Digest­ing the ru­mours: What next for the iPad Pro?

Ja­son Snell sifts through what’s pos­si­ble and what’s not

iPad&iPhone user - - CONTENTS -

If the ru­mours are true – and they are of­ten, if not al­ways – Ap­ple is pre­par­ing to re­lease a new gen­er­a­tion of iPad Pro mod­els this au­tumn. I bought the first-gen­er­a­tion 12.9in iPad Pro back in 2015 and still use it as my pri­mary por­ta­ble com­puter, so I’m ex­cited at the ru­mours of a ma­jor iPad Pro redesign. Let’s sift through the ru­mours and re­ports and see if we can work out where the iPad Pro is headed next.

Get­ting big­ger and smaller

Ac­cord­ing to sup­ply chain sleuth Ming-Chi Kuo, the new iPad Pros will fea­ture 11- and 12.9in screens. This con­tin­ues a trend of up­siz­ing the smaller iPad Pro model, which was in­tro­duced in early 2016 as a 9.7in model (the tra­di­tional iPad size), then re­placed with a 10.5in ver­sion in 2017.

Ap­ple has done a good job of sep­a­rat­ing the stan­dard iPad from the iPad Pro in the past cou­ple of years, drop­ping the price of that model while re­tain­ing the clas­sic 9.7in size. Up­grad­ing the smaller iPad Pro with a larger screen helps keep the two dis­tinct, and adding a half an inch of di­ag­o­nal screen space to the new model will give Pro users even more room to work.

Be­tween up­grad­ing the smaller model and re­tain­ing the larger de­sign, Ap­ple is set­ting up a dy­namic that’s re­mark­ably sim­i­lar to a cal­cu­la­tion the com­pany made about the proper sizes of lap­tops a few years ago. In the hey­day of the MacBook Air, there were 11- and 13in mod­els, and we’re on the precipice of hav­ing the same be true of the iPad Pro, give or take a tenth of an inch.

But de­spite the up­grade in screen size, all the ru­mours point to de­vices with dra­mat­i­cally shrunken bezels. Con­sider these iPad Pros as up­grades in the style of the iPhone X: small bezels, no more home but­ton, and the in­tro­duc­tion of a TrueDepth sen­sor to sup­port Face ID. That means that the smaller model shouldn’t grow too much de­spite its screen up­grade, and the larger-screened model should get smaller. I love the 12.9in iPad Pro, but there’s no deny­ing that it’s big. Ev­ery mil­lime­tre that can be shaved off the larger iPad Pro will ap­pre­cia­bly im­prove it.

Smart con­nec­tors and key­boards

The orig­i­nal iPad Pro mod­els in­tro­duced a new con­nec­tion type, the Smart Con­nec­tor, a mag­netic pe­riph­eral clip placed on the de­vice’s wide edge. It was added so that Ap­ple could cre­ate a key­board ac­ces­sory, the Smart Key­board, which at­tached to that edge and could both get power and trans­mit data across the Smart Con­nec­tor. It was a great move by Ap­ple to ac­knowl­edge that some users need to do a lot of typ­ing on their iPad Pros, and that an ul­tra­portable key­board that was al­ways with you and never needed to charge or be paired wire­lessly was the per­fect so­lu­tion.

So what to make of the (some­what fuzzy) ru­mours that the smart con­nec­tor is be­ing re­lo­cated to a spot on the nar­row side of the iPad Pro, just be­hind the Light­ning con­nec­tor?

My first re­ac­tion is, quite sim­ply, dis­be­lief. You at­tach the Smart Key­board to the iPad on the wide side be­cause the wider you can make a key­board, the more full-sized you can make the keys. Also, while dif­fer­ent use cases can vary, I use my iPad Pro in a hor­i­zon­tal ori­en­ta­tion more than 90 per­cent of the time... it’s pri­mar­ily hor­i­zon­tal in the same way that the iPhone is pri­mar­ily ver­ti­cal.

I’m still not en­tirely con­vinced that this ru­mour is true, but if it is, that prob­a­bly sug­gests Ap­ple is up to some­thing rad­i­cal, some­thing that in­volves a back case, not just a front cover. Ap­ple used to make a Smart Case for the iPad that snapped on the back and wrapped around to the front – my wife used one for years and is still sad that Ap­ple doesn’t make one for her 10.5in iPad Pro.

Could it be that Ap­ple is think­ing of of­fer­ing a key­board that’s in­te­grated with a Smart Case? It’s not a bad guess, though that strikes me as not be­ing enough of a rea­son to re­lo­cate the Smart Con­nec­tor to such a strange lo­ca­tion. My dream ac­ces­sory from Ap­ple is one that con­verts the iPad Pro into a more tra­di­tional lap­top shape, with a key­board that can lay flat in my lap while hold­ing up the screen. I use an ac­ces­sory like that, but I’d imag­ine that Ap­ple could make some­thing even bet­ter if it wanted to. (And while I’m fan­ta­siz­ing, can I sug­gest it fea­ture a track­pad, too? I’m not in the camp who be­lieves tablets with­out point­ing de­vices aren’t ‘real PCs’, but I’d still like to move the iOS text cur­sor around with­out lift­ing my hands up to the screen.)

Still, I keep feel­ing like we’re hear­ing hoof steps and think­ing ze­bras here. To me, the most log­i­cal

ex­pla­na­tion is that what­ever ap­pears in those ru­mour­gen­er­at­ing CAD draw­ings is ei­ther a sec­ond Smart Con­nec­tor or some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent. If Ap­ple ditches the sim­plic­ity and ex­cel­lence of the Smart Key­board for some­thing that man­dates a back shell or makes dis­con­nect­ing and re­con­nect­ing the key­board a has­sle, that will be an un­for­tu­nate re­gres­sion.

Ev­ery­thing else

The 2017 iPad Pro mod­els are pow­ered by the A10X Fu­sion chip. While it’s a safe bet that this au­tumn’s iPhones will be pow­ered by an A12 pro­ces­sor – when in doubt, in­cre­ment by one – I think it’s also a safe bet that the iPad Pro will be pow­ered by an A11X, an adap­ta­tion to the chip in the iPhone X and 8. The A10 was a four-core de­sign, and Ap­ple adapted it for the iPad Pro by adding two cores to the A10X. With a larger bat­tery than the iPhone, the iPad’s needs and power pro­file are a bit dif­fer­ent than the iPhone.

Then again, it’s pos­si­ble that Ap­ple’s chip de­signs have be­come so pow­er­ful that some­thing like an A12 could be the per­fect chip across the iOS prod­uct line. But if I had to place a bet, I’d guess that Ap­ple will build an A11X chip that’s a vari­ant of the pro­ces­sor in the iPhone X, but tweaked for the par­tic­u­lar needs of the iPad Pro.

I men­tioned the re­moval of the home but­ton and the ad­di­tion of the TrueDepth cam­era. On the iPhone X, Face ID only works in ver­ti­cal ori­en­ta­tion, but the iPad is a de­vice that is very com­monly (I would say pri­mar­ily) used in hor­i­zon­tal ori­en­ta­tion. Speak­ing as some­one who is not in­ter­ested in ro­tat­ing my iPad

ev­ery time I want to un­lock it, I am go­ing to guess that Ap­ple has ei­ther placed a pair of front-fac­ing cam­eras on the iPad Pro, or more likely has im­proved the Face ID soft­ware so that it can read a per­son’s face in ei­ther hor­i­zon­tal or ver­ti­cal ori­en­ta­tions.

An­other bit of spec­u­la­tion about the new iPad Pros is that they may fi­nally fol­low the iPhone in send­ing the stan­dard 3.5mm head­phone jack into obliv­ion, re­quir­ing a Light­ning adap­tor if you want to use wired head­phones. It cer­tainly wouldn’t sur­prise me if this hap­pened, though I’m scep­ti­cal that it’s re­ally nec­es­sary – the iPad is very large and space isn’t quite at the same pre­mium as on the iPhone. I use wired head­phones to edit pod­casts on the iPad Pro all the time, and while these days I carry a Light­ning adap­tor in the same bag as my wired head­phones, it would be un­for­tu­nate if I could no longer charge my iPad or at­tach an ac­ces­sory while also lis­ten­ing.

In the long run, I do won­der how the iPad Pro is go­ing to ap­proach ex­ter­nal ports. The more the Pro be­comes com­puter-like, the more it be­comes a fair ques­tion to ask if it might not be a bad idea to add a sec­ond Light­ning port, or even a USB-C port, to the de­vice. That’s not a chal­lenge for Ap­ple’s hard­ware team, though – it’s a chal­lenge on the soft­ware side, be­cause iOS’s sup­port for USB de­vices (cur­rently via a

Light­ning adap­tor) is pretty mea­gre. If you can’t at­tach a hard drive or con­nect a card reader and see the con­tents na­tively in iOS, why even bother with USB?

I’m ex­cited about where the iPad Pro is (ap­par­ently) go­ing. It’s one of my favourite Ap­ple prod­ucts of the past five years and it fits into my life so much that I rarely crack open my MacBook Air. The re­turn of the stan­dard iPad to the prod­uct line also frees the Pro to get more pro­fes­sional, with­out fear that new fea­tures will push the start­ing price of the iPad line too high.

What I’m say­ing is that while I’m con­fused by a few of the ru­mours sur­round­ing the next iPad Pro mod­els, I can’t wait to see them. The whole world will be watch­ing in Septem­ber for the de­tails of the lat­est iPhones, but I’m go­ing to be cheer­ing the loud­est for a new iPad Pro.

The Smart Con­nec­tor is cur­rently on the wide edge of the iPad Pro. Will that change this year?

Will you need Ap­ple’s Light­ning to 3.5mm head­phone adap­tor with the new iPad Pro?

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