The M1 iPad Pro May Need iOS 15 to Unlock Its Potential

There's no software pushing the iPad to its limits

Key Takeaways

  • The 2021 iPad Pro uses the same M1 chips that powers the Mac.
  • The 2018 iPad Pro is still too powerful for most uses.
  • iOS 15 could bring the features that unlock the M1 iPad.
Woman sitting outside and using the new M1 iPad Pro


The new M1 iPad looks impressive, but it can’t do much more than the old 2018 iPad Pro. It’s like putting a Ferrari engine on a pushbike.

The iPad’s limit isn’t hardware capability, but a lack of pro software. The 2018 iPad Pro is still too fast for most uses, even almost three years after its launch. Except for a few exceptionally power-hungry apps, there’s almost no way to push that old iPad Pro to its limits. So, why is Apple bothering to put its M1 chip in there? Where are Final Cut, Logic, or proper Photoshop for iOS?

"There have to be some big changes now to make the M1 iPad Pro better than the 2018 or 2020 models, which are still super-fast," Apple journalist Killian Bell told Lifewire via email. "And I think there will be better display support now that it has Thunderbolt."

iOS Needs Work

The iPad’s bottleneck is iOS. While you can run several apps on-screen at the same time, it’s awkward at best. At no point does it feel like you’re pushing the hardware. In fact, it feels more like your iPad is running the wrong operating system.

This has happened before. When Apple announced the 2018 iPad Pro, it featured a USB-C port that had little more than the previous model’s Lightning port. Clearly, that port was added so we could connect external storage devices and other USB peripherals without a dongle, but we had to wait until the following year until iOS 13 granted those abilities. 

This time, Apple will almost certainly release a beta of iOS 15 at WWDC in June, only a few weeks after the new iPad Pros hit stores. So, what might be added?

The Thunderbolt port in the new iPad Pro lets it power external displays, even Apple’s 6K Pro Display XDR. And yet, the only thing you’ll see is a giant version of the iPad’s screen, with pillar box bars at either side. In iOS 15, Apple might improve support for external displays. Imagine running GarageBand on your iPad, with all the controls down on the iPad’s touch screen, and with a big external display showing your audio tracks.

There are already some video editing apps that allow this, so it’s not hard to imagine it as a more universal feature. The iPad could also use an overhaul to its multi-app handling. Perhaps it could use actual movable windows? And maybe even a desktop?

Pro Apps?

The other part of this equation is the apps. Several app developers spoke at Apple’s Spring Loaded even this week, and their comments were amusing for what they left out. Adobe praised the ability to load your photos into Lightroom faster. 

The thing is, Lightroom is already one of the most complete pro apps on the iPad. It has most of the features of the desktop version, and is perfectly capable of fulfilling everything a photographer needs.

There have to be some big changes now to make the M1 iPad Pro better than the 2018 or 2020 models.

Other app categories, though, are severely lacking. There is no equivalent to Apple’s Logic Pro, or Ableton Live, for musicians. And iOS itself precludes much pro musical use. You can only connect a single USB audio interface at a time, for example.

Perhaps iOS 15 will make it possible for app developers to bring their pro apps to the iPad. Apple could start this off with iOS versions of Logic and Final Cut Pro. But even then, there’s another barrier.

The App Store

Have you ever paid $600 for an iPad app? Probably not. And yet plenty of musicians happily pay that for Ableton Live Suite on the Mac or PC. The App Store is home to cheap, throwaway apps. 

M1 iPad Pro running the LumaFusion video editing app


It’s technically possible to offer free trials before purchase, but it’s tricky, and confusing for the user. And one thing you don’t want to be when playing with a $500+ purchase is confused. And then there’s Apple’s 30 percent cut, which must put off many pro software houses. 

Even if Apple manages to take full advantage of the iPad’s formidable power with iOS 15, and brings its own apps to iOS, the platform needs to encourage developers to make the considerable investments necessary to support iOS. And that might be the hardest part.

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