Apple launched a new tranche of iPad Pro TV ads last week addressing actual queries and challenges from the Twitterverse, albeit using actors for the visuals. That’s great. As an iPad fan and heavy user, I’m delighted to see some love being lavished on Apple’s slate, alongside the much more elaborate TV advertising promotion of the iPhone and Apple Watch.
However, while Apple is marketing the iPad Pro as a professional tool, the questions and assertions responded to in the new ad campaign are not ones that would typically be posted by actual professional users. That’s fine too. Lots of products get pitched to consumers as “professional grade” — a term that somehow never gets specifically defined. What the new TV ads don’t accomplish or even attempt is address of any of the several capability issues that currently prevent serious productivity oriented users from embracing the iPad Pro as a legitimate candidate to replace their Mac or Windows PC laptop as a comprehensively capable production platform.
In one of the spots Apple responds to the challenge: “An iPad Pro is not even close to being a computer” by affirming that the iPad Pro is not a computer, — “it’s “better than a computer.” That statement demands a lot of qualification. In actual fact of course the iPad is a computer, as are the iPhone, iPod touch, Apple Watch, various control modules in your car, and so forth. In this context it’s implicit that iPads are being compared to laptops, and the unqualified blanket contention that they’re “better” is highly debatable. In some aspects, the iPad can indeed be better than a laptop, or at least handier and more convenient to use in certain circumstances, which is why I’m composing this blog on an iPad right now. Apple points to the A9X powered iPad Pro being faster than most laptops (and the forthcoming A10X is rumored to be four times faster than the A9X), is available with LTE “like your phone,” and has a touchscreen you can write on with an Apple Pencil. However I vigorously dispute that an iPad Pro, even when duded up with (optional) LTE data connectivity, Smart Keyboard and an Apple Pencil stylus, is a satisfactory replacement for a Mac or Windows laptop as a workhorse personal computer.
It’s also as or more expensive. A 12.9-inch iPad Pro with LTE and 128GB data storage memory sells for $1029. Add a Smart Keyboard for $169 and a $99 Apple Pencil, and you’r up to $1297, or two dollars less than a base 12-inch Retina MacBook with 256GB onboard flash storage, a 1.1GHz dual-core Intel Core m3 processor, 8GB of memory, and Intel HD Graphics 515 at $1299, and just shy of $300 more than a 13-inch MacBook Air.
Another of the ads touts the iPad’s unbeleagueredness with the malware and virus onslaught that plagues Windows and Android users. “You know, an iPad Pro doesn’t get PC viruses – so relax, there’s nothing to be afraid of” says the voiceover. But neither are macOS PCs besieged by malware to any major degree — points that pro users will already be cognizant of, but in many cases not the prospective consumer clientele these TV spots are really targeting.
Another of the ads cites availability of Microsoft Word on the iPad, but doesn’t clarify that Word for iOS is a different breed of cat than Word for Windows or macOS. My wife, who took a course in MS Office usage at her workplace last fall, has Word on her Bluetooth keyboard equipped iPad, but finds the touchscreen interface with no mouse cursor highly frustrating compared with using Word on her Windows desktop at work.
These new iPad Pro ads come at a time when Apple is widely anticipated to be fixing to release major iPad updates, (Japanese Apple-watcher site Macotakara suggests late March is likely for shipping of a new iPad Pro 2 (12.9-inch), iPad Pro 2 (9.7-inch), and even a mini iPad Pro (7.9-inch), but suggests that we might have to wait for May for the bezel-less iPad Pro 10.5-inch. A speed bump and features tweak for the 12.9-inch model are expected and and a lower-priced 9.7-inch entry level model has been rumored. I notice that delivery of a 12.9-inch model like the one I specced out above is currently 2-3 weeks, which may be a sign of Apple drawing down stock of the current models in anticipation of an imminent major product announcements. On a pessimistic note, Taiwan’s Digitimes says sources in the upstream supply chain tell them the new Apple tablets may not be released in the market or even announced until the second half of 2017, due to component supply hangups.
Details are not plentiful even from the rumor mills on what may be coming with the upgrades and any new model announcements, aside from presumably A10X chipset power, DCI-P3 or perhaps even AMOLED display technology and/or automatic harmonizing of display color and intensity with ambient light of the surrounding environment, the 12.9-inch model getting the 12-megapixel rear-facing iSight camera and True Tone flash introduced in the 9.7-inch Pro, and the new 10.5-inch form factor.
However, if Apple really wants to make the iPad Pro a credible laptop surrogate, before expending engineering resources on skinnier screen bezels and such, there are other matters that more urgently demand attention.
I already mentioned mouse or trackpad support in passing, and text selection or other tasks that require precision screen cursor placing make the complaint shortlist of most folks who try to do production work on iPads. The price of the Smart Keyboard should be ample to support adding a trackpad, use of which could toggle an onscreen cursor. Another, not unrelated feature addition would be a USB-C port or two to replace the current Apple proprietary Lightning port. With USB-C a regular mouse or Magic Trackpad could be connected, also triggering appearance of an on-screen cursor. USB-C support would also allow hard-wired data transfer and backup.
Even with Split View, Slide Over, and Picture in Picture, multitasking on the iPad still leaves much to be desired, with real multi-windowing and drag-and-drop between open windows still unsupported. Not to mention lack of user access to a document level file directory, which makes tasks like uploading images to Website forms (e.g.:Wordpress) or working on a particular document on more than one app impossible.
The iOS also needs a clipboard manager as easy to use as the Open Source Jumpcut app I use on the Mac, and iOS Spotlight needs to be able to do word level content searches inside documents.
The iPad’s handier form factor enables working in a wider and more flexible range of venues, and the incredibly deep selection of iOS apps often provides reasonable workarounds at least for working with text. I try to keep work in progress synchronized and available for edits across both platforms via Dropbox, which means working in plain text on the Macs as well as the iPad. Not a problem for me because I switched to plain text on the Mac back in the late ‘”90s anyway.
I would like to do more production work than just basic composition and editing on the iPad, but currently, it’s just so much slicker and faster to use my MacBook Air. What the iPad needs more than anything is a major slickness upgrade. Unfortunately, I suspect real pro-user concerns and priorities will get passed over again when Apple rolls out the next generation of iPads. I hope I’m mistaken.