How Apple’s 2020 iPad Pro Compares to the 1994 Trackpad Mac

An Apple PowerBook 540c computer. Apple

Apple unveiled a new iPad Pro and Magic keyboard with trackpad in March 2020. It is the first time that Apple has launched a trackpad for iPad. It reminded us of the company’s first laptop with a trackpad: the Powerbook 500 series, released 26 years ago.

Given the historical nature of this version, we thought it might be fun to come back to the PowerBook 540c. Let’s compare it to the new iPad Pro and see how far Apple’s portable technology has come.

Revisiting the PowerBook 500 series

An Apple PowerBook 500 SeriesApple PowerBook 520 and 540 machines shared this form factor. Apple

In May 1994, Apple unveiled the first four models of the PowerBook 500 Series: the 520, 520c, 540 and 540c. The 520 machines were equipped with 25 MHz processors, while the CPUs of the 540 models operated at 33 MHz. Models 520 and 540 were equipped with monochrome passive matrix LCD screens, while models “c” included active matrix LCD screens with 16-bit color support.

The 500 series has revamped the PowerBook range with several new features, including integrated stereo speakers, Ethernet and the option for a PCMCIA slot. Most notably, however, these are the first laptops in the world to come with a trackpad built into the modern configuration we know today. (An earlier laptop, the Gavilan SC, included a touchpad-type pointing device in an awkward spot above the keyboard.)

Before the trackpad, Apple included a small integrated trackball as a pointing device in its PowerBook series. Unlike MS-DOS PCs, Mac laptops required integrated pointing devices due to the graphical nature of the operating system. The trackpad has provided a durable and compact way to integrate this capability into ever thinner machines.

The new trackpads for iPads

The new Apple iPad Pro with Magic Keyboard.The new Apple iPad Pro with Magic Keyboard includes a trackpad. Apple

For the past 26 years, Apple has shipped Mac laptops with trackpads. However, when the company announced that its iPads would now be compatible with the trackpad and mouse, our ears straightened. Since its introduction in 2010, Apple has firmly presented the iPad as a touch device, so this change marks a clear evolution of the iPad platform.

The iPad (and the iPhone before it) has revolutionized portable gadgets in large part because they require no input method other than touching human fingers. Unlike previous portable machines (even those with touch screens), people didn’t have to play with pens or tiny keyboards. So Apple held a hard line when it came to refusing support for the external pointer.

Now that the iPad has become as powerful as some high-end laptops, its role has shifted from an inexpensive web browsing tablet to a professional-grade laptop replacement. Some industry experts have suspected IPadOS devices could replace Macs for years (although this has never been a clear consensus).

With the introduction of the iPad trackpad, it almost seems like Apple has taken a full tour of its PowerBook-500 roots.

The comparison: PowerBook 540c vs iPad Pro with Magic Keyboard

A PowerBook 540c next to an iPad Pro with magic keyboard. Apple

As an educational juxtaposition, let’s compare the high-end of 1994 PowerBook 540c with today’s high-end Apple iPad Pro (Wi-Fi + Cellular) with the new Magic Keyboard. The prices were adjusted for inflation back and forth to give you a better idea of ​​what each would cost in each era.

It is interesting to see the crazy differences in the capabilities of these machines from two different eras.


Apple PowerBook 540c

Apple iPad Pro 12.9 inch Wi-Fi + Cellular (with Magic Keyboard)

Release date

May 16, 1994

March 18, 2020

(2020 dollars)

$ 8,486.39

$ 1,948.00

(1994 dollars)

$ 4,839.00

$ 1,110.76

CPU / SOC type

Motorola 68LC040 33 MHz

Apple A12Z 8-core bionic

with neural engine, M12 coprocessor, 8-core GPU


4 MB

6000 MB

Fixed disc

320 MB

1,048,576 MB

Removable drive type

1.44 MB 3.5 inch diskette


Expansion ports

1x serial, 1x SCSI, 2x ADB, optional internal PCMCIA adapter

1x USB-C


9.5-inch (diagonal) active matrix backlit LCD

16-bit color at 640 x 480 pixels

84.21 pixels per inch

No touch screen

12.9-inch (diagonal) LED-backlit IPS LCD screen

30-bit color at 2732 x 2048 pixels

264 pixels per inch


Cameras / Sensors


Wide: 12 MP, ultra wide: 10 MP, front: 7 MP, built-in flash, 4K video recording

LiDAR scanner, three-axis gyroscope, accelerometer, barometer, ambient light sensor, RFID sensor


2 speakers, 1 microphone

4 speakers, 5 microphones


Wired Ethernet AAUI-15 integrated at 10 Mbit per second

Optional 19.2 Kbps internal remote access modem

802.11ax Wi-Fi 6; simultaneous dual band (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz); HT80 with MIMO

Bluetooth 5.0, LTE gigabit class cellular modem

Battery life

2 hours (4 hours with an optional second battery)

9-10 hours

Operating system

Mac OS 7.1 – 8.1

iPadOS 13+


9.7 inches H. x 11.5 inches W. x 2.3 inches D.

11.04 ” H x 8.46 ” W x 0.23 ” D (without magic keyboard)


7.1 lb (7.3 lb with optional second battery)

1.42 lb (without Magic Keyboard)

Looking at these two specification lists, it’s clear that the iPad Pro offers much more storage and processing power, better networking and incredible integration of sensors and cameras, in a thinner, lighter package. and cheaper.

The only area in which the PowerBook 540c may appear to have an advantage is the number of concurrent expansion options. The 540c’s serial and SCSI ports, and the optional PCMCIA slot, provided a lot of flexibility for the time.

Of course, the iPad Pro has Bluetooth and USB-C, which can do everything the SCSI or serial ports can do, and with a much less painful configuration. The iPad Pro comes with so many built-in capabilities, expansion is largely unnecessary.

The price differences over 26 years are staggering. The gap between Apple’s high-end laptop in 1994 (arguably the most powerful and powerful laptop in the world at the time) and the most powerful tablet (plus keyboard) today is $ 6,538.39! If you take out the magic keyboard for $ 299, it still represents a difference of $ 6,837.39. You can buy four other high-end iPads for this amount.

The large price difference comes from the courtesy of the miniaturization and integration that have occurred in electronics. It has significantly improved the supply chains and economic benefits of a huge mass market, compared to the relatively small market for portable Macs in 1994.

Almost everyone can now own an incredibly powerful computer, which has changed our civilization. In addition, the revolution is far from over, so it will be interesting to see where things are going from here. Maybe computers in 26 years will still come with trackpads!

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