Deeper Dive: A Look at Apple’s Powerful New iPad Pro

Note: Click here for the Rocket Yard’s in-depth look at the new iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus.

Wednesday’s announcement of the iPad Pro provided validation that all of the rumors that have been flying around for years were indeed true. That’s not to say that the unveiling of the new device was by any means boring; on the contrary, the iPad Pro could be a ground-breaking product that might spell the end of traditional laptop computers.

Apple A9X Specs

Power and Pixels
Let’s start off by taking a look at the two most important components of the iPad Pro; the processor and the display. Apple’s next-generation “A-series” system-on-a-chip, the A9X, powers the iPad Pro. Not much is known about the A9X other than it encapsulates an M9 motion coprocessor, offers 1.8 times the CPU performance of the A8X used in the iPad Air 2, as well as twice the GPU performance of the previous processor.

Judging from a number of demonstrations shown during the event, the A9X has no problems pushing a lot of pixels around at very high frame rates. 3D rendering in apps like 3D4Medical was fluid and fast, with absolutely no hesitation. And how many pixels are we looking at on the iPad Pro? The screen has a resolution of 2732 x 2048, encompassing a whopping 5.6 million pixels in a 12.9-inch diagonal screen. By comparison, the 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro has a resolution of 2880 x 1800 pixels on a much larger display (15.4-inch diagonal) — that’s only about 5.2 million pixels.

Needless to say, the display will probably look amazing. With iOS 9 running the show, it’s going to be able to display some amazing apps side by side.

Office on iPad Pro

Apps and OS
One of the more compelling demonstrations during the iPad Pro announcement came from Microsoft. The company showed Microsoft Excel and Word running side by side in half-screen portrait layouts, something that many business users are going to love. Of course, that’s been possible for some time on a large-screen desktop machines and some high-resolution laptops, but having this capability on a lightweight tablet will be a game-changer.

iOS 9 makes this possible, with the ability to “pin” two apps together side-by-side on the screen — also known as split view. One of my favorite features of the upcoming operating system has also been the slide over capability, in which standard iOS built-in apps like Calendar, Notes and more can be pulled up in a sidebar while working in an app, then put away with a swipe. Split view is also coming to OS X El Capitan, making it easier to work with apps side-by-side on desktops and laptops as well.

Logitech CREATE keyboard for iPad Pro

Keyboards and Pencils
In my opinion, the iPad Pro wouldn’t really be a usable work device without a keyboard. I use a keyboard with my iPad Air 2 right now for everything from answering emails, sending messages, and writing blog posts. Working on a virtual keyboard is possible, but not entirely practical, which is why it was refreshing to see Apple’s new $169 Smart Keyboard cover.

Like similar keyboards from a number of manufacturers for existing iPads, the Smart Keyboard protects the screen of the iPad in transit while providing a full QWERTY key arrangement for fast typing. Oddly enough, Apple did not choose to use the new butterfly key mechanism designed for the 12-inch MacBook; instead, it used a “dome” key mechanism with a cloth covering.

One big surprise was that the Smart Keyboard does not use Bluetooth; instead, it’s using the new Smart Connector built into the iPad Pro to pass both power and data to the keyboard. Considering that Bluetooth keyboards need to be charged and will sometimes lose connectivity, this was a smart move by Apple. Other third-party manufacturers have already announced similar support for the Smart Connector, most notably Logitech with its CREATE keyboard for the iPad Pro (see image above).

Apple Pencil

If I had been able to get a dollar for every time I heard someone say “Steve Jobs wouldn’t have liked the Apple Pencil” yesterday, I’d be a rich man today and wouldn’t be writing this post. There’s one big argument against that statement: Jobs was known for his disdain of styluses (he famously said that we were “born with ten of them” when introducing the iPhone in 2007), but he was also the kind of person who would make a 180-degree turn in his beliefs if someone showed him a new invention that was completely revolutionary in its method of solving a problem.

That could be the Apple Pencil. As a tech blogger in the Apple space, I have probably tried every active and passive iPad stylus ever made. And I have to be truthful; I haven’t particularly liked any of them so far. There are some serious issues that arise when using styluses, probably the biggest being that the palm of the hand tends to act as another stylus and jumbles up writing on the tablet. Some apps have addressed this with palm rejection algorithms, but I still haven’t seen one that works perfectly.

Many of the scenes in the Apple Pencil video yesterday (see image above) showed that few people were using the device like they would a pen or pencil on a piece of paper, with the palm contacting the paper. Instead, most of the scenes carefully showed the artist or businessman using the Pencil without touching the screen. So I’m going to adopt a “wait and see” attitude about the Pencil. If the company has made it possible to finally write on a touchscreen — palm touching that screen — with a stylus without causing problems, I will be amazed.

Tablet vs. Laptop
A lot of virtual ink is going to be wasted in the next few months on the debate over what the iPad Pro really is — an oversized tablet, a hybrid device like the Microsoft Surface, or a laptop running iOS. I think the correct answer is that it’s all three, depending on how it’s being used. For those in the field, artists, musicians, and others who use iPads already without the need for a keyboard, it’s going to be a larger iPad with more room for work. People like myself who already use the iPad with an external keyboard for work yet remove it for play are going to see the iPad Pro as a hybrid. For a large contingent that may never remove the Smart Keyboard, the iPad Pro may very well be a replacement for an Apple laptop.

I’ve pointed out to a number of people that I’m personally programmed for a touchscreen laptop: when I use my 12-inch Retina MacBook for work, I find myself tapping and swiping at the screen. It seems natural to use my finger as a pointing device — more natural, in fact, than using a trackpad.

Price Point
It’s interesting to note that the price tag of the iPad Pro really isn’t that bad if you think of it as a laptop replacement. Taking the closest Apple laptop in terms of screen size and resolution — the 12-inch Retina MacBook — the prices are very similar:

  • 12-inch Retina MacBook: $1,299 with 256GB of storage
  • iPad Pro + Smart Keyboard: $949 + $160 = $1,109 with 128GB of storage

The iPad Pro has one other feature that’s not available with any of the MacBooks — built-in cellular data connectivity. That would add another $130 to the price tag, still less expensive than the Retina MacBook.

Wrapping It Up
We won’t get our hands on an iPad Pro until November, but it’s already stirred up a lot of excitement in the tablet market. Considering that the tablet market has actually been contracting lately, Apple may have stumbled upon just the right combination of size, power, and peripherals to jump-start a stagnant business.

What are your opinions about the iPad Pro? Are you chomping at the bit to get one of the new, big tablets? Or is it a big ho-hum to you? Tell us how you feel about the new tablet in the comments.


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