With iOS 9, Apple’s giant iPad Pro will make run at Microsoft Windows hybrids

The iPad Pro – Apple’s just-announced jumbo tablet – combined with the newest iOS software upgrade, could be a formidable competitor to Microsoft’s Surface tablet and other Windows hybrid devices.

Let’s start with the virtual keyboard. The iPad Pro’s laptop-sized 12.9-inch screen allows, for the first time, a “full-sized software keyboard,” as pointed about by Apple’s Phil Schiller when he introduced the tablet at the company’s September 9 event.  That, combined with changes incorporated into Apple’s new iOS 9 operating system – released to the public this week – mean the software keyboard can function more like a real keyboard and trackpad.

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It works like this.  As you type, if you place two fingers on the virtual keyboard, iOS 9 allows you to move the cursor in a way that mimics a trackpad.  So, for example, you can highlight the text with a double tap or drag the cursor across a block of text.  That may sound minor but it if you do a lot typing and editing on an iPad, it isn’t. (Just in case you prefer a physical keyboard, Apple is also offering the Smart Keyboard as an accessory with the Pro.)

That’s not all Apple is doing to make the tablet more laptop-like.  iOS 9 also allows split view – a kind of multitasking – that lets you jump back and forth between side-by-side apps.  For example, you can be typing in Notes or Microsoft Word and jump to an Excel spreadsheet in an adjoining window. Again, if you do a lot of productivity work (e.g., writing, editing, data input) on an iPad, this can be a godsend.

And if you need to jump to yet another app, like Mail, hold your finger on the top of the active app window and pull down: voila - a column (list) of active apps appears and you can easily jump to one of them.

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While all of the above works on a smaller iPad like the Air 2, it will be amplified with the big-screen iPad Pro.  And my guess is that it is no coincidence that Apple is making these changes to iOS in concert with the release of the iPad Pro.

Then there’s the hardware.  With the iPad Pro Apple is also offering a stylus for the first time. The Apple Pencil recognizes how hard you’re pressing or a change of angle, so you can vary line weight, do subtle shading, and other artistic effects, not unlike a conventional pencil.

And Apple has reserved its most brawny processor for the iPad Pro, pushing around the 5.6 million pixels on its 2,732 x 2,048 resolution display. The A9X is faster than the A9 chip used in the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus and arguably gets the Pro close in performance to a laptop like the 12-inch MacBook.

Taking on Windows hybrids

Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 tablet and Dell’s Venue series of hybrids will see stiffer competition from Apple’s iPad Pro.  The Surface Pro 3, for example, is also a big (12 inches), powerful tablet that comes with the Surface Pen (a stylus) and the option for a Microsoft keyboard. Ditto on Dell’s Venue 11 Pro: it comes with the option for a keyboard and stylus.

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And both Microsoft and Dell are rumored to preparing new products in the near future. This time around, however, they may find consumers and businesses also looking closely at the iPad Pro.

The iPad Pro, available in November, starts at $799, like the Surface Pro 3.  Dell has similar pricing.