Apple’s Siri event happened yesterday and the big product announcement was the new iPad Pro. This massive tablet is essentially as big as the MacBook but thinner and a half pound lighter. The company seems to be trying to court design professionals away from their computer systems with specialized digitizer tablets and displays to try the new mobile tablet. It certainly has some impressive features with the Pencil stylus accessory and the Smart Keyboard. But is this a device that will necessarily replace a laptop for a professional or a consumer?
Is Bigger Really Better?
Thought that the display on the iPad Air at 9.7-inches was just too small? That the 2048×1536 resolution was just too low? Well, Apple would like you to take a look at the massive iPad Pro. With a screen that measures 12.9-inches and a resolution of 2732×2048, it is even bigger and more detailed than the MacBook released last year. In fact, the only Apple computer that has a higher resolution display than the iPad Pro is the 27-inch iMac with 5K display. This makes the display the most detailed out of any of their mobile products.
Of course, the size of the display means that its footprint is larger than a MacBook and roughly the size you would find in a MacBook Air. It is still lighter and thinner than either of these and just under 1.6 pounds that makes it light enough to carry around. The size may be great as it really does give the space for users to draw or write on the display but it also means it is less practical to carry around without needing some type of bag.
The bigger size also comes with a few new advantages. Apple has put in a newer A9X processor that also integrated the M9 co-processor onto it. This gives it a boost in performance. It also can house a larger battery so that even with the larger display and additional performance it still offers the same ten hours of battery life as the smaller iPads.
The disappointing fact is that beyond the screen and processor, little else has changed. It still users the same FaceTime HD and iSight cameras as the iPad Air. The networking features also remain the same. It even uses the original Touch ID sensor rather than the improved Touch ID 2 sensor in the new iPhone 6S. About the only other feature it has is quad speakers instead of stereo speakers.
The iPad Pro on its own is really just a bigger and faster iPad. It runs the same operating systems and has pretty much the same basic features as an iPad Air. Apple is trying to differentiate the product more with the accessories they are offering for it. At the event, they highlight two accessories specifically for the iPad Pro.
The Apple Pencil is the new stylus accessory. The $99 device is not really that different from stylus products that have already been produced. There are two primary benefits that Apple is promoting for the Pencil. The more impressive one is the responsiveness. Apple claims that it offers a faster experience so that there is less lag between using the stylus on the device and what shows up on the screen. This could be a major factor in its usefulness as many other styli have some big lag issues. The other is the pressure sensitivity and angling for different shading. These features can be found in other products which frankly also have the ability to be used on previous generation iPads and not just the iPad Pro. Unless there is some hardware limitation that does not exist in the previous iPads, Apple should really have made it for all their products.
Next they announced the Smart Keyboard which is essentially a cover with a built in keyboard and stand. This device is not so revolutionary as many companies have been making such products for years. Apple tried to make it as thin as possible with the ability to run without the need for Bluetooth and batteries by including a special magnetic connector. This is more like playing catch up with what Microsoft has been doing for years with its Surface Pro devices.
Productivity Is Key
The goal for the iPad Pro is to focus on productivity. This was demonstrated heavily at the press event by Apple and its presenting partners. For instance, they really wanted to show off the multitasking capabilities of the new iOS 9 by having multiple applications open at the same time and moving data between the two. The Pencil and Smart Keyboard also try to make input faster and more accurate.
The big issue here is the applications though. The iPad Pro is still restricted to iOS applications. While some of those applications like Microsoft Office are getting close to the full capabilities of the Mac OS X or Windows version, many of them are still limited versions. Adobe is a perfect example of this. The CC suite is a complete set of applications but when it comes to the iOS apps, there are lots of them each designed around a small set of features. This means you have to move between more apps on an iPad than if you were doing the same thing on a full laptop.
As mentioned before, this means that we have to really compare the iPad Pro to the Microsoft Surface. The Surface is essentially a laptop that has been put into a tablet form. This means users can use the full Windows software library on their tablet. Apple has taken the opposite route. They are trying to take a tablet and move it up into the field of being a laptop. While it may work in some ways it still lacks that complete functionality of being a laptop because of the limitations of the app software. This could change, but it is really up to the software developers like Microsoft and Adobe rather than Apple.
Capacity and Price Problems
I think the biggest glaring problem with the product announcements is the storage capacity on the base device. The $799 entry level iPad Pro comes with a paltry 32GB. This is twice what the other entry level iPad products come with but with the emphasis on design and productivity for the iPad Pro, many of the applications and data files that users will have with the device mean that the space will be quickly exhausted. So, instead of looking at $799 just for the iPad Pro, most users will have to step up to the $949 128GB version. That price jump is fairly significant when you then consider you also need to buy the accessories to really maximize the functionality of the tablet.
This is a pricing issue that the Microsoft Surface Pros also faced. The big difference here is that the iPad Pro is not a complete substitute for a full laptop computer system as you cannot run the same applications as you would on say a MacBook. The end result is a tablet that is more of a niche product for a specific group of users rather than one the amazing iPad products that have been released in the past and many of those users are probably not going to jump at using the iPad Pro because of the software limitations.