Apple has been trying to convince people for years that you could swap your laptop for an iPad. In fact, it’s been trying to convince people since the first model launched in 2010.
For most people (read: people who need actual keyboards), it’s so far proven a step too far. Many, many people use iPads, but most still want a laptop too. The latest iPads could perhaps change that.
The new tools in Apple’s armoury are the new 10.5in iPad Pro and its refreshed 12.9in sibling. Both have more power, more smarts and, thanks to some impressive new iOS 11 features, more productivity options. We got a chance to try it out at WWDC 2017, and from what we’ve seen so far, we’re impressed.
THERE’S A LOT OF POWER HERE
The new iPads will run on Apple’s A10X Fusion chip, which offers a ridiculous amount of power for a tablet. Think six cores, three of those geared for efficiency and the other three for maximum performance. As for graphics, well, you get a 12-core GPU which Apple says makes the new tablets 40% faster than their predecessors.
At the keynote, Apple showcased the Affinity Photo app created for high-end photo editing, so we jumped at the chance to see how the app works close up – partly to find out if was worth the $20 (R260) introductory price. We found that even for someone whose graphic skills don’t go much beyond cropping and the occasional photo filter, the iPad Pro made it impressively easy to achieve great results. None of the waiting ages just for the program to load (which is pretty much the standard Photoshop experience). And more impressively still, we found we could easily erase the background from a photo in seconds, despite a lack of skill, thanks to little more than a quick swipe here and an Apple Pencil flick there.
The iPad’s enhanced AR abilities are another indication of its extra power.
Apple is going big into VR and AR development, with its new ARKit being built into iOS 11. ARKit is a set of development tools which will give apps new AR abilities, making existing AR apps such as Pokémon Go look far more realistic and giving new apps all manner of exciting possibilities.
The demo app we got to fool with allowed us to project AR objects on to various surfaces, and though we’re not sure we’d buy an iPad Pro just to project virtual coffee cups onto people’s heads, it was undeniably lots of fun. Expect to see lots more VR and AR apps arrive soon.
OH BEZEL, WHERE ART THOU?
Despite the fact that the new iPad Pro’s 10.5in display gives it 20% more screen space than the original 9.7in model, it doesn’t feel much bigger in the hand. That’s mostly because Apple’s followed 2017’s big tech trend and shaved down the bezel so it can cram a bigger screen into a frame that’s almost unchanged in size.
We held the smaller iPad and the extra width is definitely a plus point. It feels just as comfortable as the older 9.7in model but at the same time offers a noticeable amount of extra screen space for viewing webpages or apps and getting serious work done on it with the Pencil. We’re guessing that this is as much of a preview as we’re going to get of the next iPhone display: wider, slimmer bezels, great display.
The new 120Hz refresh rate is a further bonus, making for silky-smooth apps and videos. The two iPad Pro models are the first mobile devices to get more than a 60hz rate, but we fully expect the rest of the world to follow suit now.
Although on paper the display resolution remains relatively low, at 264ppi, it’s hard to see how this display could be made much better, and there’s no denying these are the most impressive screens on an iPad yet.
But it wasn’t until we got to try out the new multi-tasking features built into iOS 11 that we truly understood why the screen needed to be wider. The ability to swipe apps from the dock and run two programs side-by-side in the same window might well convert a few of the laptop faithful, and we also loved how easy it was to just click on links and photos on websites, then drag them right into emails.
OK, so we did experience a few bugs on my first attempt, and it also soon became clear that a Pencil would offer more precision than a finger, but all the same we’re sure using it in this way will become second-nature after a few hours with the device.
SEE THAT PENCIL GO REALLY, REALLY FAST
It’d be amazing if Apple would just get on with it and make an iPhone that works with an Apple Pencil, but until then we’re pretty satisfied with Apple’s stylus on the iPad.
The good news for people who still own last year’s Pencil is that the accessory itself didn’t get a refresh this year – and doesn’t need one anyway. With iOS 11 now supporting handwriting search and with its vastly improved handwriting recognition, the iPad Pro comes ever closer to mimicking pen and paper, only with extra digital perks.
Of course, the best uses for it are in the photo and graphics editing apps, but we found just scribbling notes with the Pencil felt a lot more comfortable on the newer, faster iPad. Not that the previous iPad Pro was a slouch, but when you use styli on a frequent basis, you get a feel as to how/when they respond, and Apple really is getting close to the “I can’t believe this isn’t a real pen on paper” ideal.
IPAD PRO 10.5 – INITIAL VERDICT
The new Dock is clearly the most macOS-inspired new part of iOS 11, and underlines just how neatly Apple is streamlining its overall OS experience. iOS and macOS are increasingly borrowing the best of the other’s features, and for the iPad that’s a really a good thing.
While we would still prefer a laptop in most cases, iOS 11 brings new functionality and a workflow that makes the iPad Pro feel familiar enough that the jump from a MacBook is a lot less jarring. The new Control Center, easier access to apps from the bottom of the screen and all the other features make working on an iPad just that bit more like a laptop. For once, using it left us feeling like we were on a serious grown-up working tool as opposed to just a media consumption device.