Why the 2018 iPad Pro Is Apple’s Most Overpowered Computer Ever - Updated

Even Stage Manager couldn’t beat it

  • The 2018 iPad Pro can now run iPadOS 16’s Stage Manager. 
  • The A12X in this model was always too powerful for the software it ran. 
  • It is also the most historically-important iPad.
A 2018 iPad laying facedown on a sofa cushion.

Lifewire / Charlie Sorrel

Now that the 2018 iPad Pro can run iPadOS 16's Stage Manager, there's a case to make that it is Apple's most overpowered piece of hardware ever.

For years, Apple's 2018 iPad Pro has been almost too capable. With every passing year, it has remained just as fast as it was at launch and stayed way ahead of Apple's software updates. Last year, Lifewire published an article hoping that iPadOS 15 would finally challenge the iPad's hardware and take advantage of all that power. That didn't happen. Finally, Apple announced Stage Manager, which required the M1, leaving the 2018 A12X model out in the cold. But now the 2018 model is back, baby, and just as powerful as ever. 

"The 2018 has been keeping up with the M1 in all things audio with no problem. It's a really special iPad that has aged so gracefully," iPad Pro 2018 user and iPad-based musician iPadbeatmaking said in an Audiobus forum thread started by Lifewire. "I would still buy a used 2018 today with no issues or thoughts of what it can't do. I'm sure it'll begin to show its age with iOS 16 and beyond as they start separating the M's from the A's, but it's a great device."

A12X Appeal

In the fall of 2018, Apple launched a new iPad Pro, powered by the A12X system on a chip (SoC), and wrapped in a then-new flat-sided shell with much slimmer screen borders, no home button, and FaceID. It also introduced the Apple Pencil 2, which sticks to the iPad's flat side with magnets, and charges via induction. Soon after, we got the Magic Keyboard with trackpad and a mid-cycle software update that added amazing new keyboard and mouse support to the iPad Pro. 

When the next iPad Pro shipped in 2020, it added a redesigned camera module and ran on an A12Z SoC. And the A12Z was just an A12X with one extra GPU core. It was, essentially, the same as the 2018 model. 

Apple iPad Pro 11-Inch (2018)

Lifewire / Jordan Provost

Even when 2021's iPad Pro, got the same M1 chip as the Mac, the 2018 model was still more powerful than anyone needed. The only real reasons to upgrade to the M1 iPad Pro were the Thunderbolt port (useful for Thunderbolt docks) and the 12.9-inch M1 model's much-improved screen. Then, at the 2022 WWDC, Apple announced Stage Manager

Set the Stage

Stage Manager brings windows to the iPad. Right now, it appears to still be in a real mess, but it is nothing short of a new paradigm for the iPad. Up until now, we've used apps one at a time, with the app taking up the entire screen. Over the years, Apple has added a split view for using two apps side-by-side and slide over to quickly pull an app in from one side in a kind of drawer. But the UI has always been based on filling the screen. 

With Stage Manager, you can group up to four apps at a time in overlapping windows. Further, you can create several of these groups and quickly switch between them. It's a lot like the Mac, and in fact, the Mac has its own version of Stage Manager launching in macOS Ventura this fall. 

For most of Summer 2022's run of betas, Stage Manager has been M1-only. Finally, a hardware feature that was too taxing for the A12X. But last week, Apple changed that, extending Stage Manager compatibility back to the 2018 model. The M1 will still be required for using Stage Manager with an external monitor, but for everything else, the four-year-old model is still up to the task. 

"Good news for those of us rocking the 2018 iPad Pro, one of the most enduring products Apple has ever released!" 2018 iPad Pro user Nimoy said on a MacRumors forum thread. "Bad news for the cynics who think Apple artificially limits software features just to drive sales."

The Apple iPad Pro (2018).


Paradigm Witness

All this adds up to making the 2018 iPad Pro one of Apple's most overpowered devices ever. For years, there was no software in existence that could push its limits, and even now, it is capable of running a new desktop-class operating system.

It is also historically important. As mentioned, the 2018 model introduced the small-bezel, flat-sided design language that is now used on iPads, iPhones, the MacBook Air, the iMac, and even the Studio Display. But it was also the iPad that brought us full keyboard and trackpad support, and now windows that fulfill the promise of that keyboard and mouse. 

In summary, the 2018 iPad Pro is both a future classic and still a workhorse for the present day.

Update 12/6/22: The iPad Pro was updated to use the latest M2 system-on-a-chip, but it’s still a pointless replacement for the 2018 model unless you have very specific needs. Since this article was first published, I’ve had a chance to test the multi-window Stage Manager on the 2018 12.9-inch iPad Pro, and while it works, it’s not pleasant. Probably due to a lack of RAM compared to the newer models, switching between app windows is laggy, and very often your typed words end up in the wrong app, or nowhere at all.

Then again, some of this is down to Stage Manager itself. And given the prices of the latest M2 iPads Pro, I’m going to suggest a third option. Stick with your 2018 model, and buy a MacBook Air for multi-window computing.

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