So Apple didn’t waste any time after accidentally leaking their new iPad Pro models a couple of days ago, releasing them this morning at Apple.com. As expected with all of the rumors and leaks, they have refreshed both the 11″ and 12.9″ models with new processors and cameras. Both models are available for preorder today, with the 11″ model starting at $799 and the 12.9″ version at $999.
There weren’t many surprises here, at least as far as the iPads themselves go. The new processor is called the A12Z Bionic, which is a change from the typical “X” nomenclature added to the former iPad Pro models. However, this change is really just semantics. This is just a more power version of the A12 geared toward the Pro tablets, as with previous versions. Apple is definitely encroaching on laptop-class power at this point, though, so the chip does matter.
As expected, Apple has upgraded the iPad Pros cameras to something more like what the current iPhone Pros have. However, while many rumors suggested that they would simple use the same triple-camera module on these new iPad Pros and save more advanced features for later in the year, Apple has taken a different path here. While the new tablets do have the latest Wide Angle and Ultra Wide Angle lenses (which is the same setup as the iPhone 11), they also got a new and interesting looking AR feature.
As you can see above, the camera module looks very similar to the iPhone Pros, except that the lens to the left is actually a LiDAR Scanner. This should allow Apple to get more serious about what can be done with ARKit going forward. I’m sure we will hear a lot about that in a few months at WWDC.
iPad Pros seem like a strange place for Apple to lead off with a feature like this, but they have pushed the AR gaming angle on the iPad Pro before thanks to its power and large display. Even though these are both larger devices, I guess this is as good a starting point as any for Apple with a new AR feature. It will be interesting to see if they do anything themselves to push these new capabilities forward and get developers interested in it.
Now we come to the payoff
Forget the Smart Keyboard. Now we have the coming of something new that really interests me. Now we have a new Magic Keyboard for the iPad Pro, and at least in the spec department, it checks ALL of the boxes. THIS looks like the keyboard I’ve wanted from Apple all along, with real scissor-switch keys and back lighting. It also has a unique looking hinge that should allow users to freely position the device at any angle, much like well-regarded Brydge keyboards do today.
In another bit of good news, the new Magic Keyboards are compatible with the previous generation of iPad Pro (2018 models), so this new accessory isn’t limited to the new Pros. I have always been critical of the Smart Keyboard, but if Apple delivers and the Magic Keyboard is as good as it looks, then color me impressed.
Oh, and there’s a trackpad. That alone would have justified Apple having an event for these new devices, but ces la vie. They made the right call handling things this way in the wake of COVID-19.
Ok, so I was 100% wrong in my prediction yesterday that Apple would wait to release this keyboard. I figured we would get a new Smart Keyboard with scissor-switch keys with these iPads, that Apple would release its fully-fledged trackpad features at WWDC, and then release this keyboard with an even higher-end iPad Pro that’s been rumored for later this year. However, even though this is a substantial change for them, they decided to push full trackpad support in iPadOS 13.4. Hey, I’m very happy to be wrong on this one and look forward to using these new and improved trackpad features right away. They will make writing and editing articles on my Pro even easier than they are today.
The only downsides of these new and impressive-looking Magic Keyboards? First off, they are not available preorder yet and will not be available until May. That isn’t a big deal, especially considering all of the disruptions in Apple’s supply chains due to the worldwide impact of COVID-19. I’m impressed that they are releasing the iPad Pro’s so quickly (mine are slated to arrive a week from today). A little delay for the Magic Keyboard isn’t so bad.
The second downside is a little more substantial. The price. OUCH. The Magic Keyboard for the 11″ iPad goes for $299, with the 12.9″ version weighing in at (gulp) $349. Yes, the 12.9″ model costs as much as a retail-priced iPad. Damn.
For that price tag, this thing had better be Magic, Apple. It will have to be the best iPad keyboard on the market and that is a high bar today. Brydge will have their Pro+ keyboards with trackpad, which cost over $100 less per model, out before the Magic Keyboard. It will be very interesting to see how these two products end up staking up. Oh, and Logitech, it’s time to step up and get back in this game, too. Let’s have a follow-up to the Slim Combo Keyboard Case with a trackpad, please. Maybe the addition of full trackpad support will get a few of these third-party accessory makers back into the iPad Pro keyboard case game.
All in all, this isn’t a groundbreaking upgrade for the iPad Pros, but it is more significant than I expected going in. The new LiDAR Scanner is certainly noteworthy, but the changes to iPadOS and the addition of a real keyboard and trackpad should bring the iPad Pro closer to being a “real computer” than ever before. In that sense, today’s announcement is important and could prove to be an inflection point for the iPad platform when we look back later.