My Business app, image optimization software, email, Ulysses app, Things 3 app, iCal, Apple Music, Sonos, and the typical video apps like Netflix, YouTube, etc.

Screen Aspect Ratios

Writing and browsing is a vertical experience and that is why a taller screen always feels right for these tasks. For the longest time, I could not figure out why I loved browsing, reading, and writing on the 12.9” iPad so much. What it came down to was the 4:3 aspect ratio.

Since most of my work is vertical, the taller screen made for a more pleasant experience. For writers, it gives you more of what you wan’t to see.

In a time when every monitor is in the 16:9 aspect ratio, I have found myself thoroughly enjoying the 4:3 aspect ratio. So much so, I have been looking for a 4:3 aspect ratio external monitor to connect my iPad to.

Matt Birch created a great graphic on his website showing the differences between several 13” devices with varying aspect ratios.

Text on MacBook Air Screen is Hard to Read

I immediately disliked the MacBook Air compared to my iPad Pro 12.9”. Don’t get me wrong. Yes its fast, powers up instantly, has amazing battery life, etc. What I am comparing today is essentially macOS vs iPadOS.

I tried to like it, but I feel macOS does not render as well on small screens like the iPad does. The screen on the iPad Pro 12.9” is taller than the 13.3” screen on the M1 MacBook. Less height on the MacBook Air makes for a scrunched view when in Safari and writing apps.

If you take the Ulysses app as an example, the text in the sidebar on macOS is very hard to read when compared side by side with iPadOS. It is a night and day difference and immediately noticed. Yes, you’re not the only one that thinks this way. I notice this on other Mac apps as well when compared to iPadOS. Sidebars on the iPad just look better.

If you write a lot, do yourself a favor and get an iPad Pro with a magic keyboard. It allows you to write, upload files to iCloud Drive, manage photos and music, and run all kinds of apps. It works great.

iPadOS Forces You to Focus

On an iPad, you have no choice but to focus on one thing. Each app opens up full screen and screams “focus on me”. App windows get out of your way and just work. You open an app, do what you need to do, and then move to the next app. The craziness of windows everywhere like in macOS is removed.

Windows get out of your way in iPadOS.

iPadOS is Playful and Futuristic

iPadOS has gotten so good it can be used as your primary computer. Sure, there are always exceptions to that rule. But, for the majority, it works really well. And, it does it in a very focused and playful manner. Everything seems a little more rounded and polished on the iPad which makes for a more enjoyable experience.

iPadOS Cursor is Magical

The way the cursor clings to things on the iPad is really magical… and cool. Apple really did figure out a way to reinvent the mouse arrow. The round pointer circle on the screen will take the shape of whatever you hover over. If you are writing, it will take the shape of a vertical line so you can pinpoint where you want to insert text or continue writing. It really is the future of trackpads and pointing devices.

iPad Magic Keyboard Trackpad Feels Different

There is something different about the iPad Magic Keyboard with trackpad. It allows you to push anywhere on the trackpad to click. There is no thinking about having to click at the bottom of the trackpad or in the bottom-right corner for a right click. Those days are gone.

If you like to physically click, you can push down anywhere. Top or bottom. It works awesome. You can also set the trackpad to “tap to click”. This means if you touch a finger down on the trackpad, it will click an item on the screen. And, It works really well.

Last, you can “two finger secondary click”. If you want to bring up a “right click” or “secondary menu”, tap two fingers on the trackpad over an item you want to secondary click. This will bring up a contextual menu that allows you to perform additional functions. This is one of my favorite features and works so well with my brain. At this point, it’s automatic.

The trackpad on the M1 MacBook Air is much larger, but it did not feel the same as the Magic Keyboard trackpad. It may be the same, I don’t know. There is a feel to iPadOS and the Magic Keyboard that is fluid, seamless, and simple. It feels better to the touch and reacts differently when touched.

MacOS Big Sur Renders Differently

I don’t know how to explain it. Side by side, the M1 MacBook Air screen looks dingy and old compared to the iPad Pro. I know the MacBook Air has the latest operating system and a high resolution screen. But, the way the windows and text render on the screen don’t look as good to my eye as on iPadOS.

When going from iPadOS to macOS on the same size screen, it’s like going from a fun party to a meeting with your accountant. Everything gets so much more serious on macOS. You feel like you can’t have fun. I know, that’s going a little far. But, that is how it feels.

iPadOS is more fun, more rounded, seems smoother, less jagged edges, and less busy. There is something beautiful to that.


The advice I would give is if you are happy with writing on your iPad, then you don’t need a M1 MacBook Air. Yes, the new M1 chip is powerful and efficient, but you have the same technology in your iPad.

There is a lightness to the iPad that is hard to explain. The iPad has less menu’s and options on the screen at any given time. It gives you what you need, and removes what you don’t need. The 12.9” iPad Pro and the Magic Keyboard combined with the Ulysses app is the best writing experience going today.

If you need macOS for a specific reason, go for it. The iPad is not for everyone.