iPad Pro: 2020 Report

Foreword

The iPad Pro originally launched in late 2015. A deviation from the standard iPad line. A more powerful processor, support for pen input and a specially designed keyboard cover. One larger than life feature that separated the iPad Pro from iPad’s that came before it was the giant 12.9 inch Retina display. The display was gorgeous but in a time before edge to edge displays, the bezels made the iPad Pro large to the point that it just wan’t practical for most people.

Apple started to change that in 2016, launching a 9.7 inch version of the iPad Pro and then followed that up with a 10.5 inch model in 2017. These smaller versions of the iPad Pro included the things people really liked about the iPad Pro such as support for the Apple Pencil and the Smart Keyboard but in a much more practical form factor.

Then came 2018. In October of 2018, Apple unveiled the most radical re-design of the iPad, not just the iPad Pro but the entire product category. The third iteration of the iPad Pro was leaps and bounds ahead of any tablet that came before. The device featured gorgeous edge to edge displays that enabled smaller form factors without compromising on the size of the display and traded lightning for USB-C connectivity. The 2018 iPad Pro also had much better accessories such as the Apple Pencil 2 that attached to the device magnetically and charged in the same way. The A12X chip in the 2018 iPad Pro was killer, far more powerful than most PC laptops and even in 2020 it’s still miles ahead.

Apple really nailed the hardware with the third generation iPad Pro. Early reviews praised the product but lamented the software. The iPad felt shackled by the chains of iOS. An operating system designed for the iPhone but optimised for the iPad. In June 2019 however, Apple finally announced that the iPad would receive its own unique operating system, iPadOS. The new operating system maintains relative harmony with iOS and uses the same design language. The crucial differences include support for a desktop version of Safari, much improved multi-tasking, an early iteration of mouse support and external drive support.

So where does the iPad go next? let’s take a look

New Hardware Features

Last week, Apple unveiled the fourth generation iPad Pro. At first glance, it appears to be largely unchanged from the already excellent third generation iPad Pro. That’s not a bad thing, the previous generation is still way ahead of any other tablet, even 15 months since its release. Instead Apple has chosen to build on the solid foundation of the third generation.

  • A12Z Bionic Chip – Whilst the CPU doesn’t offer much in the way of a performance boost, it does offer a couple of important improvements. First of all is an additional graphics core, jumping to 8 cores up from 7 in the outgoing A12X chip. This results in a smaller but still noticeable boost to graphics performance. The A12Z chip also has an improved thermal architecture that should result in reduced power consumption and the device should stay cool even when running intensive apps and games.
  • All iPad Pro 2020 models ship with 6GB of RAM. 6GB was previously exclusive to the 1TB storage option in the 2018 model. Apple claimed that was to enable support for the higher storage capacity. Now nobody gets left behind on RAM, no matter the storage you opt for.
  • The fourth generation iPad Pro starts with a 128GB storage option. This is great to see as the previous model started at 64GB which for many people wasn’t quite enough for a Pro device. The 256GB by contrast was far too much storage for others. This 128GB is a nice sweet spot and makes the iPad Pro better value.
  • On the back of the device is the biggest external change to the iPad Pro. The device features a similar square camera bump to the iPhone 11 range and for good reason. First of all the iPad Pro features the same wide angle lens as the iPhone 11 which is a terrific camera. Second of all Apple has added an ultra-wide camera similar to what we see in the iPhone 11, albeit at a slightly lower 10 megapixels.
  • Apple has also added another sensor to the iPad Pro, located inside the camera bump. That sensor is Lidar. Lidar uses lasers and invisible light to measure the distance between the iPad and different objects that the camera can see. This sensor is designed to unlock next generation AR experiences. The iPad can now calculate distance and depth in an instant. The lag we typically see with current AR apps is no more. Even better is that developers don’t need to do anything to their apps to take advantage of the new sensor. Developers will however be able to build new experiences with Lidar using the latest version of Apple’s AR development tool, ARKit 3.5.
  • Apple has added additional microphones to the iPad Pro that it describes as ‘Studio Quality’. Early reviews do indicate an impressive improvement to the quality and richness of audio captured by the microphones. A nice improvement.

These additional hardware features build on an already impressive set of features. The fourth generation iPad Pro maintains the already excellent 11inch or 12.9inch Liquid Retina display with 120Hz refresh rate. Returning is 10 hour battery life, FaceID for unlocking the iPad, impressive quad speaker audio and more.

The updates to the hardware are all welcome changes but if you’re an owner of the third generation, you’ll probably feel quite content to hold on to your current iPad for another year or two. For anybody that hasn’t jumped on to the iPad Pro bandwagon but was considering doing so? well now is a great time do to just that.

New Software Features

Along with the new iPad Pro hardware, Apple released iPad OS 13.4. This seemingly incremental update was secretly packing a huge feature for iPad. True cursor support for iPad. This is huge because until now, Apple has always maintained that the iPad is a touch first device. Over the last few years as the iPad has evolved and matured, it became clear that additional input options would add versatility and flexibility to the iPad.

With the first iPad Pro, Apple added pen support with the Apple Pencil. They did so in a truly elegant way that removed many of the barriers to stylus based input. The latency of Apple Pencil is the lowest in the industry and the form feels natural and familiar to just about anybody that has used a regular hand writing pen or pencil. Apple refined this with the Apple Pencil 2 added a more practical charging method and added touch controls embedded into the accessory.

Apple has added cursor support but rather than just slap the feature on top of the OS, the tech giant has done special work to make the feature truly unique. The cursor trades the standard arrow pointer for a small, circular pointer, akin to the pad of our fingers. Further to this, as you move the cursor over a button, the cursor snaps on to the button and adapts its form and shape to match. This is a really interesting take on the cursor. My personal thoughts are that this makes a ton of sense. Apple isn’t saying the iPad is now just a Mac or a laptop. They’re providing input options dependant on the task. The iPad is grab and go. Ready for touch input, a cursor when you need additional precision and pen input for fine grain control and drawing.

New Accessories

This report wouldn’t be complete without talking about THAT new accessory. I’m of course talking about the new Magic Keyboard. Apple has completely re-thought the Smart Keyboard from previous iPad models with an innovative new design.

  • The Magic keyboard trades fabric covered buttons, for real scissor switch plastic key caps that for the first time on iPad, are back-lit.
  • The additional of a glass trackpad enable native support for the new cursor features built into iPadOS 13.4 and as this is a trackpad, multi fingers gestures come along for the ride! This enables you to do things like quickly switch apps, return home, pinch to zoom on a website and all without moving your fingers away from the palm rest.
  • The Magic Keyboard features a pass through USB-C port which is ideal as it means you can charge the iPad Pro and leaves the iPads own USB-C port free for other purposes such as connecting a storage drive.

One particularly unique feature of the Magic Keyboard is the cantilevered hinge. This borrows from some of Apple’s older product designs such as the striking ‘sun flower’ iMac from many years ago. This provides a unique solution to the problem of offering multiple display viewing angles on a tablet without the need for a kickstand.

This accessory whilst innovative and exciting, is in some ways unsurprising. Apple now offers cursor input in iPadOS so it makes sense that they also provide a way to take full advantage of this. Of course owners of older iPad models running iPadOS 13.4 can take advantage of cursor support using an external mouse or trackpad over Bluetooth or with a USB adapter.

Bottom Line

The 2020 iPad Pro is an excellent refinement of the 2018 iPad Pro. It offers better value at the same price price points as the last model. It gives us a sense of where Apple plans to take the iPad in the future. This 2020 iPad Pro will no doubt be upgraded with new software features later this year with iPadOS 14. Perhaps we’ll see a true finder? Perhaps Apple will bring across Final Cut Pro X or Logic! Who knows. One thing is clear, Apple has a vision for iPad that feels more focused than ever. If you were thinking about buying an iPad Pro already or you want to replace your Mac for day to day computing, then this product might just be for you.

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