With the iPad Pro, due in November, Apple is trying to redefine its venerable tablet line, turning the iPad into more of a work device.
“It’s the most capable and powerful iPad we’ve ever created,” said CEO Tim Cook when introducing the tablet at Apple’s Sept. 9 event.
And the biggest. The iPad Pro is massive by tablet standards at 12.9 inches, only slightly smaller than the 13-inch MacBook’s display and larger than the 12-inch MacBook’s – a full-fledged laptop. All that screen space and resolution (5.6 million pixels) means you can multitask better on the iPad Pro, running two screen-filling apps side by side with Split View.
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Because Apple has designed the iPad Pro as a tablet primarily for work, it gets a special chip too, the A9X. Apple claims it’s faster than 80 percent of the portable PCs that have shipped in the last 12 months and delivers roughly twice the performance of previous Apple processors. (The “X” suffix denotes Apple’s highest performing chips.)
After size and performance, the centerpiece of the device is the Apple Pencil. The stylus is aimed at artists and designers, among other “content creators.” (Note that for years Microsoft has been offering a stylus for its Surface tablet so Apple is very late to the game) And in order to make the stylus work on the iOS operating system, Apple is updating iOS 9 (to 9.1) with support for Pencil and its Smart Keyboard.
As a run-up to the iPad’s November release in stores, Apple has been showing the device to professionals. One of the those was education technology expert Fraser Speirs, who offered his thoughts recently in a Twitter Timeline. Speirs said the Pencil was “extremely impressive. Certainly the best iPad stylus I have used by a country mile.”
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He also noted that the Pro felt more like a work device and that multitasking was akin to using “two iPads stuck together,” adding that it is a good fit for Microsoft Office, Adobe apps, and a host of other workflow apps. He had less favorable things to say about the iPad Pro’s Smart Keyboard, implying it’s a bit kludgy.
The highest-profile competition right now is not Microsoft's Surface Pro 4 tablet but the just-announced Surface Book, one of the few Windows devices today that garners the same kind of buzz as an Apple product. Like the Pro, it has a big, beautiful high-resolution display (13.5 inches) and like the Pro, it’s a tablet that can use a dedicated keyboard. It also comes with a stylus, like the iPad. Unlike the iPad Pro, it has a great keyboard that, in effect, turns it into a real laptop (i.e., sans the stand needed to prop up many Windows laptop-tablet hybrids). But it starts at a whopping $1,499, although that includes the stellar keyboard (where an extra battery resides) and more powerful Intel processors.
With a starting price of $799 for the iPad Pro and a price of over $1,000 with 4G/LTE, nobody is recommending the Pro for the casual consumer. (Note a typical configuration for the Wi-Fi-only iPad Air 2 is about $600 and with 4G/LTE is about $730.) And it’s interesting to note that an analyst recently said that total iPad shipments could decline 16 percent in 2016 but noted that this should be offset by higher profit margins on the iPad Pro. If you’re thinking that Apple is trying to drive the iPad Pro into MacBook and PC pricing territory, you wouldn’t be mistaken.
So, to answer the question: should this be your next tablet? No if you're a casual tablet user. Maybe if you're a professional.