I have been anticipating Apple’s iPad Pro for a few years now and have long believed that this product could be a credible Surface competitor. I still believe that. But Apple will need to improve on this first release quite a bit before this future can be realized.
Tim Cook’s justification for iPad Pro—announced during a Wednesday press conference in San Francisco—was, well, non-existent. He said that Apple had been asking itself how it could take iPad “even further,” but it’s not clear how a bigger device accomplishes that (whatever “that” is) exactly. By itself—that is, as a tablet—iPad Pro seems big and unwieldy, and while it’s not as bulky as any PC tablet, it seems like the real reason to consider such a device is for productivity scenarios that include a real keyboard.
That keyboard exists—more on that in a moment—but Apple really pushed iPad Pro as, well, an iPad. And I sort of don’t get that.
So iPad Pro has the biggest screen ever for an iOS device, at 12.9-inches, the basic size of the biggest screen you can get on a MacBook Air (but with a much higher resolution of 2732 x 2048, with a 4:3 aspect ratio). On this huge screen, movies are of course “more cinematic,” games are “more immersive,” and the software keyboard is now full-sized. It is, in other words, simply bigger. Where this bigger screen really does shine, of course, is productivity scenarios where, thanks to iOS 9, you can use two apps side-by-side, a feature stolen (like iPad Pro) right from the Microsoft playbook.
Of course, what Apple can’t do is say, hey, Microsoft had a really good idea when it basically invented the market for 2-in-1 PCs, and since making an iPad into such a device was much easier than doing so with Mac, that’s what we did. But that is in fact what they did: apply Microsoft’s success with Surface to its own products abilities.
What Apple also can’t say is that this, not OS X, is the real future of their personal computing products. Not yet, anyway, because as it stands today, it’s just not ready. Not yet. But it will be. And when it is, OS X will be relegated to workstation status and then, I bet, eventually put out to pasture.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Today, iPad Pro is a big iPad. Where it really differentiates from any Surface-type PC is in some key areas. 10 hour battery, something that no PC tablet is capable of. A 4-speaker audio system that auto-balances to account for the device orientation on the fly, finally. And a crazy-thin-and-light design that will remain the envy of the industry for the foreseeable future.
Apple’s first type cover—sorry, “smart keyboard,” is about as sad looking and unwieldy as the weird pull-over cover Apple provided for the first-generation iPad and will no doubt be hugely improved in its next iteration. “This is unlike any keyboard you’ve ever used before,” Phil Schiller said disingenuously, given its obvious design cues in the keyboard cover for the Nokia Lumia 2520, not to mention numerous third-party iPad keyboards. Even the way it magnetically connects—”a brand new connector technology”—looks familiar, especially to anyone that’s used a Surface.
(Is it lappable? Hard to say, but given that the physical connection is so tenuous, I’d say no.)
Apple isn’t letting you use a mouse or trackpad with iPad Pro. Instead, it is providing users with a second optional (and added cost accessory), the oddly named Apple Pencil. (Because it’s nothing like Surface Pen.) Pencil supports force (pressure) and even tilt, so you can really vary the look of your scribblings. It’s not clear if Apple has (re)invented palm-blocking technology, but iPad Pro does let you use Pencil and your finger simultaneously. In most but not all of the videos we saw, the user’s wrist was always held up off the glass.
Clearly missing from this design is any sense of handwriting or handwriting recognition. Schiller noted that users could “draw” in Apple’s updated Notes app with Pencil, but said nothing about writing notes. Ditto for Mail, and also third-party apps like Microsoft Office. Pencil is for drawing, not writing.
Apple’s new iPad Pro may be v1 all the way, but it’s going to cost you too: $799 for the base 32 GB version, $949 for 128 GB, and $1079 for 128 GB with LTE cellular. It comes in silver, gold and space gray, but not rose gold. And the keyboard cover ($169) and Pencil ($99) are separate. It won’t be available until November.
Also mentioned in throwaway fashion at the end of the iPad Pro segment, the iPad mini 4 replaces iPad mini 3, bringing the guts of the iPad Air 2—which is not being updated—in a smaller form factor. Pricing and color options are the same as with iPad mini 3.