Apple has announced updates to its iPad Pro, the company's tablet aimed at professional creatives, with a new, larger-base model of the headline-maker. The story behind the headline, however, is that an all-new screen, spec upgrades, and iOS 11 could be destined to transform Apple's top tablet into a true pro design tool.
First, that all-new model: the 10.5-inch iPad Pro will replace the iPad Pro 9.7, putting clear blue water between Apple's pro machine and the much cheaper, standard iPad. The existing 12.9-inch iPad Pro also receives major spec upgrades.
Screen if you wanna go faster
The new 10.5-inch iPad Pro reduces the bezel by just under 40 per cent to fit into an incredibly compact package that weighs just one pound – the same as the previous 9.7-inch model. That extra screen real estate allows for a full-size on-screen keyboard as well as a larger canvas to take advantage of creative apps that utilise Apple Pencil.
The iPad Pro 10.5 and iPad Pro 12.9 both feature a new display that uses what Apple is calling ProMotion technology. This basically allows for super-smooth refresh rates of up to 120Hz for fluid scrolling, greater responsiveness and smoother motion content.
Most importantly for pro designers, ProMotion makes the already excellent Apple Pencil even more responsive, with a 20-millisecond latency for even more fluid and natural drawing. Cleverly, ProMotion also improves display quality and reduces power consumption by automatically adjusting the display refresh rate to match the movement of the content.
You get a resolution of 2224x1668 or 2732x2048, both at 264ppi, depending on the size of your iPad. The display is Apple’s brightest iPad display yet and features an anti-reflective coating, but it remains to be seen whether this improves the screen's visibility in direct sunlight.
True Tone, Apple's auto-white balance adjustment, is on-board to help offer a natural and accurate viewing experience depending on your surroundings, and a wide colour gamut promises more vibrant colours.
These are the most powerful iPads ever, natch. Processor power is provided by the new A10X Fusion chip, a 64-bit chipset comprising a six-core CPU and 12-core GPU. The previous iPad Pros were no slouch with their A9X chips, but enhanced multi-tasking (more of this below…) will require a speed boost.
It can come with serious storage, too – up to 512GB, in fact, which is a jaw-dropping SSD size for a tablet as slender as the iPad. As usual, there is currently no indication of RAM but it's fair to assume it will at least match the 4GB of its predecessor.
Sound and vision
The new iPad Pro is still promoted by Apple as a part-time camera, but we are yet to be convinced that a tool the size of an iPad is a genuine camera alternative for professional artists and designers, whatever the specification. And that spec is impressive, with both iPads featuring the same front and back-facing cameras as iPhone 7, including a 12-megapixel camera with optical image stabilisation and a 7-megapixel FaceTime HD camera.
iPad Pro also features the same four-speaker audio system as its predecessor, with its clever orientation detection allowing for the correct stereo performance regardless of how you are holding it.
The most game-changing element of the new iPad Pro is not the hardware, however (although it helps). It is not an exaggeration to say that Apple's latest mobile operating system, iOS 11, could transform the iPad Pro from luxury accessory to true design tool – and for some people it may even be a genuine laptop replacement.
We have touched on some of iOS 11's key features here, but the essential features that it brings to the pro tablet are:
- Customisable Dock: Enabling true multitasking ability, just like your laptop
- Files app: Finder-style interface that gives you full control of your files, regardless of which cloud storage tool you use
- Drag-and-drop to speed up your workflow
- Instant notes and markup with Apple Pencil
The reason that these seemingly minor features have flown under the radar is that they are not as sexy as a new piece of hardware, but they add up – along with the ProMotion screen and updated internals – to a vastly improved tablet.
The ability to use iOS more like a desktop OS by having full control over the location of your files, being able to drag files into application icons to instantly open the app and begin editing the file, and quickly and easily switch between open applications, presents a paradigm shift.
The utopian dream of an iPad Pro running full-fat macOS, or Apple releasing a Surface Book-style MacBook/iPad hybrid, have either come closer to reality or increasingly unnecessary. Whichever is true, it is certainly good times again for those of us in the creative industries who prefer Cupertino's products but have felt ignored in recent years.
At least, that is the theory. Although the new iPad Pros are available to buy now, we'll have to wait until later this year to discover if iOS 11 lives up to expectations. The iPad's future as a serious design tool depends upon it.
- iPad Pro (10.5-inch): From £619 (64GB with Wi-Fi) to £1,019 (512GB Wi-Fi + Cellular)
- iPad Pro (12.9-inch): From £769 (64GB with Wi-Fi) to £1,169 (512GB Wi-Fi + Cellular)
Head to the Apple Store to find out more.