Updated April 2016
Latest Models: iPad Pro
In the last year, Apple has refreshed the iPad product line with two iterations of the latest iPad Pro, having most recently expanded the Pro suite of functionality. In September 2015, the first larger version of the iPad Pro was announced and released. Along with this product launch, Apple reintroduced a stylus accessory in the form of the Apple Pencil. At the time, this was the subject of much ridicule since Steve Jobs had previously advocated against such a concept. This just shows how far Apple has come in this post-Jobs era of the company’s efforts to innovate.
The first iPad Pro was made available with a large 12.9 inch form-factor. As the flagship iPad model, it improved on the previous incumbent model – the iPad Air – by adding a faster CPU, better camera, and was the first iPad to feature True Tone Flash and Retina Flash. The storage capacity was also increased to a record 256 GB option, whereas all iOS devices previously had only hit the 128 GB milestone. At the time, the form-factor meant that the iPad Pro was the largest of the range, and was interestingly not far off the smallest Macbook models in the Macbook Air. In part, the new accessories specific to the iPad Pro help to differentiate from its other siblings. Generally, Apple has been quite strict and disciplined in their use of the Pro label for their other product ranges – think Macbook Pro, Mac Pro, or even their software/applications like Logic Pro. The “Pro” association for the iPad Pro is justifiable in the sheer level of functionality that is packaged up in this latest iPad model – the most obvious being the 12.9-inch form factor.
The new Apple Pencil is not merely a simple stylus device that stands alone, it integrates and becomes a seamless extension to the iPad at a very fundamental hardware level.. Several internal components inside the Apple Pencil measure things like force, angle and rotation, which is then transmitted to sensors embedded in the iPad Pro’s screen. These sensors then translate those movements into pixels. The hardware integration goes even further in that the iPad Pro increases the refresh rate of the screen when it detects the Apple Pencil and this reduces latency and makes the performance seamless and responsive. In this way, you can see how Apple’s hardware innovation always keeps the customer experience and user interaction at the very fore-front of their product design. In terms of professional electronics hardware, Apple is without peer. Couple this with the precision manufacturing that their laser machines achieve and you can appreciate why Apple remains ahead of everyone else.
With the available in-market launch scheduled for November, the iPad Pro was part of Apple’s refreshed approach to the Microsoft Surface Pro. Timed to perfection in terms of Christmas 2015, industry insights suggest that sales of the Apple iPad Pro have outdone the Microsoft Surface. The product placement of the iPad Pro within the wider market also adds to the number of products all competing for the consumer’s mindset. Over the years, the iPod, then iPhone and finally iPad have all evolved in the consumer’s mindset in terms of what each product means. The iPad filled a gap between the Macbook and iPhone, and now the iPad Pro inserts itself in between the iPad and Macbook Air. Tim Cook’s headline statement that an iPad Pro could replace a PC is part of this competition for the consumer’s mindset and understanding of computing. Predominantly, iPads are more similar to iPhones in terms of their use. Use of an iPad to create content is limited to a few use cases whereas it offers greatest flexibility for consumption and delivery of content instead.
The biggest challenge that has been emerging in the last two years ever since the advent of the iPad, is in how the two operating systems currently co-exist but may converge. Currently iOS exists for touch-based devices whilst OS-X for desktop, keyboard/mouse traditional interactive devices (iMacs and Macbooks). The AppleTV as another device within the Apple ecosystem of devices with operating systems could have gone either way, but ended up becoming a hybrid iOS platform. The iPad Pro clearly demonstrates the latest evolution of iOS functionality.
Personally, I think there exists a role for iPads (and iPhones) to integrate with Apple TV units to create a fantastic gaming console/platform. The redesigned Siri-remote for the latest Apple TV could one day be replaced by an iPhone or iPad, including the complete utilisation of the gyroscope and motion sensors. Imagine, if you will, holding an iPad like a car steering wheel for a car racing game that runs on an Apple TV display. In a multi-player set-up, each iPad would be a separate player, and the iPad display would emulate an individual car dashboard whereas the Apple TV display would show the integrated driver screen with course map. We already have games on the iPad with this kind of functionality, but have to integrate it all into the single device display. Evolving the capability of having multiple device displays in a single coherent app (controlled and operated ultimately off the Apple TV) could create a powerful challenger to the current Xbox 360 / Sony PS4 / Nintendo Wii incumbents who have split up the home gaming console market between themselves.
The future of the iPad is not just a hardware discussion, which the iPad Pro exemplifies, but is also all about increasing the overall distribution and presence of devices which expand the reach of the iOS software paradigm. Apple has demonstrated that they have carefully examined the market and made specific effort to develop APIs and front-end apps to support the auto-mobile industry (CarPlay), health (HealthKit), smart home automation (HomeKit) and education (suite of applications like Classroom)
Product Experience Journey
The journey through models saw the 1st Gen (launched April 2010) create a break-out sensation globally. I got my hands on a WiFi+3G unit as part of launch day and instantly benefited from the crossover of iPhone apps.
The 2nd Generation model was launched approximately a year later (unveiled March 2011) and its technical improvements represented a significant jump across performance, finish and functionality. I followed through with the same launch day purchase (online) and was able to recover a respectable resale amount for the original model.
The 4th generation iPad hardware introduced retina display capabilities (it was initially marketed after all as “the iPad with Retina Display”). Apple’s innovation grated this time with the market over the introduction of the new Lightning connector which replaced the previous 30-pin dock connector. Introduced less than a year (October 2012) after its immediate predecessor, Apple also had to combat the negative press with return/replacement programs for customers who had bought the defunct 3rd generation model in the prior fortnight leading up to the product launch. For me, I was one of those customers who had to quickly sell my 8-month old iPad to avoid getting stuck with a device which would see its resell value plummet.
It was during this same October market launch that the iPad Mini was first introduced, creating a second market segment for Apple to expand its dominance in. The smaller form-factor has enabled a new group of users to emerge and further segment the market. Whilst I have not personally utilised the iPad Mini on an ongoing basis, my limited contact with the unit helps me to appreciate the mobile nature of the device. It is definitely handy for public transport users, particularly when buses, trams or trains are more crowded. Certain environments are also quite conducive to use of the iPad Mini, which can fit into a large jacket pocket quite comfortably.
The iPad Air arrived in October 2013, marking the next significant innovation and change to the overall form factor of the iPad. Along with this “normal sized” unit, the 2nd generation of iPad Minis were announced with general market release of the newest products falling a month later (November). This latest product update saw Apple extend the retina display resolution to both iPad models. Not only did this model see a significant change/evolution to the hardware, but it also pioneered the latest iOS7 software shift away from historical skeuomorphic design.
As of April 2016, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro is likely to be the next iPad model that I utilise; the next update to this article will likely incorporate my proper product review.