Apple’s iPad Pro is the Mercedes-Benz G550 of tablets.
The G550 is Mercedes’ uber-SÜV, one of the most sure-footed four-wheel-drive cars sold today. It has fully lockable front, center, and rear differentials for maximum traction over most any surface. If I were driving across, say, Chad, it is the vehicle I would want to be in.
I like cars, and I admire the G550. I can appreciate the engineering that went into making a car so capable. I also live in suburban New Jersey, and therefore have absolutely no need for a G550, even if I had the money to buy one.
Apple’s iPad Pro ($799-$1,079) is the best large-screen tablet with an attachable keyboard and optional stylus you can possibly buy today. If you’re in the market for a nearly 13-inch touchscreen, I truly, non-sarcastically think you will find the iPad Pro perfect for your needs.
There’s a lot to recommend about the Pro. The 12.9-inch display is one of the biggest, baddest, highest-resolution things you can hold in your hands. The four speakers are louder and fuller than on any other tablet you’ve encountered. The A9X processor moves things along quickly and smoothly.
Developers are lining up to create and adapt software for all this new real estate. Apps like 53’s Paper have been customized for the Pro, as has a suite of design programs from Adobe. There are business-dashboard apps, medical apps, and other highly specialized applications for different professions.
To extend the Pro’s utility, you can buy two accessories: the Smart Keyboard ($169) and the Apple Pencil ($99).
The Smart Keyboard is a cover that also contains a thin, full-size qwerty keyboard. It attaches to the iPad Pro magnetically and doesn’t require any extra battery or charging—it’s cleverly powered by the Pro itself. To use the keyboard, you fold it around until it becomes a stand for the Pro’s touchscreen. The keys are shallow but effective. I don’t know if this is because of Apple’s engineering excellence or because we’ve all gotten used to slimmer keyboards over the years.
In that keyboard configuration, the Pro is a sort of hybrid. You can still use the touchscreen, if you want, but Apple has enabled iOS on the Pro with plenty of traditional keyboard functions, just as on a Mac. Want to switch between apps? Just command-tab, like in the old days.
In addition to the keyboard, Apple will sell you a stylus called the Apple Pencil. It’s a very nicely weighted implement that feels great in your hand. Working in concert with an amped-up, hyper-precise touchscreen, the Pencil can mimic pens, pencils, markers—you name it. Adjust the angle of the Pencil, and the width of your stroke changes. Press harder, and a darker line is drawn. Use a watercolor, and you can watch the color bleed into the “paper” after you’ve taken your brush off the page. And, unlike with a lot of other stylus/tablet combos, the screen reacts instantly, with no lag or any interference to ruin the illusion you’re putting pen to paper. It’s uncanny.
The optional Apple Pencil, which convincingly mimics traditional pens, brushes and markers. Source: Apple
So all this is great stuff.
But a bigger screen, attachable keyboard, and stylus do not add things I want or need to a tablet, nor do they evolve the iPad into credible competition for my still-perfect MacBook Air. The Smart Keyboard is clever but a little clumsy. You can’t really use it on your lap, much less perched on your legs while sitting in bed. The stylus is maybe the best stylus ever, but I can’t draw, and don’t see that changing soon. (Also, Apple: Add a holder or something to the cover so I can keep the stylus with my iPad.)
Now, you might think, “Fine, Grobart. But maybe not everyone’s like you. Dial back the solipsism a bit."
And it’s true: Not everyone uses computers and tablets the way I do. My colleagues in Bloomberg Businessweek’s art department may find ways to take advantage of all those Adobe apps. Doctors may benefit from 3D4Medical’s Complete Anatomy app. People who run businesses may well take to the dashboards available in Cynapse’s Numerics app.
But I would venture to say that, while not everyone uses tech the way I do, many—maybe even most—people do. We read things on the Web, we check e-mail, we write things. For those kinds of activities, a laptop is still the most elegant answer to the questions we have. The iPad Pro has a bit of feature creep around it. It’s a tablet! With an attachable keyboard! And a stylus! It’s extremely good at all those things—I’m just not that interested in the things it’s good at.
The iPad Pro's display is 78 percent larger than the standard-size iPad Air 2. Source: Apple
So I’m not the customer for the iPad Pro. But I think I know who is: Vic Abate.
Vic Abate is the chief technology officer of General Electric. He heads up, among other things, 50,000 scientists and engineers at the industrial conglomerate. Could Vic see a way that the iPad Pro, armed with, say, some hardcore analytics software, might be a useful tool for all those people building power plants, locomotives, and aircraft engines? If he does, Vic’s not buying an iPad Pro. He’s buying 50,000 of them.
Spread that across companies and industries, and all of a sudden Apple’s got a nice business in business. It may be more niche than the iPhone market, and it may take time, but Apple’s certainly rich enough to be patient.