When Steve Jobs announced the iPad in 2010, it was his notion that if the tablet would succeed on the market as what he considered the “third category of device,” it would need to exceed both the laptop and the smartphone at completing key tasks. Activities like browsing the web, composing and checking emails, listening to music, and playing games would need to be better on the iPad than on any other device.
Five years have passed, and there’s no doubt the iPad has lost some of its prestige. Perhaps with the exception of Microsoft’s Surface Pro devices, the promise that a tablet could replace your desktop as a creation device, as opposed to existing solely for consumption, has proven to be wishful thinking. On top of that, there’s little reason for people to upgrade their tablets annually despite yearly product cycles.
To combat market stagnation, Apple has conceived the iPad Pro as both a jab at Microsoft’s Windows 10-powered Surface Pro lineup as well as a means of resisting insipidity. When Phil Schiller got on stage at the Cupertino company’s product event held earlier this month, it became clear that Apple’s goal for the iPad was no longer that of a “third-category product,” coexisting alongside your iPhones and MacBooks.
Now, with the iPad Pro as its vehicle, Apple wants to replace your desktop entirely.
Desktop-class performance, mobile-class software
Admittedly, despite my impending criticisms of the device, the iPad Pro looks promising. It boasts a dynamic four-speaker sound system, one of the most beautiful displays on the market, and Apple is finally closing in on the processor speed gap between the iPad and some of its entry-level Macbook offerings. On paper, the iPad Pro brings to the table everything you’d need to replace your laptop.
But what about iOS?
As a platform, iOS has expanded prolifically over the years. As we learned from the keynote, early iPad Pro adopters will soon be able to edit up to three simultaneous streams of 4K video in iMovie. Likewise, drafting professionals will be able to navigate AutoCAD designs by touch, thanks to a “console-class GPU.”
But although there’s a lot more iOS can do now, there are many bare essentials that iOS, for whatever reason, still omits. For instance, while you can edit 4K video in iMovie, video editing on a touch screen is, as expected, a cumbersome task. Not to mention most filmmakers — even amateurs — don’t work in iMovie. There’s no Final Cut or Premiere Pro on the iPad. With its iPad Pro, Apple has created a distraction, not a tool. It’s a utility allegedly designed for artists, but without all the industry-standard software that creative people use.
The artist’s tool that wasn’t
Even though many of those on my Twitter feed would contend otherwise, my initial reaction to the Apple Pencil was something along the lines of, “Oh my God. This has the potential to completely revolutionize the design space.” Then I saw the Adobe demo and realized, like with many of the iPad reveals, that it was too good to be true. You see, there was hardly anything unique about Apple’s Pencil. In fact, FiftyThree has been making a similar product that goes by the same name for a few years now.
What piqued my interest in Apple Pencil wasn’t necessarily the boldness of the idea, but rather my perception that Apple was finally embracing its most inveterate fanbase, first-hand: the designer. It’s reasonable, in that case, to expect software that complements the hardware. After all, that’s usually one of the most exciting parts about Apple.
Unfortunately, what we saw were nothing short of stripped-down, iOS-specific applications which pale in comparison to their desktop equivalents, a very disappointing turn of events for anyone hoping to finally access the full Adobe Creative Cloud suite.
Apple could have killed off Wacom with a single announcement. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately in Wacom’s case, it only hindered its own innovation in the process.
Investing in better peripherals
You might recall from a certain exquisitely choreographed TV advert that when Microsoft originally revealed the Surface Pro, one of its main draws was its Type/Touch Cover keyboards. Its keyboard was extremely portable, allowing users to snap the accessory on or off at any given moment. With the Smart Keyboard for iPad Pro, Apple is trying to replicate the novelty of what Microsoft introduced well over two years ago now.
Early impressions of the Smart Keyboard suggest that it’s similar to the Surface Pro Cover keyboards, but that it’s actually made from a soft fabric material, lending itself to an artificial feel when typing. Not only that, but the Surface Pro 3’s built-in stand exhibits a level of adjustability far superior to that of the iPad Pro. While the Smart Keyboard does double as a sort of Smart Cover like we’ve seen before with the iPad Air, the impression that it doesn’t feel like a keyboard you’d use on a Mac almost negates the fact that it’s full-size.
Most alarming, however, is that there’s no mouse in sight. No trackpad, no Magic Mouse support, no nothin’. For anyone expecting Apple to build a Surface equivalent, the iPad Pro is sadly not that product. It’s, for the most part, just a more capable iPad with a bigger display.
The iDeal iPad
Thus, we’re left reflecting on what we could have rather than what Apple chose to exhibit on that unforgettable Wednesday morning. The iPad Pro reveal was disappointing if only because the device remains misbranded. This isn’t the iPad that’ll convert Macbook-wielding professionals exclusively to tablet computing. If there were ever a chance Apple could abduct even Microsoft’s infinitesimal Surface audience, it wouldn’t be because of the first-generation iPad Pro.
Though it has limited multi-tasking capability, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro can only run two applications at a time. What I did while writing this piece right isn’t possible on an iPad Pro.My desktop, as you see above, has far more open applications than iOS can handle.
Even a giant iPad, with its 4GB of RAM and mobile-optimized OS, is simply incapable of accomplishing this right now. Sure, iOS is only going to become more powerful, as I’m convinced is the hardware in the inevitable future iterations to iPad Pro. But, as of this moment, at a negligible difference in cost, I can manage a bajillion windows at once with the precision of a full-sized mouse and keyboard on my MacBook, which can even output to a 32-inch monitor.
I can use the PhotoShop CC proper and not some austere knock-off. I can edit video in Final Cut Pro X with the affluence of tools I’m accustomed to. And, all the while, I can idly rest my hand on a mouse — because no one wants to sit at a desk constantly moving their hand as they swipe away at their computer screen.
The iPad Pro isn’t the demise of the desktop. At best, it’s a companion device, the exact shortcoming of the iPad Air 2 and every other iPad before it.
Now if it could dual-boot OS X? Well, that’d be a different story altogether.