Reflecting on the 12.9-inch vs 9.7-inch Form Factor

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Every once in a while, I’ll read a post about the 9.7-inch iPad Pro and wonder what could have been. I’ll look at my gargantuan 12.9-inch tablet and wonder if I’ve made the right choice (it would be 10 months too late, if so). Ben Brooks, who works exclusively off of iOS devices, just penned one of these kinds of posts about how the 9.7-inch iPad Pro is the ideal size for most activities. I’d tend to agree with him.

More Space

I was really excited about the larger iPad Pro last year because I was curious to see — just as with the 6S Plus — what iOS could be if it had more room to play with. The answer, as it turns out, is simply more comfortable. Not necessarily more powerful.

There’s a lot of potential in the extra space provided the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, but nearly one year after its release, only the minority of apps are taking full advantage of it. Most apps just content themselves with showing more content, instead of finding different ways to present content. Ulysses and Tweetbot tend to lead the way with creative use of sidebars, but like I said, there really aren’t many apps like them.

This brings me back to the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, because nobody needs to resize a thing in order for apps to work perfectly on it. It is the de-facto iPad resolution, and any app that works on the iPad 3 and above will work on the 9.7-inch iPad Pro.

Quick and Easy

What’s more, the size makes for such quick and easy computing. There are definitely times where I miss having a lighter, smaller iPad that I can just whip out of my bag for reading, or showing a picture. The larger iPad Pro tends to demand a flat surface to be placed on, or at the very least a knee to be propped against.

Even when there is a extra surface around, I’ll often have to clear space for the larger iPad Pro because it’s just so big. I really hadn’t thought about this aspect before purchasing it last year because I had never really had to clear a space to rest my tablet. It isn’t a forgettably convenient computer that you can pick up and put down at a moment’s notice. I can almost imagine Jony Ive saying that the iPad Pro “demands more of its users, forcing them to act with greater intention.” I mean, he didn’t say that, but it does ring true.

My Favourite iPad Yet

The funny thing is that this is the iPad I’ve most enjoyed owning; even more than the iPad Air 2, which was a fantastic device. I think that’s because this larger screen is just more comfortable to use for extended sessions. I read can more text and see more content without scrolling, and I love how my photo library looks on this huge screen. However, the comfort is misleading. It fools me into thinking I can work on iOS all day, when in fact, the operating system itself isn’t quite ready for all-day usage. There is a level of fatigue caused by reaching up to the top of the screen to tap on buttons. This is the reason Apple themselves cited for not creating touchscreen MacBooks. I was hoping to see a more efficient and ergonomic interface with iOS 10, but that release has come and gone. I really do enjoy working on iOS, but I find there’s a limit of about 3-4 hours before I start to get a little tired of being limited to just a touchscreen for navigation.

I still really enjoy the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, but it does have me thinking about my next one: if I’m really only going to work on iOS for short to medium stints, maybe the 9.7-inch screen really is the sweet spot. Good enough for quick writing sessions, but still easy and convenient for grabbing and reading on the subway.

Apple has gone and created The Most Comfortable iPad Ever in the form of their 12.9-inch iPad Pro, but I’ll be watching the next iOS release very carefully to see if it makes the iPad Pro more productive in longer sessions i want to see features that take advantage of the larger screen, and more design decisions that acknowledge it isn’t ergonomically sound to reach up and tap the top bar of an iPad for hours at a time. However, if that is not the case with Apple’s next iOS update, I’ll very likely be looking at a 9.7-inch model as my next iPad.


My name is probably Thomas (yes, it is). I'll be able to help you figure out why Evernote isn't syncing, or recommend your favourite new RSS reader to you. That's partly because I am enamoured with the iOS ecosystem and hardware, but mostly because I'm Canadian.

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6 thoughts on “Reflecting on the 12.9-inch vs 9.7-inch Form Factor”

  1. Whipping your 12 incher out is an event… the 9 is much more like a Moleskine note book, esp with Pencil for writing. I occasionally use the soft keyboard on the iPadpro, I haven’t seen the need for an external keyboard.

    I think the 9 is much more usable… I’m writing this as I’m sat on a train with not enough space for the 12 incher.

    It’s usage is more casual.

    Sometimes though, when sketching diagrams, I suffer from screen envy though.

  2. I am currently using a 2007 17-inch MBP, when it finally dies I plan on going iPad-only. I think even the 12-inch iPadPro will be difficult to get used to. If there was a reference manager for the iPad that worked with Word or iWork I would have jumped ship by now. Luckily (unluckily) my MBP won’t die so I haven’t taken the plunge yet. In my opinion, a 17-inch tablet would be perfect, so I suppose i am biased…

    1. I wouldn’t even be able to carry a 17-inch tablet in my bags, they’re all designed for 15-inch laptops at the most. I’m really curious to see the next batch of MacBook Pros and iPads (probably more than ever at this point).

  3. I’m a commercial artist and I’d LOVE to see Apple make an even bigger tablet. I use my 12.9″ iPad every day for all the regular things you use your iPad for but Imalso do a lot of sketching too, and for me, I’d personally love to see a bigger tablet, preferably with the ability to run all my Mac software. For me that would be a dream come true.

    I think it all depends what you use your tablet for as to which size suits best.

    1. Agreed that your profession / habits have a lot to do with which size is better; but I think most people spend the most time on tablets doing email / surfing / watching, and those are already comfortable enough on the 9.7-inch.

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