The M1 Air
*Ended, my ‘Using the iPad as a Main Computer’ phase has *
Using my iPad as a main computer was always a lofty, if unrealistic goal. The closest I came was the betas for iOS 13. I could set an iCloud folder to always reside on the device1. However, over time I started doing more data analysis work with Tableau and drawing in AutoCAD. Neither of them work at all on the iPad. If can’t do something on the iPad, it’s not a wall I graze against, it’s one I slam into.
The iPad, though, became my main secondary device. If I went out for some light writing (remember coffee shops?) and didn’t want to drag my 15” MacBook Pro with me I’d bring the iPad in its keyboard case.
I bought the 15” because I wanted the dGPU as well as trying the minimalist just a laptop and an empty desk routine. I got neck pains from just using the MacBook, so I ended up with monitors on the desk again. The dGPU helped a little, but 4 years later it is barely more effective than an integrated chip. Large laptops aren’t very portable, obviously, and I’d run into issues using it on the train (remember trips to Boston?).
My favorite laptop, though, was my old 11” Air. Even recently, I used it frequently during times I needed macOS but didn’t want to move the 15”. There exists a parallel universe where instead of getting the 11”, I got the Retina 13” Pro, thus negating getting the 15” with the Retina screen.
When the M1 Macs were announced, my plan was to wait until the first of the 4-port Macs were announced and get the 13” (or 14”) version. My feeling was the M1 Macs now were the slowest we’d see, and the true Pro machines would be fucking amazing.
But, I kept going back to the idea of the 11” Air and how I dragged that thing around with me constantly. Super light; super portable. The 15” became more of a conscious choice: do I need the big laptop?
All that said, while I hated the keyboard on the 2016, I still overall liked it. I wasn’t a fan of the TouchBar, but I could deal with it. It was decently fast and I could play my games for the most part fine. Back in November, it popped the alert that the battery requiring servicing. The 15s aren’t known for their amazing battery life anyway, and and with a crippled battery it was horrible battery life.
When I looked at replacing the battery, I thought I’d rather put the money to a new laptop. This was a good time to downsize to a portable machine. Even though mobile for me now means changing rooms.
Which lead me to taking a longer look at the M1 Macs out now. We had passed the period where the early reviews are the usual amazing, and also now could get some real-world usage over a few months2. If there was one tipping point, it was Marco Arment mentioning on ATP that he was very happy not using his iMac Pro and using the Air as his main computer. Marco, to put it politely, is fussy about his computer setups. If the Air, the lowly Air, was enough power for someone who sweats the small stuff on this, it was likely good enough for me. Looking at Geekbench scores, I was going to gain 1k on single-threaded, and 5k on multithreaded. The M1s are basically very close to iMac Pro performance. In a MacBook Air. An iMac Pro is already more power than I need, so waiting for an even faster version of a computer seemed superfluous.
Which lead to a lot of internal debate over a Pro or Air. The Pro has active cooling and better battery life. The Air, though, is a style I love with the wedge shape. I could also get it in gold. As with waiting for a faster Pro, a few more hours of battery life — on a device that also about quadruples my battery life from the 15” — again was superfluous.
Another data point was ArenaNet completely dropping Mac support, and Bethesda saying they would not support M1s. Neither of these are games I play, but did prove a suspicion I had: Apple Silicon will likely force a lot of the game developers for games I do like to either have to go all-in on Mac support, or cut their losses. It is likely around the time Apple ends Rosetta 2 support I will need a gaming PC to keep playing some of my games.
So, you may be asking, that the heck does this have to do with iPads? A valid question.
As mentioned in my piece, Life with a Series 0 Watch, Older Tech, and COVID-19, I have a Quixotic quest to try and get down to just one damn device and an iPhone. For years, I wanted this device to be an iPad. I will admit, the ascetic lifestyle of a digital hermitage on just an iPad appeals to me. Folks like Chris Lawley, who performs almost all his life on an iPad, are fascinating.
The M1 Air, though, pretty much does give me that one device. The main uses for my iPad are News, Instapaper, and Overcast. News and Instapaper have Mac-native apps, and I can use the iPad version of Overcast on my M1. The M1 wakes from sleep and is usable as quickly as my iPad.
I’ve had the M1 for about a month, and I feel like I have a fast, retina version of my beloved 11” Air.