New Ap­ple kit

Our ver­dicts on the iPad Pro, Ap­ple Pen­cil and Smart Key­board

Mac Format - - CONTENTS -

From £679 Man­u­fac­turer Ap­ple, ap­ Avail­able ca­pac­i­ties 32GB, 128GB Dis­play 12.9-inch, 2732x2048 pix­els Colour op­tions Sil­ver, Gold, Space Grey Other 8MP cam­era (rear), 1.2MP cam­era (front), 4G on the top-end model, Touch ID, A9X pro­ces­sor

The way some cre­ation­ists see it, evo­lu­tion is bunk be­cause they can­not imag­ine how use­ful adap­ta­tions come around if not all at once. Throw a ger­bil off a cliff, they think and, if those sci­en­tists are right, it’ll evolve wings on the way down.

The thing is, that’s not an en­tirely ridicu­lous anal­ogy for the tech in­dus­try, and if it’s true then with this new­est iPad we’ve caught the process half­way down; the re­sult, while im­pres­sive and definitely a good thing as the ground rushes ter­mi­nally up­wards, is just as odd and some­times un­set­tling as a ger­bil in the mid­dle of sprout­ing wings.

At one level, of course, you can say the iPad Pro is just a big iPad, be­cause at that one level that’s ex­actly what it is. You can choose be­tween the 7.9-inch iPad mini, the 9.7-inch iPad Air and the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, and in the­ory the only ma­jor thing that dif­fer­en­ti­ates them is the size of the screen. And yet, the iPad Pro, sim­ply by dint of be­ing the size it is – al­lied to the fact that Ap­ple has made an op­tional key­board cover for it – plus iOS 9’s abil­ity to run more than one app at a time with Slide Over, Split View and so on – con­tin­u­ally prompts you to think of it not as an iPad at all, but as a more tra­di­tional com­puter.

Lap­top power

It cer­tainly has the grunt to square up to a lap­top. The A9X at its heart is a hugely ca­pa­ble chip, and you have to be do­ing very com­pu­ta­tion­ally in­ten­sive work for the iPad Pro to feel any­thing other than ut­terly slick and as­sured, but of course the iPad Pro is not a lap­top. That would be fine – great, even, de­pend­ing on your par­tic­u­lar needs – but af­ter decades of us­ing desk­tops and lap­tops, when pre­sented with some­thing that, when docked in a key­board case, looks a lot like a lap­top, your brain just starts to think it will work like a lap­top, and when it doesn’t, you’re more re­minded of iOS’s lim­i­ta­tions than you are of its ben­e­fits.

Some of the things that trip you up are big, sys­tem-level things: iOS doesn’t sup­port a mouse, and we lost count of the num­ber of times our thumb twitched to­wards a non‑ex­is­tent track­pad. Clearly, this has al­ways been the case with iOS, but the iPad Pro’s size, plus the fact that we’ve been us­ing it lots with a key­board case, makes this lack of sup­port even more ap­par­ent.

Some is­sues are tiny. iOS now sup­ports an app switcher, ac­cessed with ç+†, just like on a Mac, but be­cause of how iOS han­dles run­ning apps, it’s lim­ited to just your 10 most re­cent, and you can’t press Q with an app high­lighted to quit it. Nei­ther is in and of it­self a bad thing, but they can cause tiny mo­ments of con­fu­sion through­out the day when things don’t work as long-term Ap­ple users ex­pect them to, and while in the past you wouldn’t have even had that ex­pec­ta­tion, the fact that iOS has now adopted some of OS X’s con­ven­tions, al­beit not with per­fect fidelity, creates a slightly un­com­fort­able tension when your mus­cle mem­ory fights with re­al­ity.

iOS 9’s split-screen mul­ti­task­ing fea­tures are gen­uinely of huge ben­e­fit here, even more so on the

iOS 9’s split-screen mul­ti­task­ing stuff is gen­uinely of huge ben­e­fit here, even more so on the Pro’s big­ger can­vas

Pro’s big­ger can­vas com­pared to the iPad Air, let­ting you write in one app while hav­ing Sa­fari open on the right of the screen for re­search, or draw in one while look­ing at source ma­te­rial in an­other, say. But while it’s wel­come, there is con­fu­sion and com­pro­mise. Apps have to be up­dated to al­low them to run as th­ese ’sec­ondary’ apps on the right (and it does have to be the right), and, be­cause the way the apps dis­play them­selves boils down to ’be­hav­ing like iPad apps’ when the di­vider is in the mid­dle of the screen, and ’be­hav­ing like iPhone apps’ when it’s fur­ther to­wards the screen’s right edge, their in­ter­face can change com­pletely. Take Sa­fari. On an iPad, you add a tab by tap­ping a plus icon at the top-right cor­ner; on an iPhone, you tap the over­lap­ping squares at the bot­tom­right cor­ner, and then tap a plus icon.

So de­pend­ing purely on where the di­vid­ing line be­tween apps is on your iPad Pro, the con­trol for adding a new tab to Sa­fari when it’s on the right of your screen is not just in a dif­fer­ent place but in one case be­hind an en­tirely dif­fer­ent but­ton. Again: this isn’t nec­es­sar­ily bad, but it adds un­wel­come fric­tion.

Power and flex­i­bil­ity

Don’t, how­ever, leave with the idea that the iPad Pro is a bad prod­uct. It’s ridicu­lously pow­er­ful and flex­i­ble, and it’s likely that with time not only will we adapt to th­ese con­ven­tions but that de­vel­op­ers will come to em­brace them.

Be­sides, that big screen is just glo­ri­ous – for show­ing pho­tos, for draw­ing and paint­ing, for edit­ing video – and while the iPad Pro ini­tially strikes you as com­i­cally large, it’s lighter than you ex­pect, and its scale soon stops seem­ing silly. It’s sur­pris­ingly com­fort­able to wran­gle in an arm­chair.

The speak­ers – proper stereo speak­ers, which switch ori­en­ta­tion with the de­vice – are far richer and fuller than any other iPad; you prob­a­bly still want an ex­ter­nal wire­less speaker for really en­joy­ing mu­sic, but they are sur­pris­ingly, de­light­fully ac­com­plished. (Had the speak­ers taken up less room in­ter­nally, Ap­ple could prob­a­bly have pushed the iPad’s bat­tery fur­ther than its now stan­dard 10 hours, but we think most will be happy with that trade-off.)

So, do you buy this, maybe adding the Smart Key­board (see p87), rather than, say, a MacBook? It is – or at least, de­pend­ing on con­fig­u­ra­tion, can be – cheaper, even with the pricey key­board, yet de­pend­ing on your needs it can be both a sim­pler and more fun com­puter, while also do­ing the ma­jor­ity of what most of us want a lap­top to do, and some stuff a lap­top can’t do. Plus, th­ese days it’s not un­com­mon to find you want to use apps and games that only ex­ist on iOS, not OS X.

If you’re of an artis­tic bent or spend a lot of time sketch­ing di­a­grams, it’s cur­rently an easy de­ci­sion; the Ap­ple Pen­cil (see p87) is such a joy that you should buy the iPad Pro, whose larger can­vas suits cre­ative work – though we ex­pect Pen­cil sup­port to be rolled out across the iPad line soon, which will muddy things a bit.

For ev­ery­one else, it’s much less clear-cut. The iPad Pro is a gen­uinely won­der­ful piece of tech – pow­er­ful, pleas­ing, im­pres­sive, joy­ous – though we can’t help but feel that the iPad line in gen­eral is at an awk­ward point in the process of evolv­ing into some­thing new.

Once it grows its wings it’s go­ing to fly, but at the mo­ment it feels, more so with the iPad Pro than any other model, that it’s nei­ther fish nor flesh, nor a good red her­ring. Christopher Phin

The iPad Pro is pow­er­ful enough to be a lap­top, but it isn’t one – and it shows.

The iPad Pro and the Ap­ple Pen­cil are a com­pelling cre­ative pair­ing, so good is the Pen­cil’s im­ple­men­ta­tion.

A lack of shortcuts means the Smart Key­board is not an es­sen­tial pur­chase.

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