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Does the New iPad Air Make the iPad Pro Obsolete?

Once again, Apple undercuts its “pro” tablet with a $599 blockbuster.

By Sascha Segan

Apple’s new iPad Air ($599) looks like an absolute blockbuster. And just like the 2020 model did, it takes the air (so to speak) out of Apple’s own iPad Pro ($799), making the more expensive tablet a harder sell.

The iPad Pro’s problem is the 80/20 rule, which we’re all so familiar with from Microsoft Office: When you have a really complex product, 80% of people only use 20% of the features. On paper, the iPad Pro has a lot of differences from the iPad Air, but they tend to be things that are deep in that extra 80% of features—not in the core 20% that matters to most users, even the pros.

The iPad Air and iPad Pro both have the same basic value proposition. They’re light and slim, with sharp displays, the same fast processors, all the same software applications, and they both support the 2nd Generation Apple Pencil. They’ll run Photoshop and iMovie just as well as each other. So what’s the difference?

Which Features Really Matter?

It’s not that the 11-inch iPad Pro doesn’t give you more features for your extra $200. It’s that the “more features” are mostly things I can’t make a strong argument you need. Let’s run down the differences:

  • 120Hz “ProMotion” display — This is one feature that can win you over to a Pro, as the screen really is smoother and more restful on the eyes while scrolling. But is that worth an extra $200?
  • LiDAR — If you need it you need it, but it’s niche. I’ve enjoyed using it very specifically for interior design apps, but again, that’s really niche.
  • Extra 10MP wide-angle rear camera — Don’t you have a phone for this?
  • Audio zoom, stereo recording — Again, don’t you have a phone?
  • Camera portrait mode — You should really get a phone.
  • Face ID — People don’t prefer this to Touch ID.
  • Thunderbolt support — USB 3 is fast enough for almost everyone.
  • Millimeter-wave, rather than just sub-6, 5G — This technology has very little coverage.
  • 512GB to 2TB storage options — This is useful, but the price difference is just wild. You’re going from $749 for a 256GB Air to $1,099 for a 512GB Pro.
The 12.9-inch iPad Pro is a go-anywhere laptop replacement (Photo: Sascha Segan)

What’s the Future for the iPad Pro?

The iPad Air has cut into the Pro before; it’s because their release schedules are slightly out of sync. The 2020 iPad Pro, launched in March, was outperformed by the 2020 iPad Air, launched in October of the same year.

I suspect the two releases have been flipped this year because the M2 processor is coming. Apple will likely release a bunch of M2/A16-based products in the fall, and it makes sense to bump up the iPad Pro line then. The M2, and whatever new capabilities it enables, will then create a performance difference with the iPad Air.

And it’s really just the 11-inch iPad Pro that the iPad Air is cutting into. The Pro line also has a 12.9-inch model, which many Apple Pencil users find is even better for drawing on, as it’s very similar in size to an 8.5-by-11-inch piece of paper. The 12.9-inch model, in a case, also looks and feels more like a laptop replacement.

For now, the 2022 iPad Air looks like it will bring all the features high-powered iPad users really need to get their work done—whether or not they’re pros.

Originally published at https://www.pcmag.com.

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