What I’d like to see in a potential Apple iPad Pro

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Rumours that Apple are working on a larger version of the iPad go back at least a couple of years. In fact I had secretly dreamt up something I felt they should call the iPad Air around 2013, before Apple had actually come out with the “real” iPad Air.

See, my idea was to make an Apple version of what Microsoft did successfully with the Surface Pro:

  • take a MacBook Air
  • take off the keyboard
  • and add a touch screen
  • give us a real Wacom stylus
  • keep the size of 12-13 inches
  • and voila!

That’s precisely what a Surface Pro is – and I love using mine. But there’s room for improvement, and although I’ve not used the latest Surface Pro 3, or a Wacom Intuos Companion, I’d still like to see something along those lines running Apple software.

Specifically for graphic intense tasks, a stylus is a must – Wacom or otherwise. Ultimately I want a portable Apple-powered Intuos Companion, for drawing as well as “real” handwriting. And with rumours of what the media now dub The iPad Pro, we may see such a gadget at some point in 2015.

But here’s the problem: Microsoft have one version of Windows on the Surface Pro. Therefore desktop apps run great out of the box. And Apple don’t have that. iOS and OS X are worlds apart, even if you can use similar code and turn it into two applications. Xcode supports that.

The iPad Pro as I envision it would seriously benefit from running OS X and make use of the full array of desktop applications such as Photoshop, SketchBook Pro and many others. By which I mean existing apps that we know which are ready to go. Not specced-down versions that don’t deliver.

If however Apple were to bring out an iPad Pro type device and instead have it run iOS, then all we’d really have is a large iPad. There would be no benefits to it whatsoever, other than yet another screen size. Granted, over the next few years apps will emerge that will find uses for it, but that’s in the future and not usable from the get go. And sure, we’ll be able to enjoy Procreate on a very large display, but squishy rubber-tip styluses are not the same as using an Intuos pen on a real tablet.

So if the iPad Pro is to come out, what will Apple put on it? Here are four options I’ve dreamt up.


Option 1: The Super Lame Approach

One possibility is indeed to not change a thing, use iOS and have “the third size iPad” in the lineup. Ultra un-innovative. “Look, we’ve made it faster, thinner, AND bigger at the same time”. Limited sales potential. I wouldn’t buy that device.

It is with some sadness that I expect them to do just that. Zero innovation, resting on their laurels. Just like with the iPad Mini, it’s giving in to what’s currently on the market and may potentially drive customers away from Apple. Don’t break new ground, stick with the “safe” option.

Steve once said something along the lines of “It’s not our job to give customers what they want. It’s out job to give them what they want next”. And a larger iPad running iOS isn’t either I’m afraid.


Option 2: Totally Surprise Everyone

Another option is indeed to use the fully fledged OS X on the new device, then sell it as a convergence between MacBook Air and iPad. Just like the Surface Pro and the Lenovo Yoga currently do. I’d probably do away with an attachable keyboard and leave that to a standard Mac Keyboard and trackpad. Everything else would be clunky.

But here’s the problem: the processor architecture is very different in current iOS devices and in laptops. iOS devices use special Apple designed systems-on-a-chip (A7, A8, etc) while laptops use Intel CPUs in varying degrees of performance. In order to run OS X on an iPad, you’d either have to re-write OS X, or use Intel CPUs in the iPad.

The Surface Pro uses the latter approach.

Historically, from what I understand, iOS devices did not end up with Intel chips in the first place because they were too power hungry. The battery just wouldn’t last long enough. Hence Apple made the decision to use ARM processors first, and then manufacture their own A-range, starting with the A4 in the iPhone 4. But alas that’s years ago, so perhaps things have changed since then.

The CPU is one thing, storage is quite another. The Wacom Companion comes with 4 or 8GB or RAM and an SSD of up to 512GB. Those components don’t come cheap, but if you’d like to work on a huge Photoshop image then that’s really something you need. But it’s not really iPad territory as we know it anymore. Instead it’s close to MacBook Pro territory. However if they could pull that off it would be a real innovation.

Sadly, if you believe the rumours and leaked parts on the web, it’s not likely what Apple have in mind. But what do those rumours really know?


Option 3: Fantasy World

A third and most unlikely option is indeed to merge OS X and iOS into a single operating system. Although Phil and Craig tell us it’s a waste of time, and not something that the company are currently working on, keep in mind that OS X is in its eleventh year. It works fine the way it does, but perhaps a shakeup is immanent. Something that’s as big as the shift from OS 9 to OS X. And if that were to happen, as in “a completely new OS”, then I’d say use one codebase for all devices and unify it. Much like Windows 10 (who by the way is copying every single aspect of the Apple approach).

If I understand the Windows 10 approach correctly, the same OS is working on lower and higher specced devices equally well and simply utilises resources better. That’s a novel approach, and one that could work equally well in a unified OSX / iOS system. Furthermore it would mean one app store, much like the iTunes store. There’s no platform differentiation anymore. I’d like to see that.

Granted, it would be a nightmare for developers: it’s bad enough writing a universal app for iPad and iPhone, now adding the iPhone 6s screen size to the mix (believe me, I’ve tried – and failed). With universal size-independant view controllers, maybe a UIViewController will one day be interchangeable with an NSViewController.


Option 4: Something Completely Different

The other day I thought that with iPhones becoming more powerful every year, they now greatly outperform what we want to do with them on a small screen. Perhaps the small screen is only relevant when we’re outdoors and quickly send an iMessage. Using an iPhone as a central AI controller for mini racecars as demonstrated at WWDC 2013 is something that the inventors probably didn’t have in mind. But the power is there.

So I propose to you that maybe the iPad Pro isn’t actually an iPad at all. Maybe it’s just a screen with a battery and very limited computing power of its own. Something like the Apple Watch [shudders] which relies on an iPhone in your pocket to function.

Imagine the iPad Pro is something along those lines, a mere screen which utilises all the processing power of an external device to which we connect accessories. If you need it, you can use it – and if not, well you don’t. You don’t need to sync or backup yet another device, you don’t need to install that app again, you just keep working. No handoff, no shenanigans. Accessories will attach directly to the iPhone, while you see the content on the bigger screen and interact with it there.

You could also use it as a second screen for your MacBook when you’re in a coffee shop, or with your MacMini at your desk. Then you upgrade your phone at your own leisure when the time comes, but you do not have to wait until the iPad Pro catches up – because it doesn’t. New phone, new iPad Pro experience.

I know. Even less likely to happen than option 3. Just thought I’d put it out there. Food for thought.


Personal Wishlist

I’ve had this wish for a while, and it hasn’t materialised yet. Perhaps one day it will.

I’d like to use a device that’s

  • as flat and elegant as an iPad
  • integrating a dedicated stylus
  • running an operating system that allows me to use existing desktop apps for creative endeavours
  • much like a polished version of the Surface Pro
  • aimed at creative professionals, much like the Wacom Intuos Companion
  • for under $1000 (ideally)

There you have it. We’ll see what the alleged iPad Pro will really turn out to be later this year.

Perhaps WWDC 2015 is the ideal event to launch it. On the same occasion they could tell all developers that everything they’ve learnt before now goes out the window.

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1 thought on “What I’d like to see in a potential Apple iPad Pro”

  1. Before going to bed I’ve discovered this very interesting article by Jean Louis Gassee, once an Apple employee himself I believe.

    In it he argues that with faster A-type processors, is there a chance that Apple may indeed power their laptops by future versions of those instead of Intel CPUs? It’s a fascinating thought, one that would speak for a unified OS. It would leave Windows users and emulation freaks like me well behind, but I guess it would make sense to think about bringing CPU design in-house for Apple in the long run. They’ve switched architectures before, and back then the reason was that Motorola’s PowerPC didn’t evolve fast enough.

    Will future MacBooks be powered by an A13 by 2019?


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