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Why Buy Apple’s iPad Pro Instead of the New iPad Air?

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In spite of the new iPad Air, there are still some good reasons.

I’ve seen where a lot of tech bloggers and Apple fans are talking about the irrelevance of the iPad Pro in the wake of Apple’s hardware announcement earlier this week. I get it, so much so that I’m buying a new iPad Air, myself. It has most of what the typical users would like from an iPad Pro at a much more reasonable starting price of $599. I think it strikes a great balance between performance and affordability and it’s also compatible with all the same accessories as the 11″ iPad Pro.

However, while it is true that the iPad Air is now encroaching on the territory of its higher-end sibling, I’m not ready to write off the Pro quite yet. Here are a few reasons why.

11″ isn’t big enough for some of us

Here’s an easy and obvious one right out of the gate. The original iPad Pro was 12.9″, and I have been all-in on that size since I bought one used in late 2016. Apple has released 9.7″, 10.5″ and 11″ versions of the Pro alongside it over the last four years, but the 12.9″ size has remained a constant in the lineup. I do believe the smaller sizes sell a little better, but there is still a dedicated audience that prefers Apple’s largest tablet.

It isn’t as simple as bigger is better for me. There are some real advantages for the way some of us use our tablets. The larger size has always made multitasking a bit easier, allowing two full iPad versions of apps to run side by side. It gives me a larger surface for writing with an Apple Pencil. The 12.9 Pro is a great secondary monitor when used with my laptop. It also makes watching media easier. The 12’9″ version is the only reason I need to stick with a Pro as my primary iPad.

A newer processor isn’t everything

While there have been some supposed leaks of A14 benchmarks this week, I am not buying the numbers until full release hardware running the gold master of iPadOS 14 is in the hands of users. That said, I will not be at all surprised if the true multi-core performance of the A12Z is as good or even better than the standard A14. There is a reason that the top of the line iPads have run on enhanced A-series processors. They pack a bigger punch and offer better graphics performance, which isn’t insignificant when driving a bigger screen.

Pencil Performance

Early indications are that the iPad Air will not offer quite the same level of Apple Pencil 2 performance as the iPad Pro. This may be down to the fact that the Air lacks a ProMotion display, which has a higher response and refresh rate.

To be fair, this isn’t going to matter for the majority of iPad owners. It may not even matter to many Apple Pencil owners. However, the Pro in iPad Pro means something here. The full performance capability of the Apple Pencil 2 and iPad Pro will make a huge and very noticeable difference in the hands of professional artists and engineers, or those who are studying to enter those fields.

The litmus test here is super easy. If you can, test both the Air and a Pro with an Apple Pencil 2. If you can tell the difference in performance, then you should at least consider stepping up in class. If not, then the Air is going to be just fine for you.

Odds and ends

While the above reasons will be the determining factors for most users, there are a few other advantages that the iPad Pro offers. I don’t think ProMotion will be worth $200 to most buyers alone, but it is a noticeable advantage for the 11″ Pro over the iPad Air. Combined with other things, it may sway a few people to go Pro.

The iPad Pros also offer a couple of enhancements that heavy media consumers will appreciate. First off, they have four speakers instead of two. While the Air’s pair will offer stereo sound, the four speakers on the Pro make it much easier to listen to music or watch music without headphones or an external speaker. My 12.9″ Pro can stand alone and sound great doing it.

The iPad Pros also offer a 20% edge in screen brightness. Again, it’s a small thing and it may not matter at all to many buyers. However, if you watch streaming video on a Pro, it’s certainly a plus. Also, if you use one for work, either as a primary device or a secondary display, it does make a difference.

The Pro in iPad Pro

It took some time before the Pro in iPad Pro really had significance. However, the hardware design of the 2018 Pros and the features in iPadOS 13 finally made that mean something. The iPad Pros are meant for people who want to do more with a thinner, lighter, purpose-built computing device. Even though the iPad Air is now a far more capable device, I still think there is enough of an advantage to justify spending $200 more if you really need any or all of those features.

In my opinion, the new iPad Air has simply highlighted something that has always been true to some degree: the iPad Pro has a limited market. And that’s ok. I think it’s appeal was exaggerated a bit by the fact that there was such a wide gulf between the low-end iPad and the Pros until recently. Apple started to bridge that gap with last year’s Air, but it was more of a stop-gap device made up of various left-overs from older devices.

This year’s iPad Air is a much different story. I think Apple has designed and built it to be the iPad that most buyers will want. They still have some strong alternatives with the iPad 8 holding down the value spot and the Mini serving up a lot of power in a smaller package. However, the Air offers the best balance of features and value and I think that sales going forward will reflect that.

I believe it was a smart move for Apple to cannibalize some Pro sales from buyers who didn’t need everything the their top tablet offers. That loss will still result in gain, in the end. A better Air will mean more people step up from the iPad and iPad Mini, which will make the average price per unit higher for Apple tablets. That’s good thing for both Apple and anyone who’s a fan of their tablets, in general.

All that said, the iPad Air still won’t be enough for some of us. Whether you are a pro using a tablet as your primary device, someone like me who depends on one as a valuable secondary device at work, a student in a field that demands the best Apple Pencil performance, or an enthusiast who just wants the latest and greatest, no matter what, the iPad Pro still has a valuable place in Apple’s tablet lineup. It’s legitimately worth the extra $200 or more for some of us.

If you think Apple disagrees with my assessment, just wait until next year. If the rumors of the next iPad Pro are true, and they come from the same sources that nailed the new Air dead-on, then it will have some brand new advantages in the first half of next year.


James Rogers

I am a Christian husband and father of 3 living in the Southeastern US. I have worked as a programmer and project manager in the Commercial and Industrial Automation industry for over 19 years, so I am hands on with technology almost every day. However, my passion in technology is for mobile devices, specifically Apple's iOS and iPadOS hardware and software. My favorite is still the iPad.

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