The iPad Pro has a ways to go in terms of software growth, but based on this past week of iPad Pro reviews, Apple is setting the stage here. I’m reminded that software updates came to the iPad to add multi-touch gestures, split-screen multitasking, split screen keyboards (which disappeared on the Pro) over a number of years. These were not release features, but software iterations that came about as the world learned how to adapt to tablets. It’s reasonable to think that the iPad Pro is really just the first decisive step for the iPad as a main computer. But that’s not quite the focus of this post.
This year of giant tablets has made me question what a tablet is supposed to be. The most basic definition to me is that it’s a slate computer where the only built-in input device is a touchscreen. But having seen the Surface Pro 4 and the iPad Pro this year, it occurs to me that we’re all still struggling to find a general definition. My dad uses his iPad mini as a second screen for movies. My mom uses her Air as a PDF reader and mobile newspaper. I use mine as a mobile writing machine, photo editor, and large web browser.
Horace Didieu’s video review really nailed what I was thinking when the iPad Pro was first announced: this isn’t really a tablet you’ll want to hold any more. It’s one that you bring from surface to surface, from a lap to a desk. I’m sure it can be cradled in the arm like a clipboard, but it’s not in the same class as an Air 2. It isn’t a one-handed reading device, or a 10-inch eBook for bedtime reading any more. Anything over one pound is just too heavy for me to use in those ways, and it wasn’t until the iPad Air that I really felt like the promise of the tablet was fulfilled.
But looking back at the use cases I cited above, and thinking on the way my friends use their tablets: people use tablets in a lot of different manners, so hinging the definition of a tablet upon weight and portability could be a mistake. My dad’s iPad doesn’t need to be particularly light if it’s mainly a repositionable screen. My mother’s iPad Air doesn’t need to be a certain weight to display PDFs on a stand — and it’ll do an even better job of it with a bigger screen.
Maybe the key to a tablet is its incredible flexibility. You buy a base iPad Pro and choose whether you want to buy an optional Pencil or Smart Keyboard. The thing works just fine on its own, and it’s actually optimized for use with taps of the finger. However, the existence of a first-party stylus and keyboard are statements from Apple that tablets can and should be used for more.
Apple seems to be saying that “tablet” can simply mean “lighter computer” in much the same way that “laptop” meant “portable desktop”. What I’m really curious to see is how Apple embraces other input methods for iOS over the coming months. I’d love to see them enable even more keyboard and Pencil integration to really bring the platform forward.