With the launch of the iPad Pro, has Apple created a tablet that replace your laptop, or is the continued use of iOS a deal-breaker in the professional tablet that can cost over $2000?
When the iPad was first launched in 2010, Apple managed to hit a very narrow audience while capturing the attention of the media and the geekerati. It’s curious to watch how the smartphone world caught up and overtook Apple in terms of volume of sales – the demand for more was there – but Android tablets never managed to get the right mix of passion, fanatical support and software.
Thanks to Apple’s loyal supporters, the iPad established itself quickly, even if questions remained over its ultimate use beyond being ‘a big screened phone for consuming media’. The tablet family continued to trundle along, benefiting from Apple’s closed ecosystem and a large crossover of developers from the iPhone.
Then the iPad Pro was launched in 2015, pushing up the specifications of the tablet, and promising to be a device that would work as a tool for creativity.
Now Apple wants the iPad Pro to be seen as a ‘full computer’ that is suitable for every task that the deskbound computer can manage. And that’s where the promise falls down, as the first reviews of the 2018 models explain
The idea is simple – the iPad Pro can replace your computer. The problem here is that this definition of a computer lies with Apple. If you have a requirement that is outwith Apple’s walled garden then you have a very expensive paperweight that plays slightly too many piano covers of Abba songs. And it doesn’t take much for the iPad Pro to fail. Take the USB-C port. It may work with monitors and keyboards, but ask it to connect to external storage, to hard drives, to cameras, to flash cards, and you’ll be waiting a long time. Nilay Patel at The Verge:
The one thing iOS can do with external storage devices is import photos: if you plug in a camera or a memory card from a camera, iOS 12 will automatically pop open the camera import screen and let you import photos into your camera roll.
That’s it. That is the sole way iOS 12 can address external storage. And to make matters worse, you are required to import to the system camera roll — you can’t import photos directly into an app like Lightroom CC. Apple has to be in the middle.
The limit is of course iOS. Apple’s vision of a computer is one where Apple touches the user experience and the workflow at every point. As a developer you will go through the Apple Store and its restrictive policies, as a user you can only run apps that Apple has granted permission, there’s no tinkering, there’s no ownership, there’s no hacks around the walled garden.
Even if the hardware is present, Apple will decide if developers get access. The UK government is currently rolling out a mobile app that requires passports to be scanned via NFC. Android users, not a problem. iOS users? Apple will not allow HM Government access to the hardware in the way it needs, so users have to physically send their passport for authentication. Looking for YouTube in 4K on the iPad Pro? That’s not allowed either, as “Apple refuses to support Google’s VP9 video codec.”
These might seem like edge cases, but on a platform that could effectively cost upwards of $2,000, a single edge case per user is enough to make the iPad Pro a frustrating computer. If you need to keep a MacBook or a Windows 10 machine around for work, then the iPad Pro is not a replacement.
So if it’s not a computer, what is the iPad Pro? It’s the distillation of the tablet format, a format that only Apple has cracked in the long term. And the reason it cracked it was the strong iOS environment – the same environment that is holding back the iPad Pro being a proper computer. iOS 12 is certainly an improvement compared to iOS 11 on the iPad Pro, and iOS 13 needs to continue that evolution. Right now the hardware (which I’m coming to) is class leading, but it’s being hobbled by the operating system. Mashable’s Raymond Wong:
…fundamental 2-in-1 laptop things like cursor support, or keyboard shortcuts, or real windowed-apps are either nonexistent or still not yet available in many apps.
I’m aware that iOS is an entirely different way of doing things compared to macOS and Windows 10 and I don’t know what’s the best solution to make it more like these desktop operating systems without compromising its lightness. All I know is the more Apple keeps cramming in so much power into the iPad Pro, the more I wish it could do more macOS things.
iOS 13’s still a year’s out, but I strongly feel Apple needs to revamp iOS for the iPad Pro to really make the hardware more compelling.
Let’s put that concern aside and look at the hardware. Being a tablet, the screen has a key part to play. By removing the physical home button and following the lead of the iPhone XS, XS Plus and iPhone XR, Apple’s design team has brought the iPad Pro into line with the latest iPhone UI. That reinforces Apple’s methods of biometric recognition and gesture control as ‘the future’.
It has not taken the opportunity to move to an OLED screen though. The latest iPad Pros stick with LCD – although the newspeak calls this liquid retina to distract from the older technology (and don’t get me started on this being an edge-to-edge display… because I’ve always believed that an edge is, well, at the edge). Nevertheless, the screen is a key part of the package. David Phelan for The Independent:
Not only does it remove the Home button at the bottom of the screen, it squeaks the screen out to the edges, just like on the iPhone XS. Except that there’s no notch on this display. The larger proportions of a tablet compared to a phone mean that there’s room for the TrueDepth sensor and camera needed for the facial recognition system, Face ID, in the slightly wider bezel that runs evenly round the edge. Compared to the iPhone XS this bezel is noticeably wider but proportionally, it still looks narrow.
Actually, a better comparison is to the iPhone XR as, like that phone, this tablet has an LCD, not an OLED, screen. It tricks your eyes into thinking this display has a perfectly curved edge, instead of the rectangular screens found on previous iPads. It’s a subtle alteration but it makes a big difference.
A big part of the iPad Pro package is the Apple Pencil. An additional purchase (once more boosting the average revenue per user), it cements the reputation of the iPad Pro as a creative tool. Many of the issues of the first Apple Pencil have been addressed, such as the pain point of the removable cap for charging is no more – mostly because the cap is no longer needed, thanks to the use of magnetic charging and pairing. Daring Fireball’s Jon Gruber:
When rumors surfaced that the new iPad Pros were moving from Lighting to USB-C, there was a lot of speculation that Apple would need to make a new Pencil with USB-C. This is so much better. As a nice touch, when you first connect the Pencil to your iPad, iOS shows you a Pencil on screen and it’s the exact size of the actual Pencil. It’s adorable. With the original Pencil, Apple didn’t provide a good answer for where you were supposed to keep it when it wasn’t in your hand. The magnetic connection answers that. It’s strong enough that I wouldn’t hesitate to keep the Pencil connected magnetically when putting the iPad in a backpack.
The other updated peripheral is Apple’s folio keyboard cover. This is how peripherals should work, snap the connection into place, and away you go. It does that, but there are issues, particularly in having only two angles that can be used between keyboard and screen. Jeffrey Van Camp for Wired:
It magnetically snaps onto the back of the tablet with an equally pleasant click and also just works. It now has two angles you can choose from and the keys are naturally spaced and have enough travel (depth) and click to them that it didn’t take me any time to adjust from my MacBook Pro. My only complaints? It would be nice to have even more angles, and the larger iPad can feel a bit unstable if you use it on your lap. Since the camera sits on the left side, it’s tough to frame yourself properly for a video chat.
The 2018 iPad Pro tablets have ridiculous amounts of power, but if you have a platform with great power you need a way to effectively use that power. Which is where the iPad Pro falls flat in the current ecosystem. Yes there are some great touches with the keyboard and pencil, and the built-in PIM software and media players look good on the larger screen… but you don’t need the power of the Pro if that’s all you want in a tablet – just head for the regular iPad. TechRadar’s Gareth Beavis:
There’s so much power kicking around in this iPad, and if you’re capable of using it in the spirit in which it was created, and harnessing that power, then you’ll likely get a lot of joy out of your new tablet.
But you are spending a lot of cash to get that power, so unless your job requires you to have a device that offers power and high performance on the go (or you’re thinking of taking up some sort of creative career or serious hobby) then you’ll be wasting your money on this new tablet.
The iPad Pro has power, but it needs more direction, more software, and more support. If Apple is selling this as a computer then it needs to allow people to think outside the box – and as I donate $5 into the cliché box – it needs to have the confidence to let iPad Pro users ‘think different’ to Tim Cook and his team.
Set the iPad Pro free, and it could bloom in millions of ways. Keep it inside the garden, and you’ll still get a bloom, but it’s the same bloom as we’ve seen time and time again. The potential is there, you can look at the numbers, but can you use it? For a few the answer is yes, but for many the real answer is they need to wait and see if first- and third-party app support will be improved.
Now read more about Apples plans to slow down older iPhone X phones to preserve battery life…