Stuart Breckenridge

The iPad Pro

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I was genuinely excited by the iPad Pro. I spent an afternoon refreshing the Apple Store app until the much anticipated Buy button appeared. I ordered the 128Gb Wifi + Cell model, with keyboard, and then waited impatiently for delivery to my office.

After unpacking, clicking the iPad Pro into the keyboard, and completing all of the on-boarding screens, the home screen animates in. I couldn’t help but be impressed by the 12.9’ display. It’s pin sharp with an amazing range of colour. At this point I would have loved to have tested the Apple Pencil, but as Apple only manufactured about 15 of them, I wasn’t able to get one. I made a FaceTime call to my wife and then went back to work.

Touch ID

Upgrading from the iPad Air to iPad Pro meant that this was the first time I’d have Touch ID on an iPad. Unfortunately, I found it lacking: if you have an iPhone 6s or 6s Plus you’ll notice that Touch ID doesn’t unlock as quickly on the iPad Pro. I originally thought that this was because it had a bad scan of my fingerprint, however, it’s actually because the iPad Pro is outfitted with the first-generation Touch ID sensor from the iPhone 5s/6. It’s a minor disappointment, especially on a brand new flagship device.

Sound

I downloaded and watched the first episode of BBC’s The Hunt and Casino Royale. iPad Pro has undeniably louder and clearer sound that its smaller siblings, thanks to the four speaker setup. It’s a design that I hope trickles down to the Air.

Handheld Usage

With such a vast screen, board games have great potential on the iPad Pro. I played Ticket to Ride for a short while and the iPad Pro weight was immediately felt. It’s not so heavy that it’s unusable, but it’s certainly not usable as a handheld device for any great length of time.1 Indeed, due to the weight, the iPad Pro is not as good as either the iPad Air or the iPad Mini when it comes to reading books or browsing the internet for long sessions. (This doesn’t apply when the iPad Pro is resting on you, for example, in bed.)

I also found that using it while walking—a use-case that all other iPads excel in—was extremely difficult. Specifically, if you use a complex alphanumeric password and Touch ID doesn’t recognise your fingerprint, typing your password on the go is an almighty pain.

Finally, unlike the iPad Air and iPad Mini, the iPad Pro is problematic to use on public transport. On my daily commute I found that the iPad Pro was too big to use on a crowded underground as I was conscious of it going into the back of someone in a tight space.

Desktop Usage with the Smart Keyboard

The Smart Keyboard is an okay keyboard. The keys have a nice feel, good travel, and as a bonus (for a new parent) it’s splash proof. However, the laptop form factor of iPad Pro plus Smart Keyboard is an ergonomically poor design.

First, the iPad Pro is stuck in place with a static viewing angle. I found that comparing the iPad Pro to my Macbook—heck, even my iMac—with their variable viewing angles made the iPad Pro look compromised as a desktop device.

Second, using touch based navigation on a tablet in a desktop position is uncomfortable. I felt that I was physically having to do more work to get the iPad Pro to do what I wanted it to do, than I would otherwise have had to do with a traditional keyboard and trackpad combination.

The worst part of this is that I recall suffering these compromises before with the original iPad keyboard dock. Back then the iPad was docked in a static portrait position and you needed to use touch to navigate. I find it astounding that these compromises persist five years after the original keyboard dock was released.

Multitasking and Productivity

The iPad Pro supports two flavours of multitasking: Slide Over and Split View.

Slide Over I found to be the more useful of the two. It lets you slide an app into an iPhone sized layout on the right side of the screen. Browsing while reading your Twitter stream, or reading emails…all possible. I found that as I installed more apps the Slide Over app picker filled up to a level where I ended up scrolling for several seconds before I found the app I wanted. It’s a minor inconvenience of the current UI, but it’s low hanging fruit for Apple to fix.

Split View lets you drag (certain) apps into a 50-50 screen split with another app running. As a multitasking solution I found it to be restrictive. A screen of this size, and a device with this power, should allow for more than two apps to be running side by side. This is a fundamental problem with iOS: it’s an operating system designed for one-app-at-a-time usage. Multitasking feels like an added extra, a product of auto-layout, rather than a system-wide feature that was considered at the inception of iOS.

Similarly, the App Store and its restrictive rules will limit the productivity potential of the iPad Pro.

To give an example. The headline is that Microsoft Office is available for iOS, but that’s only part of the story. If I want to run some Visual Basic macros in Excel, I can’t do it on iOS. Not only is the functionality not there, it’s also not permitted:

“2.8 Apps that install or launch other executable code will be rejected”

App Store Review Guidelines


As an aside, and talking of code execution, I’d love to see Xcode Playgrounds on iPad Pro (even on iPad in general). It’d be a great way to get kids into coding.

A long time request from developers is that the App Store should allow for trial versions of apps, and I think it’s needed now more than ever. Pro apps with pro pricing, and a liberalisation of the App Store rules is the only way developers will put in the required effort to build more complex and ultimately more productive apps. Otherwise, I think the iPad Pro will remain nothing more than an iPad Plus.

Summary

The iPad Pro has fantastic hardware but no software that genuinely utilises it. At times it tries to be a handheld touch device, for which it is too big and too heavy for prolonged use. At other times, it tries to be a desktop device with a combination of a touch interface and a hardware keyboard, resulting in a mishmash of compromises that make it a physically inconvenient device to use. App Store rules artificially limit its productivity potential. It’s trying to be a jack of all trades and mastering none of them.

For the first time in 10 years of buying Apple devices, I am returning a product. Simply put, it doesn’t excel in any of the use-cases that I’d expect it to, and in many ways I feel as though it has regressed from the iPad Air.

Settings -> General -> Reset -> Erase All Content and Settings

  1. The iPad Pro is comparable in weight to the original iPad. However, as it is a bigger device, I felt as though I was far more conscious of its balance in hand. ↩︎


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