Originally published in
MeduimDecember 17, 2015
So familiar and so different! The newest iPad is very much “just a bigger iPad.” In a great way.
Apple has spent the last 10 years establishing, refining and redefining the glass rectangle experience. The current generation of devices is so nearly perfect, it’s hard to imagine how it could be improved upon. Yet here we have it.
Like all the best Apple announcements, the new iPad Pro is 90% more of the same (read: thinner and faster), and 10% amazing new stuff. That 10% amazing stuff is what I’ll talk about here.
So the iPad Pro is just a bigger, faster iPad. Which is great on its own; but when combined with a well integrated Pencil, a new level of interaction emerges.
Understandably, many critics aren’t impressed with the idea of the Pencil. Some will quote Steve Jobs himself: “If you see a stylus, they blew it.”
And yes, Jobs may have been right for several reasons: Styli can be inconvenient, prone to getting lost, of middling utility, or quick to run out of battery.
On the other hand, your finger is blunt, opaque, and oily.
Apple has managed to grab an enormous share of the mobile and tablet audience with its finger-friendly iOS. But for years, they’ve left the needs of those desiring more precise input to be met by third-party work-arounds like Adnoit and 53.
The addition of the Apple Pencil, and the larger iPad Pro to pair it with, expands the iOS ecosystem to embrace those niche users like artists, designers and professionals who require fine yet expressive control of minute details.
The tablet’s ID is no more than expected, and the fixed angle provided by the smart keyboard is disappointing; nonetheless, it looks to be the drawing solution so many creatives have been anticipating from Apple.
It looks big. But is it? The overall dimensions are 306mm x 221mm, noticeably smaller than the diminutive 12-inch MacBook. The screen is almost exactly the size of a US Letter sheet of paper (only slightly larger than A4). That’s an excellent size. For drawing, this means it’s big enough to draw from the shoulder rather than the wrist, resulting in smoother, more expressive strokes. Apple will also tell you the larger screen is optimal for spreadsheets and multitasking.
The biggest drawback of the size will ultimately be adhesion — its ability to become part of your daily or hourly routine. Smartphones have super high adhesion because we can secret them away in our pockets or purses. They stay with us no matter where we go. With a device as large as the iPad Pro, it’s hard to imagine just how often and how far you’ll take it.
Conversely, the iPad Pro’s screen is actually larger than the 12-inch MacBook screen, making it an appealing alternative to the ultra-light laptop. Many casual users have already abandoned laptops for increasingly powerful smart phones and tablets, and the iPad Pro may expand that class of users.
There’s no shortage of other tablet-keyboard solutions, and it’s impossible to judge any without first-hand experience. The exact tactility, resistance and travel of the keys is critical; these are the characteristics I’ll be assessing when I have the product in hand.
The keyboard, the Pencil, multitasking, split windows, and other productivity features indicate Apple is building a solution not primarily for creatives, but for business. They’re looking to take on the enterprise productivity market armed with the attention to detail that the creative market demanded and consumers devoured. Is iPad Pro a bridge from profitable personal device market to lucrative professional market? Bridge or no, the iPad Pro’s size places it in an uncertain territory between mobility and portability. Ultimately, it depends on the marketplace’s acceptance of this ambitious new form factor.
Until we get our hands on a Pencil, there are a few details we can discern from the descriptions and photography.
Apple says the Pencil is highly responsive, precise, pressure-sensitive and tilt-sensitive. That covers all the features Wacom users are accustomed to. If you are a Wacom or Surface user, you will be wondering how well all of these features unite into the final experience.
The photography hints at a few more details, starting with the size and shape: its slender, smooth white plastic body looks as thin as a school house No. 2, and just as long. However, unlike your trusty No. 2 that’s hexagonal in section to prevent it from rolling away on uneven surfaces, this Pencil appears to be perfectly round in section. That could pose a durability problem if it’s frequently rolling off your table at the café. That smooth plastic finish could also be less than ideal for usability; while beautifully simple in form, the lack of texture or sectional shape does nothing to provide traction or rotational position awareness. Its slippery surface will encourage a fierce grip that can contribute to fatigue and stress. I can envision an after-market for ergonomic jelly grips emerging for this exact reason.
Even if the Pencil is brilliantly ergonomic out of the box, it doesn’t seem to have any accommodation for safe keeping. No dock or garage (thank goodness). No pocket clip. No tether. No bluetooth tracking. Again, a great opportunity for an enterprising person to provide a marketable solution.
How long will that tip last? Only time or a tear-down will tell us for sure. If, like Wacom styli, it’s designed to slowly erode against the glass to prevent scratches and emulate the subtractive process of a real pencil’s erosion, then I hope it will likewise be replaceable.
The iPad Pro probably isn’t for everyone, but if you’re looking to elevate your mobile creative tool set, you will certainly see the appeal.
The value proposition as a mobile sketching solution is less clear. The iPad Pro + Pencil solution totals $899 (without keyboard cover). A Surface Pro i3 + Surface Pen totals $699 (without keyboard cover). Obviously, there are more differentiators than price between these two systems. The combination of ecosystem, battery performance, OS, and app-level stylus integration will have more impact on your opinion than price alone.
I have high expectations for the pencil mechanics and the software integration. Assuming it performs as advertised, it will justify the Walled Garden business model and design approach. By building the whole ecosystem from OS to hardware (and retail, too), Apple can fine-tune an experience far beyond what an Android or Windows solution could offer.
Hopeful but awaiting hands-on.