October 11, 2013

This is not the iPad Pro, this is a Cintiq 13HD
The iPad Pro

There’s been rumors about a larger iPad for quite some time. I have no doubt that Apple have larger iPad prototypes than the 9.7″ full-sized iPad we can buy today. They have prototypes smaller than the iPad mini too. This is what product companies do, they create products, and the ones that they actually launch are ideally just a small part of all the ideas that have passed through R&D.

With that in mind, let’s speculate a bit, dream even, about an iPad Pro, much like the e-ink typewriter I’ve written about previously.

The iOS operating system isn’t just for content consumptions anymore, and hasn’t been for a long time. The case for the iPad Pro has gotten a lot stronger this year though, because Apple are talking about it, in strong terms (and not just this). People are doing this, people are doing that with their iPads. Creating music, writing, drawing and illustrating, doing mockups and design, and so on. Nothing new there, iPad users have been creating things using their devices since launch day. It’s just gotten a lot easier, and a lot more accessible thanks to better apps, better accessories, and better iPads too. Personally, I often rely solely on the iPad in my work, it’s a great tool.

But it’s a bit small, isn’t it?

Consider this then, if you will. First, the iPad Pro needs a larger screen. Somewhere between 11“ and 12” is likely, but with that screen size it’ll need a higher resolution too, because 1024×768 pixels on a 11“ screen isn’t any better than the same on a 9,7” screen. Worse, even. So a resolution bump to the (still retina) iPad Pro screen is necessary. That’s the major hurdle for the iPad Pro case, because this adds another screen size for app developers to take into account. Assuming the screen have the same ratio as the other iPad models (which makes sense), this might not be such a big deal, less so than the screen size change the iPhone underwent.

This is not the iPad Pro, this is a Cintiq 13HD
This is not the iPad Pro, this is a Cintiq 13HD

I’m not going to talk specs. I hold no doubt that an iPad Pro with the next chip, the one that’ll go in iPad 5, will be powerful enough. Weight, thickness, and the battery will be a problem, but Apple knows their shit. They can solve this if they want to.

More screen real estate is useful in some cases, there’s no doubt about that. Say you’re an illustrator that want to use a tablet, then this would be a possible option over the Cintiq products. The iPad touchscreen is pretty crude, but people are doing crazy things with it already. Partner with Wacom or whoever and make sure that there’s a proper pro pen available. Completely optional, much like the styluses are today, but a useful tool if you want to draw. Just like bluetooth keyboards are for writing.

The larger resolution will make the iPad Pro passable for coders too. If the new resolution is 1280 pixels or more in width, it’ll be truly useful. Never optimal, coders often like crazy big screen real estate, but still. The same goes for everyone doing mockups of web sites or apps or whatever, a larger screen is a win for these needs. And this is the iPad Pro after all.

The big thing with the larger screen however, is the onscreen keyboard. Most find the regular iPad’s onscreen keyboard cramped, and the iPad mini keyboard is really cramped. Bluetooth keyboards solve this, but what if there was a clever stand that gave you a nice angle for writing on the iPad Pro, with an almost full-sized onscreen keyboard at your disposal?

“But why not just do a MacBook Touch?”

I can hear you all the way here, across time and space. No, touchscreens on laptops doesn’t work, the angles are all wrong and reaching for the screen is awkward. The “iPad with bluetooth keyboard and a stand” setup suffer from the same issue, reaching for the touchscreen just isn’t pleasant.

But if the whole thing was on the table, just like the iPad is today, in the optimal angle, then the touchscreen is literally at your fingertips. No awkward reaching, just doing. It could work, Apple could make it work.

The iPad Pro needs the 11–12″ at a minimum to fit the almost full-screen touchscreen keyboard, and it needs the higher resolution to get a decent working area above it. The angle, and the optimal size of the device, is important, but my measurements and crude tilting of books on various surfaces, they back this up.

I think it’s a possible product. It’s something I’d consider buying and using as my primary device.

There are some obvious drawbacks for the iPad Pro though. Weight for one, a larger screen means more glass, and the need for more power. The device need to deliver 10+ hours of use, so there’s a lot of battery power involved, which adds to weight and bulk. Then again, the 11″ MacBook Air is nimble enough in its own way, so it’s definitely possible. An iPad Pro is less of a consumption device too, because you’ll probably have to rest it in your lap like a tray to use it casually. Price is another issue, this thing just won’t be cheap since it’s got a larger retina screen. Then again, it’s Pro, so maybe that matters less…

The iPad Pro as described here is a hybrid device, which probably means that it won’t be made by Apple. I do think it’s precisely what some people want and need though. How large that group of people is, and how mature the iOS ecosystem is for catering to these pro users, is hard to tell. I’m seeing more and more companies realize that there are users that want to use the iPad professionally. Apogee is a great example, with all but their highest end sound cards being Mac and iOS compatible as of a few months back. These are not merely fun little gadgets for amateurs setting you back $99, these are serious tools for musicians. That’s where we’re going, and Apple knows this.

My fictional iPad Pro described above probably won’t be announced this month. I do think that Apple are working on an iPad Pro of some sort, but I don’t see it happening just yet. I also hope that they’ll have more imagination than me, as they know a wee bit more about their ecosystem and what they can do.

Either way, I hope we’ll see it soon. For now, I’m happy with what I’ve got.

Thoughts? Let @tdh know on Twitter, or find me elsewhere. There is also a newsletter.