5 things the iPad Pro needs

After another dis­ap­point­ing quar­ter, it’s clear that it’s time for Ap­ple to shake things up, ar­gues Michael Si­mon

iPad&iPhone user - - NEWS -

While the iPad has cer­tainly ma­tured since its hum­ble begin­nings, it still has many of the same short­com­ings it did at its de­but in 2010. Even with pro­duc­tiv­ity-minded ac­ces­sories like the Smart Key­board and Ap­ple Pen­cil, the iPad is still a far cry from the su­per com­puter Ap­ple’s new tagline would have you be­lieve it is. And you only need to look at the lat­est sales fig­ures to see that peo­ple aren’t into it as much as they once were.

Of course, Ap­ple isn’t rest­ing on its lau­rels. Ac­cord­ing to oft-ac­cu­rate an­a­lyst Ming-Chi Kuo, on the docket for this year is a 10.5in model with su­per-skinny bezels, push­ing

the 9.7in model to low-cost sta­tus and pre­sum­ably killing off the iPad mini al­to­gether. A move to a larger lineup would fur­ther so­lid­ify Ap­ple’s move to make the iPad more Mac than iPhone, but a third Pro model, how­ever pretty it may be, won’t be enough on its own to el­e­vate the iPad to true pro­fes­sional sta­tus. If Ap­ple wants to make the iPad the de­vice that will one day re­place the Mac as our go-to pro­duc­tiv­ity tool, it needs to make some changes to the way we use it, not just how it looks.

OS ex­cite­ment

Back when the iPad launched, the op­er­at­ing sys­tem it ran was ac­tu­ally called iPhone OS. It would be­come iOS a few months later, but the new name didn’t change the fact that the iPad’s un­der­ly­ing sys­tem was made for a smart­phone.

You can point to Split View, Slide Over, and Pic­ture in Pic­ture as ways that Ap­ple has im­proved mul­ti­task­ing on its tablet, but for the most part, iOS on the iPad is still an up­scaled ver­sion of the same OS on the iPhone. Ap­ple has done a fine job with tack­ing on tablet-cen­tric fea­tures to iOS, but it might be time for a ground-up re­design of the en­tire ex­pe­ri­ence.

Get­ting rid of the icon grid would be a good start, but it’s more than just aes­thet­ics. The iPad screen presents a unique op­por­tu­nity for Ap­ple to reimag­ine the desk­top OS with­out need­ing to rein­vent the wheel. Maybe add func­tional wid­gets to the home screen, like a notepad or a cal­cu­la­tor for quick tasks that don’t re­quire a full-screen app. Or a quicker app switcher de­signed to take ad­van­tage of the larger screen. The iPad has grown far be­yond its hum­ble roots, and there’s no rea­son it still needs to run an OS that’s pri­mar­ily made for a smart­phone.

USB-C the light

While the Lightning port has served iOS de­vices well since its in­tro­duc­tion in 2012, the rise of USB-C has taken away much of its rea­son to ex­ist. USB-C is just as ad­vanced and ver­sa­tile as Lightning, and while it may be ever so slightly thicker, it makes a lot of sense to put one on the iPad.

Ap­ple al­ready sells a Lightning-to-USB-C adap­tor for pow­er­ing the iPad with a 29W adap­tor (the one that comes with the 12in Mac­Book), but fit­ting the Pro line with a USB-C port would align it more with the Mac­Book and open the iPad to a wider range of ac­ces­sories. Ap­ple would never dream of lim­it­ing the Mac with a Lightning port, so if the iPad is ever go­ing to be­come our main com­put­ing de­vice, it might need to make a clean break. There would be some grum­bling, but the tran­si­tion wouldn’t be so dif­fi­cult, es­pe­cially if Ap­ple started al­low­ing desk­top drives and other ac­ces­sories to in­ter­min­gle with iOS.

Pen­cil pusher

Ap­ple Pen­cil is a re­mark­able way to draw on your iPad’s screen, but where other tablet sty­luses are gen­er­ally meant to sim­plify ac­tions and nav­i­ga­tion, the Pen­cil is specif­i­cally made for artists. As such, Ap­ple hasn’t yet tapped into its full po­ten­tial.

The Pen­cil doesn’t have to just be a draw­ing tool. Ap­ple could im­ple­ment Inkwell-type hand­writ­ing recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy for writers or im­ple­ment sys­temwide an­no­ta­tion, but even be­yond that, it should em­brace the Pen­cil as an in­put de­vice. Much like the mouse is an in­dis­pens­able tool on our Macs, the Pen­cil could eas­ily be­come the iPad’s go-to pointer, uti­liz­ing its own set of ges­tures and tricks to keep our hands off the screen and fo­cused on the task at hand.

Magic Track­pad

Speak­ing of nav­i­ga­tion, the most glar­ing omis­sion with the iPad Pro is a track­pad. Of course, with­out an ac­tual cur­sor, there’s not re­ally any­thing to con­trol, but when you’re sitting down with an iPad Pro and a Smart Key­board, it’s awk­ward to stop typ­ing and lift your whole arm up to the screen rather than slide down to a track­pad.

Now, it’s un­likely that Ap­ple sim­ply slaps a per­ma­nent pointer on iOS, but Ap­ple could im­ple­ment a sys­tem that springs to life only when the user touches the track­pad. Maybe it’s a stan­dard cur­sor when text is in­volved and then more of a sim­ple se­lec­tion mech­a­nism for menus, or maybe it’s more of a Touch Bar type thing, but some kind of key­board-based nav­i­ga­tion would go a long way to­ward con­vinc­ing peo­ple that the iPad is a real tool for pro­fes­sion­als.

Get Smart

With or with­out a track­pad, the Smart Key­board is a fan­tas­tic ac­ces­sory, thanks in large part to the Smart Con­nec­tor. Light, com­fort­able, and er­gonomic, the Smart Key­board is the per­fect com­pan­ion for the iPad (even if it is bor­rowed from the Sur­face), but it’s hard not to imag­ine

far greater pos­si­bil­i­ties for Ap­ple’s mag­netic port. Just like the key­board at­taches to the iPad and ex­pands its writ­ing abil­i­ties, a line of sim­i­larly styled ac­ces­sories could dra­mat­i­cally ex­pand the way we use our iPad. There could be a DJ at­tach­ment for DJs that lets you cre­ate loops and scratch records, or one for gamers that brings cus­tom­iz­a­ble but­tons and proper con­trols. Or a hub that lets you at­tach a mon­i­tor and an ex­ter­nal drive. A key­board is cer­tainly the most log­i­cal use for the Smart Con­nec­tor, but I don’t think it’s go­ing to be the last one we see.

The iPad’s genius has al­ways been its sim­plic­ity and fa­mil­iar­ity, but it might be time for Ap­ple to start think­ing about what it can do rather than how it should look. Be­cause when we need to get se­ri­ous work done, most of the times we don’t care how skinny our bezels are.

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