Apps Running On M1 iPad Pros Can Only Access 5GB RAM Even In Pricey 16GB Configs

Apple iPad Pro
Apple's newfangled iPad Pro models powered by its home brewed M1 system-on-chip (SoC) can cost as much as $2,399, if opting for the flagship 12.9-inch variant with Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity, 2TB of built-in storage, and 16GB of RAM. Now imagine spending all that money and then learning that developers are limited to accessing just 5GB of RAM from their apps.

The newest iPad Pro models are split into two memory tiers. Both the 11-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pro models with 128GB, 256GB, and 512GB of built-in storage comes with 8GB of RAM installed, while the SKUs with 1TB and 2TB of storage wield 16GB of RAM. That is a decent amount of memory—on par with the sweet spot for a desktop PC.

Making full use of either RAM configuration, however, is another matter entirely. The issue was raised by a developer on the Procreate forum in response to a user who was puzzled about the performance of their new iPad.

"Hey guys, I just got my 5th Gen iPad Pro, it's the same specs as my last one 3rd gen, 256GB, but apparently when I was trying to transfer the file from the old iPad it is shown as the file is too big to transfer to the new iPad, and the max layers are less in the new iPad when I'm setting the same canvas on both iPads. I thought it's supposed to support bigger file size and more max layers, is there anyone else experiencing the same issue?," the user wrote.

It was quickly brought up that the OS is chewing up more RAM, to which a an Artstudio Pro developer addressed in a follow-up comment.

"There is a big problem with M1 iPad Pro. After making a stress test and other tests on new M1 iPad Pro with 16GB of RAM, it turned out that app can use ONLY 5GB or RAM! If we allocate more, app crashes. It is only 0.5GB more that in old iPads with 6GB of RAM! I suppose it isn't better on iPad with 8GB," the developer wrote.

Procreate iPad Tweet

Procreate reiterated the notion on Twitter, saying "all M1 iPads have the same amount of RAM available," and as soon as that changes, it will pass on the ability to to access more layers and dimensions within the app.

If that is truly the case, it disappointing for sure, considering that the latest generation iPad Pro models with the M1 chip are not inexpensive, especially the ones with 16GB of RAM—pricing starts at $1,499 for the 11-inch iPad Pro with 16GB of RAM, and $1,799 for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro with 16GB of RAM. Likewise, even the 8GB models are seemingly leaving untapped RAM on the table.

Well, in a sense, anyway. The added RAM is not entirely wasted. Even though iPadOS seems to be limiting apps to 5GB of RAM, the extra RAM can allow more apps to stay open in the background. That's actually been my main gripe with Apple's iPhone products—they have less RAM than many high-end Android handsets, and I get frustrated when an app in the background has to reload when switching over to it.

In any event, hopefully this something Apple addresses in iPadOS 15. And while Apple is at it, the company may also want to look into an apparent memory leak on M1 Macs that is causing them to choke on GIFs.