For a device that serves as the clearest expression of Apple's vision of the future of personal computing — Tim Cook's words, not ours — the iPad Pro has evolved through series of tantalizingly slow reveals each year. With this year's crop of iPad Pros, Apple seems closer than ever to coming good on the promise of the iPad — the computer of tomorrow — but it is saddled with today's software compromises that iOS entails. The 2018 iPad Pro is unequivocally still a tablet first, though it can pull of being the (only) computer for many as well. "Your mileage may vary" never rang truer.
iPad Pro Pros
It's hands down the biggest design overhaul of the iPad since the tablet made its debut eight years ago. Pick it up and the first thing you notice is all that's missing. Like its phone cousins, the home button is gone, as is the fingerprint scanner, replaced with Apple's Face ID. You get a screen that stretches almost to the edges – not edge-to-edge as the marketing materials claim — leaving a narrow band of thin, equal-sized bezels with no notch, that can leave you wondering where the top of the device (with the power button and Face ID camera) is. Fortunately, the Face ID system, which uses the same True Depth camera as the new iPhones, works in both portrait and landscape so there's none of that silly turning the device straight up to unlock if you're using it in landscape. The slimmer bezels also mean the 12.9-inch model is drastically smaller than the previous-gen 12.9-inch Pro which, coupled with the flat edges (a la the iPhone 5), completely flat back, and 5.9mm profile means that the new iPad feels incredibly balanced in the hand and comfortable to hold. The new designs make even last year's sleek 10.5-inch Pro look positively chunky in comparison.
iPad Pros from the past have already shown that Apple nails the brief with their 120Hz-capable display, which ramps the refresh rate up or down based on the content you're viewing but always keeps the on-screen motion incredibly smooth. This year's Pros pack in Liquid Retina LCD displays, which is fancy talk for the corners of the display being rounded, but all that should matter to you is that the colors are vibrant and the pixels are packed, so you're pretty much spoilt for any other tablet display once you use the iPad Pro. Plus, the display on the new Pros are huge, so there's that extra immersiveness in consuming content as well. Side note: the quad speaker setup pumps out arguably the best sound from any mobile device, which almost makes one forgive Apple for the controversial omission of the headphone jack, a legacy port that's still around in all their other Pro-monikered devices.
With the A12X Bionic chip, which is essentially a souped up version of the already stellar chip found in this year's XS/XR phones, Apple's at this point pretty much showing off its chip prowess. Apple claims that the A12X Bionic on the Pro is more powerful than 92% of laptops sold right now. And while this feels like another one of those claims tech companies make, pretty much no app or game has been able to make the iPad Pro break a sweat, whether exporting and scrubbing through 4K/30fps content via LumaFusion, running benchmarking apps, bouncing between heavy apps, and using multiple apps in slide-over and split-screen mode. The experience is smooth across the board, and it always feels like there's more headroom to work with than any app can use today. Photographers and video editors will like the new storage options, going all the way up to 1TB in a Wi-Fi+Cellular avatar (Rs. 1,71,900). All this power without all the heat and whirring fans one is used to on computers...and without compromising the eight-to-ten-hour battery life that each generation of iPad has promised.
Alongside the new iPad Pro, Apple redesigned a new Apple Pencil (Rs. 10,900) and a Smart Keyboard Folio (Rs. 17,900), both of which make a solid case for themselves depending on how you intend to use the iPad Pro. The Pencil sees the bigger upgrade, even though it's still an optional extra that only artists can really put to good use. It's now flat on one side, which allows it to magnetically snap onto the long edge and automatically pair over Bluetooth and charge! No more of that Lightning port fidgeting – the Pencil is now always there, ready and charged to use. You can trigger certain actions by double-tapping the lower third of the Pencil, for example switching between drawing and erasing in the Notes app, or have the Notes app launch from the lock screen if you tap the Pencil (the latter strongly reminiscent of the Galaxy Note series).
And it's such a joy to use — it might be best for artists, but anyone will enjoy the sheer responsiveness and accuracy of the Pencil. It's clearly the best mainstream stylus for most folks, but it's a shame Apple decided to make the older Pencil not compatible with this new iPad Pro.
Folks who type in a lot of words, authors, writers and the like will appreciate the improved Smart Keyboard Folio, which magnetically snaps onto the back and gives you front and rear protection, plus two viewing angles to choose from. Pity that the naturally spaced keys aren't backlit though.
iPad Pro Cons
Using the iPad Pro to play Fortnite is fun, but to use this purely for content consumption would be a crying shame, and particularly with the way it's priced, it not odd for many consumers to consider using this as a replacement for their computers. But here's the tricky bit – whether the iPad Pro will rise to the occasion and deliver or fall flat with iOS' many practical everyday shortcomings depends on your workflow. For a writer who types in a lot of words while researching stories alongside (running in side-by-side mode), occasionally editing a few photos and video clips, the iPad Pro with the Smart Keyboard Folio handled the asks with ease. Yet, the iPad Pro cannot claim to replace a computer for everybody. iOS 12's inflexible restrictions around file management means that the iPad Pro doesn't have a true file system – you just cannot save one or more files from your email, rename it and save it for use later, or for that matter, just plug in a thumb drive and move data around. Safari on the iPad simply isn't a full-desktop browser, so you're served up mobile websites or pointed to apps instead. Tasks that are second nature on regular Macs and PCs, particularly for those who have grown up using a "real computer", suddenly need specialized third-party apps or stringing together a needlessly complicated Shortcuts sequence.
Unless some of these core issues are addressed in iOS 13, the iPad Pro will continue to appeal strongly to creatives – video/photo guys, designers and writers – but not so much regular desk-bound work professionals with arguably less demanding but fairly standard everyday needs
The move from the proprietary Lightning port to the more universal and versatile USB-C port should have signaled a new wave of functionality in the iPad Pros, but for now you can't do much more than what similar adapters allowed you to do in the Lightning era. You can connect and import images/videos from SD cards and cameras, connect to external displays and use a wired Ethernet connection, but that's about it. More robust scenarios, like browsing external storage devices like USB drives, is missing. Courtesy the smaller bezels, the headphone jack has been axed as well, which is annoying for a device that targets creative pros who would demand the lowest latency from their audio gear. You can, of course, shell out some more cash for the USB-C to 3.5mm dongle if you aren't already smarting from your minimum Rs. 71,900 purchase (11-inch/64GB variant).
Courtesy the dollar exchange rate, the iPad Pros are now well into laptop pricing, with the top end 11-inch model nosing past the Rs 1.5 lakh mark and the 1TB 12.9-inch variant uncomfortably close to Rs 2 lakhs once you're done with all the accessories and the dongles you'll need. Pro-hibitively expensive?
Tushar Kanwar is a Bangalore-based technology columnist and commentator, and tweets @2shar.