Best Of Both Worlds: The MacPad

Despite a growing demand for laptop-tablet hybrid computers from producers like Lenovo, HP, and Microsoft, Apple has been stubbornly withdrawn this arena despite having arguably the best hardware and user experiences within the separate domains of laptop and tablet. Charitably one could speculate that this is because Apple’s design philosophy mandates keeping the user experiences of each separate, although a more cynical take might be that they can sell more products if they don’t put all the features their users want into a single device. Either way, for now it seems that if you want a touchscreen MacBook you’ll have to build one yourself like the MacPad from [Federico].

This project started as simply providing a high-quality keyboard and mouse for an Apple Vision Pro, whose internal augmented reality keyboard is really only up to the task of occasionally inputting a password or short string. For more regular computing, [Federico] grabbed a headless MacBook which had its screen removed. This worked well enough that it triggered another line of thought that if it worked for the Vision Pro it might just work for an iPad Pro as well. Using Apple tools like Sidecar makes this almost trivially easy from a software perspective, although setting up the iPad as the only screen, rather than an auxiliary screen, on the MacBook did take a little more customization than normal.

The build goes beyond the software side of setting this up, though. It also includes a custom magnetic mount so that the iPad can be removed at will from the MacBook, freeing both the iPad for times when a tablet is the better tool and the MacBook for when it needs to pull keyboard duty for the Vision Pro. Perhaps the only downsides are that this only works seamlessly when both devices are connected to the same wireless network and that setting up a headless MacBook without a built-in screen takes a bit of extra effort. But with everything online and working it’s nearly the perfect Apple 2-in-1 that users keep asking for. If you’re concerned about the cost of paying for an iPad Pro and a Macbook just to get a touchscreen, though, take a look at this device which adds a touchscreen for only about a dollar.

Thanks to [Stuart] for the tip!

9 thoughts on “Best Of Both Worlds: The MacPad

  1. At least at the time I was still using macbooks, they weren’t the walled gardens that iOS devices were. So you could actually use them for meaningful things. It made sense at the time to only use the iPad as a secondary device. It was still mostly a toy, while the macbook could be used as an actual tool. The latter stopped being the case for me as they started overheating and breaking because of the heat issues. But back then I wouldn’t have considered using an iPad for actual productive work. The idea of merging the two together in an official way would certainly scare me; one can’t use a walled garden device for productive work in my experience.

    1. Seems the iPad here is mostly just a screen/touchscreen for the MacBook. And using the iPad to watch a movie or show, or some instructions is a good use no matter how walled it is on its own.

      This is a stellar hack. Would let you repurpose an iPad that is too low-spec for whatever reason (old/tiny storage). And a headless mac due to a broken screen certainly seems plausible.

      Vision Pro seems amazing, hope it trickles down to a consumer version. Or kicks Meta/Valve into gear. I could *almost* use the Rift S to compute, opening windows and using them as a virtual PC. But the resolution was not quite there. I’d gladly trade peripheral pixels for more in the center (I move my head anyway)

    2. The Intel Macs overheated badly, but Apple silicon macs barely heat up at all, even when emulating an intel processor faster than the previous genera of Intel Macs ran. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the fans on my M2 MacBook.

      The Mac is not a walled garden. There’s an App Store (which has benefits of some level of reviewing, privacy checks, sandboxing, and usually much better licensing than software companies offer directly), but you can download and install anything, or indeed write your own, easily. And brew lets you install any nix command line stuff you need.

      But the ethos for Macs has always been that they’re low-barrier “white goods” not a technical “black goods”, and that’s still reflected in the design.

      1. The Mac isn’t a walled garden, but the iPad is. If Apple decided to replace MacOS with iPadOS then it would be a walled garden. And they’ve been pushing in that direction for some years, or at least there’s speculation that they’re attempting to merge the two for a while now.

        Personally find any of the slate computers to not be worth it. They are toys more than tools, unless they’re explicitly built for a function like POS systems.

        1. I gave up completely on tablets now you can get a used Fold for $300. Whenever I needed a tablet i had to carry it. But the folding phone tablet is in my pocket already.

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