Apple iPad Pro (2017) Preview

Posted on June 6, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in iOS with 46 Comments

Apple iPad Pro (2017) Preview

This week, Apple announced the third generation of its iPad Pro family, which will be available starting next week in 10.5- and 12.9-inch models. These devices are interesting enough as-is, but with the coming release of iOS 11, they will also begin earning their Pro moniker.

“These are by far the most powerful iPads we’ve ever created with the world’s most advanced displays featuring ProMotion, the powerful new A10X Fusion chip, and the advanced camera system of iPhone 7,” reads a quote attributed to Apple vice president Greg Joswiak. “Together with iOS 11, these new iPad Pro models will radically change what users can do with iPad.”

Yes. And that’s why I’m interested.

The first iPad Pro launched in late 2015 in the large 12.9-inch format, but as I noted at the time, Apple didn’t do a good job of explaining why anyone would want one. And it didn’t do a good job of differentiating it from “normal” iPads. In mid-2016, Apple launched a second, 9.7-inch model as a replacement for the iPad Air. But that model confusingly included a few screen-based improvements over the 12.9-inch model, which was not updated at that time.

I considered purchasing both of these very expensive devices but ultimately decided against it because the reality, functionality-wise, didn’t measure up to the promise. But you could see where Apple was heading, thanks to the strange, fabric-covered keyboard cover and the surprisingly powerful Apple Pencil, both of which are added cost extras.

But now there is a new generation of iPad Pro, this time in 10.5- and 12.9-inch models. They are functionality identical, and offer the same technologies, which I think is a smart and overdue move. The keyboard covers haven’t changed—the 10.5-inch model provides a bigger screen in the same basic form factor as the outgoing 9.7-inch version—and neither has the Apple Pencil. But thanks to improvements to the new iPad Pro displays, Apple Pencil actually works even better than before on these devices.

If you’ve used Apple Pencil before—I’ve done so only briefly in furtive visits to Apple retail stores—you know that it already works amazingly well on the previous-generation iPad Pros. In fact, I feel that it works better than Microsoft’s Surface Pen, which is quite an accomplishment. And now I’m curious to see how the improvements both companies are making to their respective products will change things this year.

But the Apple Pencil, like Surface Pen, will always be a side story. More interesting, I think, is the hardware itself. And the software that will run on it.

The new iPad Pro models both feature stunningly bright and high pixel density LED displays that run at 264 PPI; the 10.5-inch model provides a native resolution of 2224 x 1668 while the larger unit provides 2732 x 2048. These laminated and antireflective displays feature the same laundry list of features and technologies, including ProMotion, P3 wide color, and True Tone capabilities, and fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating.

Both are powered by Apple’s latest mobile processor, the 64-bit A10X Fusion chip, and its embedded M10 coprocessor. And both ship with the same cameras as those found in the iPhone 7.

New to this generation, the base storage allotment has moved up from 32 GB to 64 GB, but Apple has raised pricing by $50 compared to the previous gen units. (You can also pay more to get 256 or 512 GB of storage if desired.)

Both iPad Pro models come in multiple colors—Space Gray, Gold, and Silver, plus Rose Gold on the 9.7-inch model only for some reason—and can be had in Wi-Fi only or Wi-Fi/cellular configurations with an embedded Apple SIM. Both feature four-speaker audio, which provides stereo sound in any orientation. And both utilize the same ports as previous iPad Pro versions: A Lightning connector and the magnetic Smart connector that is currently used only by the keyboard cover.

Pricing starts at $649 for the 64 GB 10.5-inch Wi-Fi version or $799 for the 12.9-inch. More storage and cellular connectivity quickly escalate the price. You could pay as much as $1100 for a maxed out iPad Pro, not including a keyboard cover or Pencil.

I would have ignored these new iPad Pro models as I did previous versions but for one major change: This year, Apple is finally bringing laptop-like productivity features to iPad Pro courtesy of iOS 11. You can sample this functionality now in Beta form if you’re a registered Apple developer, and a public beta will arrive in late June. Apple will likely ship iOS 11 in September.

Here’s why I’m so interested.

Dock. The iOS 11 Dock looks and works like the Dock in macOS. That is, it can hold more than five items, is available from any app by swiping up from the bottom of the screen, and it works with the new drag and drop feature described below.

Multitasking. While previous iPad Pro models supported a split screen view where you could display two apps side-by-side, iOS 11 will bring much more sophisticated multitasking functionality. A new app switcher UI brings the macOS Spaces feature to iOS, allowing you to pair apps on-screen and access them as a single item. And with both Split View and Slide Over, you can actually have three apps on-screen at the same time.

File system access. Apple is finally letting users access the underlying file system on their iPads via the extensible new Files app. You will be able to integrate third-party cloud storage systems—Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive—with Files so you can access your files no matter where they are stored.

Drag and drop. iOS 11 will enable drag and drop throughout the system and in apps so that you can move text, photos, and files from one app to another, anywhere on the screen. You can also move apps on and off the Dock very easily.

Given all this, I’ve ordered a 10.5-inch iPad Pro to see whether the future has finally arrived. Or whether the lack of certain other features—an improved home screen/launcher experience, a precision pointing device like a trackpad, and so on—are still holding this device back. But even if Apple hasn’t completely closed the gap, this much is clear: With the arrival of iOS 11, the iPad Pro will finally start living up to both its name and its potential. Hey, it only took two years.

More soon.

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