Why i'm excited for the iPad Pro.

A few weeks ago Apple announced the iPad Pro, and i'm really excited for it.

A computer to travel with.

I use a mid-2014 15" Retina MacBook Pro as my daily computer, and it's pretty incredible. I love that I can carry a computer with more power than most desktops in my backpack, alongside all my school books. But while having all that power is nice, but I often find myself daydreaming of lighter computer. One that doesn't get as hot, isn't as heavy, and has better battery life.

Enter, the iPad Pro. "But there are smaller MacBooks!", I hear you cry. "And iPads have been around for years". Hush, I know. I'd love to be able to work from home on a giant iMac, but as long as I need to be on campus every day for school, my primary computer needs to be portable. I know most of my work doesn't need a quad core machine with a 2Gb graphics card and 16Gb of RAM. Most of my work can be done an on iPad, I just don't want to do it on an iPad. But the larger display and the new side by side features of iOS 9 bring the iPad a lot closer to being a laptop alternative, especially for situations where I just don't want to take a 2 kilogram laptop and it's accessory friends.

The iPad Pro weighs 713 grams (for the Wi-Fi model), around 35% of the weight of a 15" MacBook Pro, and Apple says it'll achieve 10 hours of battery life, and from owning 4 iPads before, I believe them. My MacBook Pro is about 9 months old, and gets anywhere between 3 and 6 hours battery life (depending on whether or not I need to do any work in Adobe's apps, damn you Photoshop). Even if I still need to bring the charger with me for the iPad, the charge itself is still way lighter than my MacBook's 85w MagSafe 2.

I considered the MacBook One as a potential travel computer when it was announced earlier this year, but quickly dismissed it when I realised that i'd need to fork out AUD $1799 just for the entry model. I'd rather just take my 15", save the money, and be able to get all of my work done. After all, I've been down this road before with an 11" MacBook Air. While it was really light, I never used it. I hated it's low resolution display, oddly wide display ratio, and the way it struggled to open big Logic Pro X files. It was quickly relegated to serve as a bookend for my collection of car magazines, before being sold off. Ever since, i've been hunting for a computer that could handle the task of improving the experience of using my MacBook Pro, but also let me get some work done when away from it.

An improved workflow for design work.

I started a Media Design degree this January, and decided to purchase myself a small Wacom Intrus Pro tablet to celebrate. I figured I was going to be spending heaps of time being 'creative' so I may as well give the Wacom a go. While I love the concept of it, there were just a few glaring issues that I haven't been able to overcome. 

  1. It's an external peripheral. I almost always forget it. It's too heavy and bulky to have with me just in case I want to use it, but because I never have it with me, I never use it. 
  2. It's an external peripheral. The client software for OS X, while ok, isn't baked into the operating system very well. Tasks that don't have a direct parallel to manipulating a pen or pencil in real life, like working in Logic Pro X or navigating around OS X, weren't very intuitive on the Wacom.
  3. It's an external peripheral. It doesn't match the fit and finish of my Mac, or the reliability. It's good, for what it is, but it's still a third party product and lacks the finesse of an Apple engineered solution. 

Now while iPad Pro solves all of these problems, there's one way that the iPad Pro falls down when compared to even the most basic Wacom tablet though: it isn't an external peripheral. It's a completely independent device to a Mac. It runs a different OS, and has no way to share any physical storage with a Mac.
There is potential for these two islands to be bridged, using situation specific applications like Astropad. Astropad runs on the iPad and treat it as an external, colour corrected, display for a Mac, running at a silky smooth 60fps. The developers are already planning to support the Apple Pencil, and if they manage to pull it off, this might be the killer app for professionals using the Pro. If the positive early feedback from Michael B. Johnson, head of the Pixar animated tool development team, are anything to go by, the Apple Pencil + iPad Pro combination will hopefully be something adopted by many professional art departments.

I think this will be the defining factor for the iPad Pro:  third party support. It's worrying seeing developers like Bohemian Coding say that due to lack of financial incentive, they just aren't planning on bringing their design tool Sketch to the App Store. Maybe there's something Apple can do about this? I really hope other developers are inspired by Astropad's developers to consider the Pro as a platform worthy of their time and passion.

I also have a sneaking suspicion that the iPad Pro will be stealing more than a couple sales away from the MacBook One. After all, if you're in front of a 27" Retina iMac, the MacBook One is almost useless., whereas the iPad Pro has the opportunity improve the experience; to be both the best lightweight serious computing device, and the best companion to a professional Mac setup. 

Why am I so excited?

I'm excited because Apple is finally pitching iOS as a professional productivity platform. While it is getting into a niche area of computing with its focus on illustration and visual content creation, it's hitting a market of users who are very committed, and very loyal to their tools. The iPad Pro will probably struggle to get a foothold in the industry for the first few years. But there's a new generation of users coming up who have only ever used tablet computers. A generation who look to tablets to entertain them, to help them learn new skills, and to connect them with new people. As these users finish studying, and look to enter their chosen professions, they'll be expecting much, much more from their devices. With the iPad Pro, Apple is showing the world that the iPad is up to the task.

Jack Alexander