Sunday, November 15, 2015

What Apple experts say about the 12.9-inch iPad Pro

The PC Killer?

In 2010, Steve Jobs took to the stage to unveil the iPad which was all nothing but a bigger iPhone at that time but with the popularity of iOS growing dramatically over the years, developers started taking interest in designing new experiences specifically targeted at the iPad's larger display. Ever since the original iPad was launched, subsequent iPad models brought into market basically worked as expected. Sure, there is more powerful hardware being included in each iteration but that's well expected for a next generation product. As you can say, the iPad whether it's the mini or the Air is basically the same.

Just like the iPhone, Apple will refresh the iPad lineup every year and while the hardware has been getting more impressive year after year, iOS still feels like a bigger iPhone on the iPad. Currently, there are over 850,000 applications that take advantage of the iPad's larger display but this year with iOS 9, Apple is finally bringing in some well needed software enhancements to improve productivity and multitasking on their beloved tablet.

With the new multitasking features enabled, this is where the next generation iPad comes to play. iPad Pro is what Apple is calling it and just like Apple's own MacBook lineup (which also conveniently has an Air and Pro model), the iPad Pro is designed to be a high performance device that will supposedly replace your computer according to Tim Cook. The big screen is not the only new thing available on the iPad Pro, there's also a new smart connector which is used to attach accessories like a physical keyboard without any wireless connectivity making it a native experience. But is it just a bigger iPad like how the mini is a smaller iPad?

Who is the iPad Pro for?

This is a pretty persistent question and also an ongoing debate through initial reviews. Apple isn't clearly stating who this new iPad is targeted at but Tim Cook hints that the iPad Pro might find success with enterprise users and designers which will both be able to take advantage of the optional keyboard accessory and Apple Pencil. But as for everyone else, Tim Cook says the iPad Pro will take over the job of a laptop and computer.
“I think if you’re looking at a PC, why would you buy a PC anymore? No really, why would you buy one?”, asks Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO telegraph
Tim Cook's quote stating that the PC market is dead and the majority will want to replace it with an iPad Pro is somewhat of a hyperbole. The way Apple is pricing the iPad Pro clearly shows that they are targeting the iPad Pro as a device which is just as capable (if not better) as a MacBook but the problem with Tim Cook's interview with Telegraph is that many people regard the iPad as a device to relax (play some games and watch some videos) and not something used to replace a computer. Sure, the iPad Pro might have a powerful SoC but the software is still a little limiting even with the new split-view multitasking feature on iOS 9. In short, the PC market is not going to go away anytime soon contrary to what Tim Cook says.

iPad Pro specifications:

  • 12.9" 2732 x 2048 Retina Display (264 PPI)
  • Apple A9X SoC
  • 8MP rear camera
  • 1.2MP front camera
  • 10,307mAh battery
  • Wi-Fi ac and optional LTE
  • 305 x 220 x 7mm (710/720g)
  • $799 / $949 / $1079
It is no secret that iPad sales haven't been as successful as the iPhone, Apple has been facing declining sales for the last seven consecutive quarters and as you can imagine, the introduction of the iPad Pro is designed to improve iPad sales (or is it?). The problem with the iPad is that you only need one iPad because you can get the same app experience on both the mini and the Air, the only difference is the screen size. But that might very well change with the iPad Pro, it is still indefinitely just a bigger iPad for the time being just like how the OG iPad was just a bigger iPhone when it launched but in time, Apple might get themselves a winner in the long run.

The key to the iPad Pro's success is a new breed of iOS applications designed specifically for the iPad Pro. Unlike iPad applications, this new category of iPad Pro applications will not only take advantage of the bigger 12.3-inch display but also take advantage of the powerful SoC (in this case, the A9X), additional input provided by the Apple Pencil and possibly also through the Smart Connector. Right now, there is only a small selection of apps from Adobe and Microsoft that has been updated to take advantage of the extra performance that iPad Pro brings but expect to see more in the future.

But then we go back to the main question about who is the iPad Pro for and who will be able to take advantage of all the extra features that iPad Pro brings to the table. It will be interesting to see who actually ends up buying the iPad Pro because the price including the optional $169 Smart Keyboard is directly competing with devices like Apple's own MacBook Air and popular Ultrabooks running Windows 10. Personally I think that the iPad Pro will be just right for designers because Apple products in general appeals them and the iPad Pro combination with the Apple Pencil sounds like a perfect combination. But you never know, people might very well just buy the iPad Pro and regard it as a bigger iPad.

A first generation product?

When talking about the iPad Pro (or any Apple product in general), other competing or existing devices will be pulled into the conversation and the Apple's new 12.9-inch iPad is no exception. Probably the most profound comparison is between Microsoft's Surface tablet lineup which in the eyes of a lot is the inspiration Apple took when designing the iPad Pro. I am not going into this debate about which product to choose and to rant about the performance of both devices. Just keep in mind that the iPad Pro is still undoubtedly a tablet and the Microsoft's Surface Pro line is more of a tablet computer hybrid. But, both devices and most 2-in-1 devices in general face an identity crisis.

But bottom line, it seems that the iPad Pro despite being a pretty solid overall already has a better future in upcoming iterations. For one thing, Apple is bound to bring Force Touch / 3D Touch to the iPad sooner or later and that will probably make the iPad Pro more compelling overall as a productivity device. Another thing is that accessories like the Smart Cover will probably improve in the next version as it becoming a big problem since the iPad Pro can only be set onto a single angle just like the original Microsoft Surface tablet. But the problem with that seems to be with the Smart Connector itself which is designed to be positioned only one way. Either way, Apple will be fixing the issues with the display angle and soft feeling keys in the near future and they might even stall on time by saying something like "you are viewing it wrongly". It's not like they have not done it in the past.
"Apple is bound to bring Force Touch / 3D Touch to the iPad"
Another thing that Apple will possibly include in future iterations of the iPad Pro is a USB Type C port or a USB adapter so that users don't need to fully rely on the cloud. In terms of software, iOS 10 or beyond will most likely address issues like the 5 x 4 grid on the current launcher with all the blank space in between icons and also split view multitasking is bound to get better with support for more applications. All signs point to the iPad Pro facing the 'first generation' fever where things are still in a little mess and you might risk it by getting it today and have to spend another $800 when you want to get a newer generation iPad Pro in the future. Not to say you can't buy and replace it next year but you don't simply replace an $800 product every two years like you do with a phone plus iPads are known to last like a tank.

What critics are saying

credit: WIRED
As expected, the initial batch of reviews are from Apple's best set of journalists which may sound vaguely biased since Apple is directly supplying them with review units. But through these reviews, most of them are pretty neutral and by that I mean that the reviews are not entirely about continuously praising Apple's ingenuity. But overall, the iPad Pro seems to be a pretty recommendable product with a strong potential for improvement with a future version of iOS and make sure to pick up the $99 Apple Pencil while you're at it and just don't get the $169 Smart Keyboard, just don't. Get Logitech's $150 iPad Pro keyboard instead, that's what everyone is recommending.

The iPad Pro itself receives mixed results across the board with some saying that Tim Cook's words are on par and that the iPad Pro is poised to replace the traditional laptop with other saying that the weak multitasking features disrupt the experience. As expected, the iPad Pro continues the tradition of excellent iPad battery life with equal praises from reviewers about the long lasting battery. Also, most of the reviewers do briefly compare the iPad Pro with Microsoft's Surface Pro 4 and end up saying they are two different devices.

Wall Street Journal Joanna Stern's review of the iPad Pro puts Apple's new 12.9" iPad to the paces by testing it out as several device types from a laptop replacement to a mini television. The iPad Pro's potential is said to be there with accessories like the durable physical keyboard but the software is what's limiting the experience. Read the full review >
"An $800 box of cereal? The 12-inch-by-8.5-inch Pro is about the same dimensions as a standard box of cereal"
The Verge Lauren Goode from felt confident that Apple has a winning product here but things like the lack of support for a wider range of optimized applications and some extra multitasking features make choosing the iPad Pro over a fully fledged MacBook Pro a tough decision right now. Read the full review >
"It certainly doesn’t feel thick relative to its size. And to go back to the earlier comparison to a MacBook: it’s still lighter than a laptop. It was easy to throw in a bag and carry around for a day or a weekend trip."
The Verge The famous Walt Mossberg from Recode weighs in on the iPad Pro by saying that the ergronomics of the device is not too optimized but other things like the battery life and Apple Pencil is on par with what Apple advertises with the device lasting a full day and a low latency with the stylus and the iPad Pro's display Read the full review >
"But, for me — a person already using his laptop a lot less in favor of the iPad — the Pro is just not likely to eliminate my laptop use entirely. And I say that knowing that, for instance, there will be better keyboard covers and cases."
TechCrunch Matthew Panzarino focuses on the Apple Pencil with his iPad Pro review by praising it's precision compared to existing solution and also takes some time to explain how Apple designed the display to decrease latency between the Pencil input to create a seamless experience. Read the full review >
"iPads have little to no known malware, no bloatware to make a machine run slower, strict allowances for utilizing standing system resources and known hardware. What happens when you have a capable general consumer computing device, with no moving parts and software that is designed explicitly for the maximum capabilities of the device and no more? No one knows. It’s literally never happened before."
Ars Technica Andrew Cunningham mostly enjoyed the iPad Pro experience but thinks that iOS 9's new multitasking features is still not content for the bigger iPad Pro screen. He hopes that Apple will allow more leway for application multitasking so the overall software experience will be better. Read the full review >
"The A9X can’t quite get up to the level of a modern U-series Core i5 based on Broadwell or Skylake (see the 2015 MacBook Air and Surface Pro 4 results), but it’s roughly on the same level as a Core i5 from 2013 or so and it’s well ahead of Core M. And despite the fact that it lacks a fan, the A9X shows little sign of throttling"
WIRED David Pierce charges over to praise the impressive battery life on the iPad Pro and continued on to talk about the accessories with preference to the Apple Pencil over Apple's Smart keyboard accessory. He ends his review by talking about Apple's vision to get people to switch from a computer to being productivity exclusively from an iPad. Read the full review >
"You’ve seen an iPad, right? So you already know what the iPad Pro looks like. The gold, silver, and space gray color options. The slightly rounded edges with the gleaming accents. The home button on the front, the power and volume buttons around one corner. (It’s tempting to call them “top” and “bottom,” but there is no such thing here.) The way it feels balanced in your hands, sturdy without being heavy."
MacStories Federico Viticci talks about his experience of switching from an iPad mini to iPad Air 2 and end his iPad Pro review by saying that the device is still undoubtedly an iPad but the extra heft and size only adds to the overall iPad experience which is just right for use on a table as a productivity device and not too overbearing to carry it everywhere. Read the full review >
"Thus, working with Split View on the iPad Pro is true multitasking. When I'm researching something in Safari and I need to keep Notes next to it, Safari shows tabs below the address bar and buttons in the top toolbar, instead of hiding tabs in a subview and moving buttons to the bottom like it does on the Air 2. Because the iPad Pro has a wider Split View, apps like 2Do can default to showing the sidebar next to a list of tasks."

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