The iPad first launched in 2010, and since then there have been five new versions, as well as two off shoots with the Mini and Pro. The 9.7” device has gone through quite a few changes over the years with a retina display, a thin and light design to go with the iPad mini, and now another planned change next week. Apple’s March 21st event is set to unveil an all new 9.7” iPad that will essentially be a smaller iPad Pro, rather than the iPad Air 3. The new iPad will likely gain support for the keyboard and Apple Pencil accessories of the iPad Pro, and it shows Apple is really going all in on emphasizing the “Pro” moniker.
The iPad Pro launched last November, and beyond the new accessories, it doesn’t do much differently than any iPad before it. Just adding the accessories, and the “Pro” name to the 9.7” device doesn’t instantly make it more capable, as that really comes down to software. It’s time for Apple to release iPadOS, as iOS just isn’t enough to create a Pro style touch device. iOS 9 offers support for split screen multi-tasking as well as picture in picture video for the iPad Air 2, so the iPad Pro having those features was nothing new. It takes more than split-screen multi-tasking to make a Pro experience, and to make matters worse, not that many third party developers have added multi-tasking support to their apps over the past nine months. In the past, Apple has made their own apps to show what their devices are capable of, and they need that push this time around.
iPadOS could stand by itself by offering support for desktop class software with touch based interfaces. Desktop computers are used for the heavy lifting, for programs that support 3D modeling, video editing, advanced photo tools, and similar tasks, but the iPad doesn’t seem to be limited by processing power. If Apple redid Final Cut Pro for the iPad with a touch interface, it would show developers what is possible. It takes more than just making a Mac app run on the iPad, as the interface elements are designed for a mouse click rather than a finger tap. Apple needs to focus at looking at what programs their users go to on the Mac, and really emphasize a redesign for the iPad touch interface. iPadOS would essentially be able to run anything the Mac can, and it would be up to developers to make touch based interfaces.
Over the past couple of years, Apple has given more tools to developers to work with the various core functions of iOS, but it’s still limited. It makes sense for the iPhone to be relatively locked down, but the iPad could use a true Finder type file system to let any user read/write to any particular folder in the system. That functionality would allow more deluxe apps as well. Taking our Final Cut Pro example from above, Apple needs to make it easier for the iPad to access video files from more than the iPad camera roll, and easily import, merge, and export those files. The iPad needs Pro software capabilities, and not just expensive accessories.
The iPad doesn’t need to be a touch based Mac, and instead a happy medium that combines the power of Mac programs with the convenience of touch on the iPad. The keyboard and Pencil can help bring some of these tools to life, but even they aren’t as convenient as touch. The keyboard, for example, has poor ergonomics as you go from typing, to reaching over the keyboard to tap on interface elements on the screen. The March 21st event doesn’t have the most planned with a new 4” iPhone, new Apple Watch bands, and a rebranding of the iPad Air 3. It seems like the perfect time for iPadOS to help the iPad stand on its own, and combat the declining sales of the past eight quarters. Apple may wait until WWDC in June, but the iPad can’t continue its current path if Apple wants people to upgrade existing devices, or even think about using the iPad as a computer replacement.
It’s time for Apple to fully embrace the Pro moniker for the iPad.