Review : The iPad Pro

Apple’s first productivity class tablet, six years in the making.

iPad Pro with Apple’s Smart Keyboard cover.

The direction in which you look while standing on the continuum that connects the personal computer on one side with the smartphone on the other will probably inform what you think about the new iPad Pro.

From the outset the thing that’s most obvious about the iPad Pro is the sheer expanse of its display which spans a whisker off thirteen inches compared with the modest 9.7" screen of its standard sibling, the iPad Air 2.

This being the case, instinctively speaking this review ought to really end right here with the obvious conclusion that it’s just a bigger iPad. However, in practice the real utility of the iPad Pro is a little more nuanced than just being about its jumbo size, as important a role its enlarged size does play in defining the purpose of this new tablet.

First off, connected to the official Apple Smart Keyboard – by the way, the feel of the keyboard does take a few moments to get used to – you’ll find that the combination of larger screen and keyboard, both of which more or less match the the proportions of a 13" MacBook, have the effect of half-tricking you into forgetting that you’re using a tablet device

The era of modern tablet computing arrived in 2010 with the launch of the first Apple iPad and was generally centred around the notion of a new kind of lean-back style of computing with devices that are better suited to consumption rather than lean-forward productivity. And that’s still true. The experience of reading, watching a movie or gaming on a tablet is in most cases markedly superior to doing the same with a regular laptop or desktop computer.

But I think the arrival of the iPad Pro – and undoubtedly also, although I haven’t tested them, the latest Microsoft Surface tablets – marks the crossing of an interesting threshold in tablet device evolution and forwards into a era where they’re good for consuming and productivity.

I suspect that there will remain for some considerable time a number of specialised use cases where a classic PC operating system, keyboard and mouse will remain preferable to even a production class tablet like the iPad Pro, but I’m also confident that the arrival of the new monster iPad sees that list shortening quite a bit.

Having used the iPad Air 2 with the Logitech Ultra-thin keyboard cover for the last twelve months I had become somewhat accustomed to using a tablet device as the best alternative to lugging my MacBook Pro around with me, but as excellent an alternative this combination was it still felt like a mobile experience and therefore a consequently, if acceptably, compromised one.

Having used the iPad Pro for a couple of weeks now I’m struck by how suddenly redundant my MacBook Pro now feels and as form factors go, when I look at my MacBook I now see a dying device category that has more in common with taking the 1980's model of personal computing mobile than it does reflect the needs and potential of tomorrow.

If the enhanced usefulness of the larger screen and keyboard succeed in conveying what feels like effective parity with a full laptop for most tasks, then the big iPad’s advantages of insane thin-ness, light weight, the stretch of the battery and the option to have it permanently connected to a 4G mobile data service all day finally sees the iPad not merely catch up with a full mobile PC, but extend past the PC’s usability footprint a good way.

And so it’s in this sense that the iPad Pro isn’t just a big iPad, and while its size is a critical component of its new found purpose, there is more to it than just size.

So, instead I’ll suggest the arrival of the iPad Pro marks the end of the six-year long Beta development phase of the productivity class tablet computer. It’s finally here.

PS. I’m famously not a copious meeting notes taker, so have no view about the utility of the Pencil. Plus I draw like a two year old.