For much of the last year the iPad Pro has been my main computer; the machine that I use the most throughout the day and in all kinds of tasks, from podcast and photo editing to most of the tasks that can be done online. This is not a surprise or a sudden change: since the iPad came on the market in 2010, the different versions have gradually taken over many of the tasks for which you used a conventional laptop.
Changes to the Safari browser in version 13 of the iPad operating system ended up solving many of the sticking points that were still present. Some remain, of course, but they are minor. Now, when I have to go on a trip for three or four days, I don’t even think about it. The iPad is the only thing that comes with me. At home there is still a laptop connected to a good monitor and I use it a lot throughout the day, but the passage from one machine to another has been quite smooth for a long time.
My situation, however, is not that of everyone and this is where the main problem lies when tackling the debate of whether an iPad can or cannot be a substitute for a computer. For the vast majority it may be, but there will always be cases for those who do not. With each generation, Apple tries to reach a wider market and the 2020 iPad Pro, announced last week , is no exception. I have been able to test it in recent days and the best news is that, although there are some exclusive novelties, the best of the tablet is also available for the 2018 model and even for many iPads that do not carry the Pro surname . We go in parts.
THE NEW PRO
There are few differences in the new tablet, which replaces the model announced at the end of 2018 in the catalog. Basically it is a refreshment of the range with an eye on augmented reality.
Seen from the front, it is exactly the same. Same 11 or 12.8-inch screen, same thickness and weight. The screen is fantastic and reaches 120 Hz refresh rate, which contributes to a very fluid user experience, for example, when browsing a web.
Inside there is some change. All models now start with 128GB of memory in the base configuration and all have 6GB of RAM (in the 2018 version only the 1TB models had that memory capacity).
The big difference is the processor. Instead of the A12X Bionic there is now an A12Z Bionic . Be careful, not an A13X Bionic, which is what would correspond if Apple continued the tradition of using the same processor architecture as in the iPhone, but an evolution of the A12X that the 2018 iPad Pro already had.
It is somewhat faster, although the difference is hardly noticeable in performance tests. It handles workload and heat somewhat better and the integrated graphics card has an extra core (8 instead of 7), but the A12X was already a comparable beast to many mainstream notebooks and this A12Z only raises that bar a bit more. In single-core processing capacity, the A13 in last year’s iPhones is a bit more powerful, but with more cores, the one in the iPad continues to lead.
LIDAR AND CAMERAS
The big difference of this iPad with the model of a year and a half ago, therefore, is in the back. Instead of one camera, it now has two, and a new LiDAR sensor joins the party, tasked with accurately measuring the distance to objects up to five meters from the tablet.
The cameras are quite similar to the iPhone 11 , but similar does not mean the same. There is a 12 megapixel angle, as in the iPhone, and a wide angle but in this case it has slightly less resolution, 10 megapixels. Another difference: the main camera cannot capture photography in night mode , a somewhat strange decision but that may be associated with the chosen processor.
The important thing in the camera module is therefore the new LiDAR sensor, which measures the distance to different objects in a scene several times per second and with a high degree of precision by calculating how long it takes for light to make a round trip. turned towards them.
What is it for? From the outset, the Measurement application integrated into the operating system, which allows you to measure distances and surfaces by marking points in the image captured by the camera, is much more accurate and faster. It is no longer necessary to calibrate it by moving the phone while trying to guess the geometry of the room.
But the sensor will be key when it comes to designing better augmented reality applications (in which the synthetic image is mixed with the real image), one of the fields in which Apple is advancing with more determination. Many applications focused on medicine and architecture – and of course many games – will now be able to offer a better augmented reality experience, freeing the processor from the task of calculating the geometry of the room using artificial vision techniques.
That’s roughly the new iPad Pro. An update to the late 2018 model at the same price point with more memory, a new sensor that promises much more satisfying augmented reality experiences (but which developers are going to have to learn to squeeze) and better cameras.
It costs the same as the previous one (879 euros for the 11-inch model and 1,099 euros for the 12.8-inch) and is aimed at the same type of advanced and creative public. Apple sells a keyboard case and its Apple Pencil (a pencil with which to write and draw with great precision on the screen) as accessories.
But there is, as Steve Jobs used to say, “one more thing.” And it is really important. Today Apple releases version 13.4 of the iPadOS operating system and includes a feature that greatly expands the tablet’s capabilities: a cursor and support for mice and trackpads .
This feature is not exclusive to the iPad Pro. Any iPad that can be upgraded to the new version will have it available, but for the new iPad Pro, Apple will release a case with a backlit keyboard and integrated trackpad in May of this year.
I have not been able to test this case with trackpad but the new function in the iPad using both a mouse from a third party (Logitech) and Apple’s own external trackpad. It works very well but it is not a normal cursor, it is an adaptation of the old paradigm to the needs of a device designed to be used with the fingers as an interaction mechanism.
The cursor is usually hidden and only appears when moving the mouse or trackpad. Going through the different clickable elements transforms to hug the entire element and applications can modify the appearance of the cursor if they need more precision.
Since the iPad interface relies on many gestures that are made with several fingers, the system is more intuitive when using a trackpad than when using a mouse, but in general it is very well resolved and makes certain applications that were still difficult use on the tablet, as spreadsheets, are now more friendly.
Although it is easy to draw parallels with Microsoft’s Surface devices , the experience is somewhat different because the iPadOS operating system is still conceived with the idea of touch as its foundation.
For iPad users, it’s a major leap. For the iPad Pro, of course, too, but the best will come in spring with the new case with integrated keyboard and trackpad, which will complete the experience (other manufacturers, such as Logitech, will have alternatives before).