I’ve been writing about iPads for years, and each iteration comes with the promise that this is the one that will replace your laptop or desktop PC.
And it’s always been true… for a small number of people. The iPad has been the only connected device my mother has used since she picked one up in 2014, and with every new release, the number of people who can say the same grows a little bit bigger.
Professionals, however, have been a tough group to crack. With the new 12.9 inch iPad Pro, Apple hopes to finally win them over. Just as the Bondi Blue iMac was the machine of choice for illustrators and photographers and advertising execs in the early 2000s, Apple wants to see an iPad Pro in every office in Shoreditch. It’s portable, powerful and, perhaps most importantly, it’s cool.
Released in 2015, the first iPad Pro still ranks as my all-time favourite Apple device. While not as useful as an iPhone, it was an amazing way to consume media and play games. It felt like the natural progression from the 9.7 inch version, and I’ve never found the extra size an impediment to carrying it around. The new one is a bottom-up reimagining of the formula. Gone is the physical “home” button, with Face ID now used to unlock the device. This means the screen can wrap almost to the edges of the iPad, making it considerably more compact than its predecessor, with a bezel of well under a centimetre.
It uses the same LCD display as the new iPhone XR, which, while not quite as good as the display on Apple’s top-end iPhone XS, is spectacular nonetheless. The device itself has been thinned down to a frankly absurd 5.9mm, squeezed into a chassis reminiscent of the classic iPhone 5; in space grey, it’s the epitome of the company’s stylish minimalism.
Another radical move (for Apple, at least) is switching out the company’s proprietary Lightning connector for USB-C. This makes transferring files quicker, and means you don’t need a dongle to use it with things like (compatible) 4K monitors or SD card readers. It even works with newer mechanical keyboards, which is a selling point for anyone who needs to write at length (the all-new Smart Keyboard Folio, which costs £199, is practical and stylish, but you wouldn’t want to write a novel on it).
There’s also an all-new Apple Pencil (£119), which answers the concerns many users – including me – had with the previous version. It now charges wirelessly when “snapped” onto the iPad, so no more easily-lost cap or awkwardly trying to insert it into the iPad's charging port. It now has a flat surface so it doesn’t roll off the table and a new double-tap feature, allowing you to quickly switch between functions (draw and erase, for instance, although many third party apps allow you to customise the second function). Sketching is a joy, and it’s an intuitive way to edit photos and take notes.
It’s also, of course, lightning quick. Graphically-intensive game Radiation City runs at a silky-smooth frame rate, with little pop-in despite fog and grass effects. It’s like playing on a console. Likewise Photoshop and other high-end editing suites run like a dream; if only my desktop were this quick.
And the cost? Whoo, boy. It starts at £969 for the wi-fi only 64GB version (not really enough storage for a professional), and goes up to £1,869 for 1TB and a cellular connection, comfortably breaking the £2,000 mark when you factor in the Pencil and cover. It makes the entry-level iPad, which starts at £319, look like a steal.
And this, I think, is the point. There are some users who will shell out virtually anything to have the latest and best. Everyone else will happily wait a couple of years until this becomes the entry-level model and some new, mind-bogglingly advanced iPad has replaced it.
Apple isn’t really competing with anyone else at this point – it’s always had the best tablet. Its goal is simply to cast its net ever-wider, tempting new users away from their laptops.
So, can it replace a traditional computer? That depends. In terms of pure horsepower, absolutely. But its software holds it back. File management is still frustrating and finicky, while web browsing is starting to feel a little archaic compared to the desktop experience. And, of course, you’re tied to Apple’s ecosystem of approved apps.
I’m not ready to forego by laptop just yet. But as a supplementary device, for either work or play, it’s astonishingly, almost unbelievably good. It is, without doubt, my new favourite iDevice.