Angry Robot

iPad Pro?

Some rumours were going around that sounded silly:

[Evercore Partners analyst Patrick] Wang predicts that Apple wouldn’t just simply release a larger iPad — he sees the company using the additional screen real estate to create a hybrid-style device that could serve as both a tablet and a notebook, and would make the iPad lineup more appealing to business customers.

Apple’s never targeted the “enterprise”. (Aside: I know I’m a huge nerd but when I hear that word I always think of the starship rather than business people doing business things). Why would enterprise users need a bigger iPad anyway, and/or why would Apple feel the need to change strategies to compete with Microsoft’s keyboard-wanting Surface, which is not selling anywhere near as well as the iPad? Silliness.

But then I thought about “Pro” in an Apple context, which means creative professionals, and then I realized that Apple’s pro software products – Final Cut and associated apps, Aperture, and Logic – still do not have iOS versions.

In this context, a larger screen iPad would make a lot of sense. I once bought an 11” MacBook Air, hoping to edit a project on the go. It was too small a screen to edit on, however. Certain apps need certain elements on screen at all times. Video editors need a timeline, a clip selection window and a playback window, and when the screen gets too small, the utility of these elements is compromised. Step up to a 13” Air, however, and editing works much better.

It is by no means a given that Apple will release its pro apps on iOS. They may feel that the consumer creative apps – iMovie, iPhoto, and GarageBand – fit the bill. That the iPad is only for playing around, and when you need to do real work, you go to a computer. That doesn’t sound much like this pitch though, does it? Or, you could argue that Apple isn’t that interested in the pro market any more. And as an Aperture user, I can sympathize with that. Surely the pro market is a lower priority than their much larger consumer markets in different categories, but if they didn’t care about pros anymore they wouldn’t have just revamped Final Cut and redesigned the Mac Pro from the ground up.

You could also say that yes, Apple will eventually release Pro apps for iOS but no, that doesn’t mean there will be dedicated Pro iPads. Look at the marketing for the iPhone 5s first, though: “forward thinking”. “the most advanced technology”. “desktop class architecture”. Isn’t that very close to a pitch for pro hardware? Or look at the history of any of any Apple product line since Jobs’ return: start simple, and add an increasing number of models over time. I would expect a bigger, pro iPad, and maybe even a 10” pro iPad. I just wouldn’t bet on when.

Are there other distinctions this thing could have, hardware-wise? Besides the obvious (faster processors, faster graphics, more storage), I would argue for pressure sensitivity. Artists, designers, musicians and even photographers would benefit from it. Would they make a keyboard? I doubt it. When you think of these sorts of jobs – music, design, illustration, film & video, photography – a keyboard is not the tool that they need. If anything, different custom inputs depending on the role might be interesting; imagine a mixing board for music production, for example. But really the touch screen is the ultimate custom input, and is much more direct.

A 13” display isn’t the biggest thing in the world, but if the iPad Pro displays get any bigger – and one would guess that they might eventually – Apple would probably want to make a stand for the thing that would optimize its use on a desk. You would want to approximate the ergonomics of a drafting table; the stand might elevate the thing at a 15° angle and prevent it from sliding around.

The biggest thing holding back such a device isn’t really the hardware at all but rather the software. Apple has just last year completed the consumer-level iLife suite for iOS (do they even call it iLife anymore?). The pro apps would have to be a big upgrade from those. The OS itself may need substantial upgrades as well.

That’s it – some completely unqualified speculatin’ about an unreleased Apple product. Just what the internet needed.