The rumor mill is churning hard and fast now as we get closer to an inevitable Apple Event. However, with most of the stories just repeating variations on the same models and basic features, this is a good time to step back and see what other new features that users may be looking for in the new crop of iPads. Whether hardware, software, or both, there is no better time than a hardware refresh to consider what we hope Apple is cooking up in Cupertino.
As we close the book on January, the rumors of a March Apple event centered on the iPad are coming fast and furious now. There are multiple reports of a new iPad Pro in a different size, an Apple Pencil refresh, and potentially some other Apple device updates, as well. With the iPad line progressively trending away from the Air and Mini and toward the Pro line over the last year, this next event should give us some clarification as Apple’s intentions for the tablet category going forward. This will be especially interesting given the continuing declines in year over year sales and profits for the iPad line that we recently learned about during Apple’s quarterly sales call.
This weekend I was finally able to update my iPad to a brand new 9.7″ iPad Pro. I had been wanting to upgrade for a couple of years. However, between my 15″ rMBP and my iPhone 6s Plus, I had been able to limp along using my iPad 3 since I acquired it in April of 2012. When the iPad 3 was first introduced along side iOS 5.1 it was the first version in the iPad family to utilize a retina screen. Originally marketed as “the new iPad” owners like myself soon discovered that the new A5X chip was not adequate to move pixels around the screen without slowing the device down considerably. In addition, this thicker iPad would run much hotter than its predecessor–an issue that was even harder to manage if you chose to put your iPad in a case. Needless to say, this is a big jump for me, so keep that in mind when I seem extra excited about features that many iPad owners have had at their disposal for a couple of years.
GearCase reached out after my previous post about my storage option for the Apple Pencil, and I’m really glad that they did. As accessible as my co-opted Pencil clip was for usage at a desk, it did feel a little precarious for storage in a full bag. The Pencil usually stayed in place, but it could easily get caught on other objects in my bag during transit because it was only secured to the iPad at one point.
The Pencil Pocket from GearCase is secure and keeps the Pencil snug against the iPad Pro during transit. I don’t have any concerns about the stylus falling out or getting scratched by other items in my bag.
Today at Apple’s Loop you In Keynote we got our first look at the newest member of the iPad Pro family. The 9.7″ iPad Pro embodies all the advances of its bigger sibling. With the addition of speakers in every corner that automatically adjust the high frequency to the top speaker no matter what the orientation there’s never a wrong way to hold your iPad. Apple’s included its most advanced processor to date–the 64-bit A9X chip. Now you can achieve CPU performance that is almost 2X that of the iPad Air 2, and edit 4k video that is smooth and responsive. This means that graphics also receive a nice bump allowing for even more fluid visuals and rendering that produce detailed animations.
On the whole, I think most reviewers have been too dismissive of the Apple Pencil. There’s no question in my mind that the Apple Pencil is a boon to digital artists. The pinpoint accuracy and the incredible palm rejection make for the very best drawing device I’ve ever used on iOS, but I think the Pencil has a wider appeal than that.
There are lots of pen-and-paper users out there, and I’ve actually spent a fair amount of time and money over the past year in an effort to become one. I acknowledge how silly that sounds, but digital has always been a more comfortable medium for note-taking than a paper notebook, at least as far as I’m concerned. Digital notes can be tagged, duplicated, and synced to any of my devices. I also type far faster than I can write.
But there is no denying there’s a romantic aspect to writing with a real pen, even to a zero-and-one digital loyalist like myself. The scratchiness of a fountain pen on good paper, the sensation of posting a cap before you write, and the way the ink flows over the page — all of these sensations are satisfying in a similar way to typing on a great keyboard. There’s a lot to delight in when you’re writing with quality tools.
This is where the Pencil comes in for me. With the introduction of this accessory, Apple has suddenly given Evernote, Paper, and their own Notes app far greater appeal. There are many instances where text notes don’t fully capture an idea, where a quick diagram would do far more to preserve a memory or train of thought. However, creating these diagrams with any degree of accuracy has always taken extra effort on the iPad. Keeping the palm off of the screen has always been of paramount importance, lest you accidentally activate a multitasking gesture, or leave weird marks on the page from where your palm was resting. All of the third-party stylii with palm rejection only worked about 50% of the time because they were at odds with multitasking gestures built right into iOS. Prior to the Pencil, writing and drawing on iPads always took a considerable degree of contortion to succeed in.
Apple’s Pencil is noteworthy because it breaks all of the rules that other stylii had to abide by…and it just works. It has the power to turn metal and glass into something similar enough to paper. I don’t think it’s overdramatic to say that it sets the form factor free. We’ve been able to use iPads as little writing laptops for a few years now, but the Pencil is what allows you to use an iPad like a blank sheet. You can rest your hand anywhere on the screen when you want to write, and drawing feels very natural, especially when you can physically rotate or tilt the entire canvas. This is something that no other iOS or OS X device can do as well, and it’s a a very powerful selling point for the iPad platform.
In preparation for this article, I’ve spent a lot of time on the iPad Pro in a particular set of apps that have fine-tuned their experience with the Pencil.
During the Special Media event yesterday Apple introduced the all new iPad Pro. We already shared how much we love the new form factor, blazing speed of the new A9X processor, performance boosting GPU, and integrated quad speaker system. However, to say this announcement caught most of us a little off-guard is an understatement. It’s not that we weren’t expecting a jumbo size iPad. We heard the rumor mill churning all summer like everyone else. We fully anticipated that Apple would make an announcement some time this summer or early fall. What caught us by surprise was how much we were blown away after watching the keynote. More accurately — how much we tried to convince ourselves we needed an iPad Pro in our lives!
At its core, the iPad Pro is still an iPad — an iPad on steroids, but an iPad nonetheless. So what makes this new model so appealing to both current and potentially new iPad owners? Simply put, we think it’s the sum of its parts, especially the two new accessories Apple designed specifically for the iPad Pro. Right now let’s focus on the Apple Pencil and what functionality it adds to the user experience.