Apple’s forthcoming iPad Pro tablet, unveiled as part of the company’s media event this week, packs a lot of hardware smarts, but it’s the software — the apps — that could make the difference.
At a media event Wednesday, Apple unveiled the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, a new Apple TV, and the iPad Pro. As an iPad owner since the first model, I was immediately drawn to the larger tablet.
We won’t know how the iPad Pro performs until it begins shipping in November, but based on what was revealed, I find myself intrigued and also somewhat hesitant.
Is the Pro really a pro? I’m concerned that the professional hardware may be limited by a consumer-focused operating system.
I’ve never subscribed to the simplistic notion that the iPad is a mere content delivery system. I’ve written books about how to get the most out of the iPad in general and also directed at photographers.
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So, first, let’s try to define “pro.” We all want to be professionals in some capacity, and “pro” clearly indicates a degree or 10 above the average. Notice that Apple didn’t call it the iPad Plus (nor is there an iPhone Pro).
Apple’s use of “pro” in its other products is reserved for products that offer extra capabilities and more performance compared with the non-pro options, such as the Mac Pro desktop, MacBook Pro laptop, or software such as Final Cut Pro X and Logic Pro X.
In terms of hardware, the iPad Pro earns its moniker. The 12.9-inch screen and its 5.6 million pixels look fantastic. And even though the iPad Pro is larger than the iPad Air 2 — in fact, the width of the iPad Pro screen equals the height of the iPad Air’s screen — it’s only slightly thicker and weighs as much as the original iPad.
For a better example, though, consider the new Apple Pencil, available as a separate $99 purchase. Several internal components measure force, angle and rotation, which transmit that information to sensors embedded into the iPad Pro’s screen to translate those movements into pixels; the iPad Pro even increases the refresh rate of the screen (the speed at which pixels are updated) when it detects the Pencil in order to reduce latency and make the performance smooth and responsive. A custom timing controller governs the actions of all those pixels.
In terms of professional hardware, Apple is without peer.
But hardware is only part of the experience. We also assign “pro” qualities to the person using the device. If it’s a pro product, we assume that person is a professional of some sort, or is someone who needs features not available on the other products. Once you start using a tablet or a computer, the software you’re interacting with becomes the most important thing.
And that’s where things get fuzzy.
IOS 9, which will be released on Sep. 16 for all devices capable of running it, includes several beyond-consumer features, many of which were developed with the iPad Pro in mind, according to Apple.
Split View allows working on two apps side-by-side. But is it a pro feature? It is in the sense that it’s available only on the latest hardware: the iPad Pro, iPad Air 2 (which remains unchanged from last year), and iPad mini 4 (which gains the iPad Air 2’s internals).
As another example, when a keyboard is attached, such as the new Smart Keyboard for iPad Pro or any Bluetooth keyboard, pressing Command-Tab brings up the familiar OS X-style application picker. But it’s available to anyone running iOS 9 and using a keyboard on any iPad.
So that leaves us with apps, which are the actual delineation between Pro and non-pro, and right now the desktop is where the pro apps are.
That’s not to say you can’t do professional work on an iPad; I’m a writer, so give me a text editor and I can do my work. But look at the current offerings
Apple’s iWork apps are capable, but I don’t think we could call them professional (especially when the previous versions were more capable). Perhaps that’s one reason Microsoft was on stage demonstrating Office apps on the iPad Pro instead of Apple showing off its own word processor and spreadsheet. Then again, the imagery of Microsoft demonstrating software on a device that’s visually similar to the Surface was no doubt irresistible to Apple.
IMovie is prominently shown in Apple’s ads and website on the iPad Pro, and while it’s a surprisingly capable video editor, it’s not a pro tool. In fact, iMovie on the Mac is unable to open projects created on iOS devices — a feature that existed in earlier versions. So you can’t start an edit on the iPad Pro and then continue working on it on the Mac in iMovie or Final Cut Pro X.
It’s possible Apple is working on pro updates to its apps. Or perhaps by leading the way with Pro hardware, Apple hopes to inspire developers to create the next level of applications. Although that route is made difficult by the fact that iOS apps, with only a few exceptions, are far less profitable (if at all) than applications written for the Mac.
All this boils down to my main concern about the iPad Pro. It’s the first iPad that wants to be a laptop replacement, but doesn’t yet appear to deliver on the potential that’s being put forward.
We’ll see what happens when the hardware ships and, say, during the first six months when customers and developers are able to put the tablet to task. The iPad may need some training before it turns pro.