Although the announcement came as little surprise to anyone, Apple revealed the new iPad Pro at the Apple Special Event on September 9th. Professed to be “the biggest news in iPad since the iPad”, the big news is that Apple made the iPad bigger and more powerful to better compete with the wide range of 13-inch Windows convertible tablet notebooks with detachable keyboards that have been widely available for years.
While there might be a hint of acrimony in our excitement about the latest iPad, our editorial team agrees this will certainly be the best iPad yet. The 12.9-inch Retina Display on the iPad Pro is a 4:3 ratio touchscreen with a resolution of 2732 x 2048; meaning this iPad packs more pixels than a 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display. This is the first Apple display with a variable refresh rate, so games should look noticeably better thanks to less “tearing” (visual distortions caused by lack of synchronization as the graphics processor renders complex scenes and refreshes from the top to the bottom of the screen).
At the heart of the iPad Pro is the new A9X chip; a 3rd generation 64-bit processor that has 1.8x faster computational performance and 2x the graphics performance of the A8X CPU inside the iPad Air 2. That is indeed stellar performance for an iPad, but that performance isn’t nearly as impressive when you consider that the A8X has less than 50 percent of the computational performance and less than 60 percent of the graphics performance of the aging Intel Core i5-4300U inside the $899 version of the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 (based on Tabletmark V3 benchmark results).
Styled much like the Kickstand keyboard for Microsoft’s Surface, Apple’s new Smart Keyboard features a new fabric covering that protects the individual keys (which have the same switch design used in the 12-inch MacBook keyboard keys). The keyboard connects to the iPad Pro via magnetic contacts that supply power to the keyboard and allow the keyboard to transmit information to the iPad Pro without the need for a Bluetooth connection.
The most impressive announcement is actually the Apple Pencil, a new active pen designed exclusively for the iPad Pro. The screen on the iPad Pro is designed to differentiate between fingertip input and the input from the low-latency Apple Pencil. This active pen has a built-in battery that is charged by being connected directly to the Lightning connector on the iPad Pro. The Apple Pencil will be compatible with a wide range of Apple’s native apps and we’re sure many third-party app developers will release updates to allow users to take advantage of the Apple Pencil.
Microsoft representatives even joined the Apple team for the launch of the iPad Pro just to demo how the new Microsoft Office apps will work natively with the Apple Pencil. Likewise, Adobe will have three apps available in Apple’s App Store that offer added functionality for Apple Pencil users. Photoshop Fix and Photoshop Sketch are particularly unique in that they take advantage of facial recognition and multi-level pressure sensitivity to offer iPad Pro users image editing features that aren’t currently available with other Adobe offerings.
Other notable features include four-speaker audio (a first for any iPad), a rear-mounted iSight camera with 8MP resolution, a front-facing FaceTime HD camera with 1.2MP (720p) resolution. The iPad Pro also includes the standard wireless options you might expect; dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi (2.4GHz and 5GHz), MIMO, and Bluetooth 4.2. Your cellular provider will be able to provide wireless service to the iPad Pro via support for GSM/EDGE, CDMA EV-DO Rev. A and Rev. B, UMTS/HSPA/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA, and LTE coverage.
Apple claims the iPad Pro will deliver 10-hour battery life from a built-in 38.5-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery, and if Apple’s previous battery life claims are any indication then that 10-hour run time will only be available if cellular data is turned off, the screen brightness is set to an extremely low setting and you don’t stress the processor’s graphics with too much gaming or HD video playback.
The new iPad Pro won’t be available until November and starts at $799 with 32GB of onboard storage. The Apple Pencil costs an additional $99 and the keyboard is yet another $199. In short, you’ll have to pay the same for either the iPad Pro with 32GB of storage and the Apple Pencil or the Core-i5 version of Microsoft Surface Pro 3 with 128GB of storage and the Surface Pen.
Regardless of the specs, we anticipate that Apple will sell significantly more units of the iPad Pro before Christmas than the number of Surface Pro 3 tablets that Microsoft has sold in all of 2015.