The iPad has always been considered an in-between device, something that’s between a phone and a notebook. It's something that’s not considered a necessity. For about five years, Apple has made overtures towards changing that balance with its “pro” line — but finally, it seems that the iPad Pro has reached a level of maturity as a gadget that can achieve a level of parity with a high-end notebook and perhaps surpass it in some unique ways. The iPad Pro achieves this by not reinventing the wheel of an already much-admired design which it first unveiled in November 2018. In the scheme of things, the 2020 iPad Pro is almost identical to its predecessor but manages to achieve this level of usability via iterative hardware upgrades, a reworked operating system and an accessory which makes the iPad viable for keyboard warriors and traditionalists.
For general use, web browsing, watching movies, reading books, listening to music and playing light games, the iPad has always been a great gadget. Some would say better than even a phone and PC as this was its raison d'etre when Steve Jobs unveiled it a decade ago. But a slew of changes to the iPad in the last 18 months has gradually moved the needle towards making it a full-fledged notebook replacement for many.
In 2018, the iPad Pro got massive redesign which infused it with stupendous horsepower thanks to its A12x bionic chip, coupled with an all-screen design, the addition of USB Type C and a new Apple Pencil. Just about a year ago, at Apple’s developer conference, the iPad got a new operating system called iPadOS which added things like file system support, enhanced multitasking, and desktop-class web browsing. This was a massive change but when combined with new the hardware. People could do now things that were used to doing on their notebooks.
But things still weren’t perfect for professionals as the iPad lacked a good keyboard accessory and solid mouse support. That all changed in March when Apple unveiled the new 2020 iPad Pro with a new version of iPadOS that added intelligent cursor support tuned specifically for the touch-first user interface of the iPad. It also coupled it with a new keyboard that included a trackpad like a traditional notebook — called the magic keyboard.
All three of these updates have culminated in game-changing yet obscenely expensive hardware. Get this — for you to truly harness the power of this new system you need to shell out Rs 85,990 for the baseline 128GB 12.9-inch iPad Pro, another Rs 31,900 for the keyboard. If you’re a designer, you’ll want the Apple Pencil which will set you back by another Rs 10,000. Yes, a full starter pack will be Rs 1,27,800 — which is more expensive than the starting price of the base model of the 13-inch MacBook Pro of Rs 1,22,900.
So, it is easy to critique Apple for its pricing — but then again gadgets by the revered Cupertino-based company have rarely been about affordability. They have been about what they can do in a slick and sexy way.
And that’s what this iPad is all about. Once you leave the price comparisons out of your head, you will start to realise, Apple’s new tablet can boss its entry-level “Pro” laptop with languid ease. At the same time, it can provide a level of versatility that most notebooks, including Microsoft’s Surface line of tablets, wouldn’t be able to provide.
The new A12z Bionic processor on the iPad Pro isn’t much of an upgrade from its predecessor. It unlocks one more graphics core and affords better heat management for better-sustained performance. That’s not an issue because even the older iPad Pro remains beastly in performance compared to similarly priced notebooks or laptops. For instance, you can render streams of 4K videos on video editing software like LumaFusion.
It also allows for three different ways of operating the software — via touch, via the pencil or the traditional way with the mouse and keyboard. And the render times are faster than notebooks as fast as the MacBook Pro. Remember this is all happening is a package that’s tiny at 5.9mm, thinner than even an iPhone and weighing just 639 grams.
Its web browser is so powerful that now it can load all kinds of sites in their traditional avatar. This also means I can run web apps like Google Docs in their web interface, use the standard YouTube studio web interface to upload my videos and even run some streaming services within the browser instead of their apps.
Apple has upgraded the camera array on the back adding a dual-camera system inspired from the iPhone 11. It can take great photos and some of the best 4K video that I’ve ever seen a gadget take while also recording the audio using the new studio calibre microphones. So you have your entire mobile production studio baked into this slim slab. If you are a podcaster, you don’t even need to buy a separate microphone now. You can’t do this on a traditional notebook.
The microphones also come in handy for them pesky Zoom calls that we all are doing quite regularly from the comfort of our homes. The front-facing camera has a 7-megapixel resolution and it is objectively better than the web cameras on your computers. It is an iPhone X grade selfie camera which is bound to be superb. This camera system is coupled with a suite of sensors which enable facial recognition like the iPhone — making this a super-secure tablet too, better than the Windows Hello feature on Windows notebooks.
For keyboard warriors like myself — this is again a great tool. The new magic keyboard is god-sent because its trackpad is ingeniously designed for the iPad interface and the keys are clicky, big and backlit. I typed this entire article on the iPad Pro using the magic keyboard. This keyboard is also built brilliantly as it mounts the iPad on a hinge that can move 40-degrees going from a dead right angle to around a 130-degree tilt something designers would fancy while using the Apple Pencil.
Gamers will find a rich library of apps on the App Store that now rival graphics and fidelity of many PC games. The iPad Pro is said to have the graphics horsepower of an Xbox Series S which isn’t cutting edge, but it is a notch above a similarly priced PC. Apple also offers its Apple Arcade game subscription service which has some fantastic games.
There are also a bunch of interesting Augmented Reality (AR) games like Angry Birds Pigs. AR is a big deal on the iPad as the rear cameras also add something called a LiDAR which is a sensor that’s usually used to detect what’s in front on self-driving cars. Apple uses this for more accurate AR and it shows on apps like Measure. It replicates the inch-tape with surprising accuracy. Apple needs more apps for this to become a big deal which I believe will come later this year post next week’s World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC) and the iPhone 12 at the fag end of the year.
Battery life on this iPad is excellent as always. 10 hours of use is a certainty with even heavy usage, but if you’re frugal you can extend the life of this tablet to around 12-13 hours which is a rarity with modern notebooks. The keyboard also adds a port for charging the iPad freeing up the USB Type C port for all kinds of accessories which is another neat touch.
The essentials remain superb as always. The screen is a treat to behold; a pleasure for long Netflix sessions coupled with loud stereo speakers. The touch interface of the iPad remains the way you'd want to read the news or perhaps even books. It is simple for everyone from 6 years old to a 90-year-old. It is the only computer such a wide audience understands.
Though everything isn't spick and span. Apple still needs to iron out the quirks in iPadOS so that mouse support scales efficiently to all kinds of apps which isn’t the case right now. It also needs to improve the web browser a notch further while providing a simpler and more evolved file browser making normal notebook computer users more at home.
Today, the iPad retains everything that’s made it so popular and added almost everything that people expect a traditional laptop to do in its own elegant and unique way. It also does this in a way that’s more curated, more secure and ridiculously fast.
That’s why the ludicrous sounding premium that Apple is charging doesn’t feel outlandish after you start using it. Today, you can objectively replace your notebook with the iPad Pro and be very happy. Unless you’re a coder, you or a video editor in a big Hollywood studio, you probably don’t need a notebook anymore as the iPad can do most things you expect of it.
Sahil Mohan Gupta is founder and chief editor of Warpcore.live.