I was convinced that this was going to be an iPad-only event.
Now, I’m seriously glad it wasn’t.
Following perhaps the most ludicrously elaborate transition of any Apple event so far (a disguised Tim Cook circling the roof of Apple’s ‘spaceship’ campus on foot before diving deep into its bowels to undertake a Mission Impossible-inspired processor swap), we were presented with the new iPad Pro.
During an event that delivered an overdue iMac redesign, the long-rumoured AirTags and, finally, a not-terrible Apple TV remote, the iPad Pro was easily the most boring announcement of the day.
Let me explain why.
The rumours were way off
There had been a gentle undercurrent of rumours relating to a forthcoming M1-powered iPad Pro. But they remained far beneath the surface, not least because many people dismissed them for being way off the mark.
After all, why on earth would Apple place what is ostensibly a desktop and laptop chip into an iPad? They’re entirely different architectures that support completely different operating systems.
That left the far more believable rumour of new screen technology to continue bubbling away. The new iPad would, we were told by all and sundry, feature a new display technology.
I couldn’t get excited about this. And I really tried, promise.
As it turns out, the new iPad does have new screen technology. But it took Apple forever to finally utter the phrase ‘mini-LED’.
It’s the same story on their website; buried beneath talk of 1,600 nits peak brightness, a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio and Liquid Retina, lies a brief piece of chest-beating about the inclusion of 10,000 mini-LEDs.
Yes, that’s a lot of numbers already, and we’re nowhere near the worst of them yet.
The screen technology is baffling alone. Likened by Apple to their Pro Display XDR, the big iPad Pro’s new panel apparently offers “extreme dynamic range” and “true-to-life detail”.
This all sounds wonderful until you consider how lovely the current iPad’s screen is. It has never felt underserved by its technology, nor has it ever demanded a switch to OLED.
Why, therefore, Apple chose to illustrate the most niche iPad workflow I’ve ever seen in order to demonstrate how capable the new screen technology is, I’ll never know. “Our users can take their XDR workflow* wherever they go,” we were told, referencing the comparative display technology between Apple’s £5,000 professional reference panel and the new iPad Pro.
Confused? Me too.
But it gets worse.
*hands up if you have one of those?
They’ve thrown an M1 into it
Yes, those tiny rumours which were dismissed by the panel on a recent MacBreak Weekly show were true – Apple has indeed shoehorned an M1 chip into the new iPad Pro.
This delivers 50% faster performance over the outgoing model. Compare it with the first generation iPad, and it’s a whopping 75 times quicker.
Things get even more silly when you compare the new iPad Pro’s GPU performance to that of the first-generation iPad.
It’s 1,500 times faster.
We didn’t see that one coming, Tim.
This is the crux of the issue. For at least the last six or seven years, the iPad has been streets ahead not just of the competition (of which there is, arguably, hardly any), but of itself.
It’s too powerful. I remember tech pundit Andy Ihnatko noting that the original iPad Pro was “suspiciously powerful”, and suggesting that this could point towards some seriously big iOS (as it was back then) updates and pro app support being in the pipeline.
That never really happened. We eventually received iPadOS which added some weird semi-widgets, slightly better file management and the seemingly useful but ultimately forgettable Scribble. But it still remained nothing more than a larger version of the iPhone’s operating system.
Hands up: I don’t put my iPad through its paces. But that’s because I don’t know how to, and there aren’t any iPadOS-compatible pro apps that are worth my time at the moment (I’m strictly a Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro guy).
More tellingly, I can’t think of anyone I know either within my immediate circle or of those I follow in the tech world who are maxing out their iPads.
I think that’s simply because you can’t. These things are too powerful.
Why, then, add an M1 chip into the mix?
It’s a marketing and tech flex
Apple is on a bit of a high at the moment, and deservedly so. The launch of the M1 chip for the Mac platform has been, by and large, extremely well received.
Certainly, it has completely changed the way I think about computing in general.
But it really didn’t need to go into the iPad. Its inclusion feels like the result of an M1 launch party during which a tequila-fuelled all-nighter took place and resulted in Apple’s silicon team popping an M1 into the one device that needed it the least. Just for a laugh.
Why make a tablet that’s so powerful no one can max it out any more powerful? It’d be like adding 400 extra BHP to a 2,000 BHP car. No one will benefit from it, or even notice it’s there.
The only possible reason for doing so, therefore, is to flex your muscles. Check us out – not only have we wiped the floor with Intel in lots of benchmarks, we decided to chuck the same chip into our tablet, too!
I have no issue with this – particularly if it was a drunken experiment. But I do have an issue with the inevitable flood of partisan Apple tech reporting which will wax lyrical about how incredibly fast this thing is. It’ll leave Intel chips crying in the corner, they’ll say; it demonstrates just how amazing the Apple silicon team is, they’ll sing.
The problem is, I just don’t care. And I don’t think anyone else does, either.
I love the iPad, but suggesting it’s an ideal bedfellow for a £6K super-professional desktop monitor is rather tone-deaf. I don’t think Apple read the room correctly with this one at all.
There is another explanation, of course – Apple knows that it can’t take this slab of glass and aluminium much further, but is equally aware of the fact that it still needs a regular release schedule. So, they do the one thing they can do: pour years of silicon development and the benefit of owning the entire tech stack into yet another huge performance upgrade.
It’s just a shame none of us can use it.
You lost me at 5G
We’ve all had a good laugh at the number of times 5G was mentioned during the iPhone 12 announcement, but for me, it was yet another boast about a form of technology very few people will get to experience for an awfully long time.
So, of course they put 5G in the new iPad Pro.
We could have waited for this, Apple, trust me. There are still huge swathes of the UK where obtaining a 4G signal is barely possible.
There were further instances of pointless muscle-flexing at this event. For instance, we’re also getting an ‘advanced camera system’, which will be great news for the – mercifully – minority of users who raise their iPads at street parades to take bad photos of whatever’s passing by.
Oh, and don’t forget about the new 12MP front-facing camera which now boasts an ultra-wide lens. This is to enable FaceTime calls to track your movement and magically move the frame to keep you in shot. A bit like, you know, Microsoft Teams.
Lastly, they’ve painted the Magic Keyboard case white. Which actually looks pretty cool, to be fair.
I received a lot of heat after delivering my rally call for Apple to kill off the Apple TV. With hindsight, that article was a little shortsighted, and today’s announcement for that device has prompted me to dive back into the world of Apple TV once the new version ships.
This feels different. The new iPad Pro is a technical marvel. But, then, so is enabling 10-bit Dolby Vision HDR video recording on a telephone. That doesn’t change the fact that no one will use it.
The issue with the iPad Pro is far bigger, if you’ll excuse the pun. Unless you want that 12.9” screen, there really is no reason to opt for it over the iPad Air. That’s right – the iPad Air with its low refresh rate screen, no Face ID and a complete inability to slot into a Pro Display XDR user’s workflow.
The iPad Air is the best iPad Apple has made for a long, long time. And that hasn’t changed today.