After another round of leaks and software data mining, it looks like the iPad Pro’s rumored switch from a Lightning Port to USB-C is all but confirmed. This shift is a big deal, as it moves the iPad Pro lineup more in line with Apple’s notebook computers than its smartphones. When you consider that the lower-cost iPad still has Lightning, this becomes an even more notable distinction between devices.
I have a Lenovo laptop with 2 USB-C ports and I also have a Microsoft Surface Go, so I have gotten acquainted with the connector’s expanded capabilities, especially when paired with Thunderbolt 3. While I don’t just love carrying around dongles, I can’t help but be impressed by how much you can do today with a single, small port. While I certainly don’t see the Surface Go as superior to the iPad Pro for my needs, I do envy its ability to branch out and do more using a USB-C dongle with features like Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI, an SD slot, and USB 3 ports for thumbdrives or external hard drives.
The thought of this amount of flexibility coming to the iPad Pro is pretty exciting. But….will Apple let loose of the reigns and allow it? Unfortunately, thinking about the company’s recent history with mobile devices, I have to believe that they won’t. Even when releasing powerful new features for the iPad, such as the enhanced split screen and drag and drop functionality that came in iOS 11, Apple has always held back just a bit from letting this powerful beast run completely loose.
Maybe the shift to USB-C signals a shift in how Apple looks at the iPad Pro. Maybe they are ready to back up some of the lofty claims in their ads for the device. Maybe I am just too cynical to see it, and they will throw open the doors to new iPad Pro functionality through the flexibility of this port at the end of this month. I just have a bad feeling that what we will actually get is a USB-C brick and charge cable in the box, a new lineup of Apple dongles for HDMI, VGA, camera and SD Card connections, and little else. This move could be nothing but a port swap, and that would be both a huge disappointment, and a missed opportunity.
I just can’t see Apple completely letting go of their tight grip on all iOS devices. However, I am still holding out a little hope that the company wants to get serious about making the iPad Pro a more capable and complete production tool. All of us who love the device know that it is already well-suited to plenty of computing tasks and “real work.” However, there are still plenty of annoyances and roadblocks that force us to use work-arounds for what should be basic tasks, and make the overall experience less than what it could be. Apple could change a lot of that by leveraging the flexibility of a USB-C port.
My hops is that Apple’s approach with the new Pros will land somewhere between the two extremes that I outlined above. They don’t have to completely let go. Just loosening their grip a bit would help a lot. Getting basic simultaneous charging, display output, and networking options simultaneously in one dongle would be a solid step forward for for iPad Pro. The ability to read and write files from an external storage device to the Files app, and from there to the majority of other apps) would be a game-changer. These addition of these features would mean that our favorite tablet is just a mouse cursor away from feeling a lot more like a full-fledged computer.