When Apple first launched its iPad in 2010, many sneered that it was little more than a giant iPhone. There are echoes of that sentiment today for Apple’s new iPad Pro. Designed as the company’s answer to its long-declining tablet sales, Apple wants it to be a laptop killer. But the first slate of reviews suggest that for now, it is primarily a giant iPad with compelling features.
While there’s certainly potential for the 12.9 inch tablet to take the place of a MacBook or Dell laptop one day with its magnetic, Smart Connector keyboard, the limitations on ports, its awkward lack of a kickstand and better features to manage files suggest that’ll take a few more generations of the device to get there. Having launched the iPad Pro at its jam-packed September event in San Francisco, Apple’s biggest-ever tablet went on sale on Wednesday starting at $800. To get the full Pro experience, there’s also a $100 Apple Pencil and $170 Smart Keyboard.
Comparisons fall predictably into the old Mac vs. PC narrative, with the iPad Pro being far better suited to creative types and anyone who appreciates a more immersive digital experience — with its Pencil and wide range of apps – while the Surface Pro’s strengths are more focused on the practical tasks of getting work done.
“A canvas designed for your biggest ideas,” is how Apple describes the iPad Pro on its website.
“Work anywhere,” is how Microsoft summed up its Surface Pro 3. The marketing alone says much.
Specs spell out that distinction further. The Surface Pro offers more storage, up to 1 terabyte with SSD compared to the iPad Pro’s maximum storage capacity of 128 GB. Apple’s iPad Pro also fails to offer the kind of productivity you’d get from a desktop OS, the Journal’s review adds.
Apple had to get its new, detachable Smart Keyboard right if it truly wanted the iPad Pro to be a laptop replacement, but even here there are issues. Veteran gadget reviewer Walt Mossberg of the Verge said he was disappointed with Apple’s optional keyboard case. Apple should have done more to tailor the keyboard to iOS, rather than just port what you’d already find on a MacBook.
“It’s essentially a shallow, Mac keyboard, with keys like ‘Command’ that mean something only in Mac OS X, but not a single shortcut key to an iPad function, like Home or Search,” he said. “It’s also not backlit, and it has only one angle in which it holds the screen.”
“Graphics folks will love it,” he summed up, “but I’m sticking with my iPad Air.” That he compares the Pro to a smaller iPad and not even a MacBook suggests Apple has some ways to go to make its bigger tablet truly register in people’s minds as an alternative to a laptop.
Here’s another drawback: the iPad Pro’s keyboard lacks a trackpad, so to select text or an app or any object on the screen, you have to lift your hands off the keyboard and touch the tablet. This, according to Buzzfeed’s Nicole Nguyen, led to “arm strain,” a likely contender for First World Problem of the Year.
But the problem is real, she insists, and forced her to use the Apple Pencil to poke the screen, saving her the extra inches of reaching with her finger: “I was so tired of lifting my wrist.”
“I write words for a living and so, I love keyboards,” she added. “Unfortunately, longterm keyboard-iPad use makes me want to dunk my hand in an ice bucket.”
Bloomberg’s Sam Grobart summed it up best. Instead of being a device that could one-up a laptop, the iPad Pro was a tablet with “feature creep.” A tablet at its core with a handful of extra features that helped it stretch a little further into productive tasks – it just doesn’t get there as completely as a laptop, or perhaps as much as Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4.