Is the iPad Pro really a pro device? Apple seems to think so, but that is the question we set out to answer while looking at the new 12.9-inch iPad Pro by putting Apple’s biggest and priciest tablet yet into the center of our professional workflow.
The latest and greatest iPad Pros were put forth into the world less than two weeks ago. Countless reviews followed with more yet to come, many taking pot-shots at the shortcomings of iOS. These are are fair criticisms as iOS has some ground to make up (which we will talk about later) but it isn’t the whole story.
Apple has been clear between the build-up to the iPad Pro over the summer. The latest announcements and marketing messaging for the iPad Pro reinforced that it is time for people to consider the iPad Pro a computer, and not just a content-consumption stab of metal and glass.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that the iPad Pro is meant to be a full computer replacement across the board, for every living soul, but it is meant to be a pro device nonetheless.
We’ve already been over the raw specs and performance when we talked about the 11-inch iPad Pro. We aren’t going to rehash a lot of ground here.
We took Apple at its word and started this review with the assumption that the iPad really is a “pro” device and threw the large 12.9-inch model into our own day-to-day workflows to see how it fared. And, we wanted to see if there is any functional difference between its predecessor, and the new 11-inch.
Of course, there are different definitions of a what being a “pro” device entails, and what a “professional” does or needs, for that matter. “Pro” is first and foremost a marketing term, meaning nothing by itself, other than a higher-performing version of some other hardware. And, there are countless different verticals of “professionals” only some of which may find the iPad Pro suitable.
In this circumstance, I’m framing the use of the iPad Pro within my own professional life. My workflow consistst of about 10,000 words a day of writing, photo sessions for review gear, video shoots for the same, and and frequent traveling. As one who deals with mass amounts of media, I should be a primary target for pro use.
To date, I’ve been using the second generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro for the past year and was excited to see how the new Pro could build on that. I very much enjoy using my iPad and it finds its way into more areas of my professional, and work life.
This isn’t to say I don’t enjoy my late-2016 15-inch MacBook Pro, it just often feels like bigger iron than I need for most of what I do. The macOS interface remains great after years of refinements and I do love the Dark Mode and Finder improvements brought on by macOS Mojave. But, when I examine both devices on what I actually enjoy using, I always come back to iPad.
On specs alone, we were pretty excited about the new iPad Pros from the start. It was my personal opinion that the new design which is seemingly a mix of the original iPad’s flat sides and the flat back of the more recent models feels a bit dated, holding and using it is a different matter entirely.
The slimmed bezels put the display front and center and don’t cause any spurious touch actions while holding or handling the iPad as we had worried about pre-release. This is also the first time Apple’s authentication method has been entirely hidden on the device, letting it work in the background without the user giving it a second thought other than looking at the iPad. And, there is no notch to bicker about.
Apple has dubbed the new display a Liquid Retina one, the same moniker bestowed upon the iPhone XR’s glass. This is certainly the most advanced LCD Apple’s ever put it out, packing away a few tricks still not seen on any iPhone.
That Liquid Retina designation comes by way of the rounded corners, which does allow the bezels to be smaller and the display to mimic the curves of the body. This is a subtle effect but goes a long way in making the display feel more immersive.
The downside though, is that because of the new aspect ratio, developers once more need to update their apps to rid them of the dreaded black bars that have manifested themselves a few times along the iOS lifespan. Many key players here have already submitted updates accordingly, but it could be a while before your entire catalog of apps adopts.
On the 12.9-inch model, this isn’t nearly as noticeable but our 11-inch-using brethren have stronger opinions on the matter as they have less real estate to give up.
Tap to Wake also makes an appearance on iPad with the new Liquid Retina display, which is even more essential with the lack of a physical Home button. Of all the changes to the new iPad Pros, count this as one of our favorites. It is easy to wake the display to check the time or notifications while we are in the middle of a shoot than struggling to find the power button around the edge, and we’re looking forward to when it migrates further down in the iPad line —it should open up some interesting use-cases around the house.
Face ID and the TrueDepth camera system makes us never want to go back to Touch ID. We did like Face ID on the iPhone, but it is somehow even more of a game changer on iPad.
As we work in many native applications and web apps alike, we input credentials frequently. It was a jarring experience to our workflow in the past when we’d have to move our hands from the keyboard to authenticate with Touch ID. Face ID on the other hand just authenticates in the background, letting you keep moving and quickly putting in your credentials, be it from iCloud or apps like 1Password.
In our office, we often have two people who have to work on the iPad during a shoot, checking images while someone else is behind the camera , perusing the shot list, or other similar tasks. Touch ID allows for input of five fingerprints for verification, but Face ID is limited to two.
For us, this worked. It may not in a larger shared environment. We set up the Alternate Appearance and went on our way, but in larger shared environments, we can see more being relegated to the old six-digit passcode.
Internally, iPad Pro is all about performance. It has serious gains in every category, outpacing many traditional PCs. Driven by the A12X processor, we’ve seen this iPad do some remarkable things.
In our 11-inch iPad Pro review, which has the same internal specs as the 12.9-inch, we saw videos exported significantly faster than the last generation models, and we’ve obviously seen the same things with the larger sibling.
Our professional workflow
No one really questions the raw power of the iPad Pro, it’s obvious. Workflows vary, though, and it may be overkill for some. In my workflow, there were definite instances that power came in handy, but many more where it didn’t matter.
I deal with a lot of photo editing, usually going between the excellent Affinity Photo and Pixelmator. When we dump a massive RAW photo, throw on several effects and layers, and combine multiple photos, our last generation iPad Pro started to struggle. To be fair, we also saw our high end late-2016 MacBook Pro struggle so it isn’t an easy task.
The new 12.9-inch iPad Pro though, excelled. Load times still noticeable when in-painting a large area, but much less than the last.
That gorgeous 12.9-inch display is just perfect for viewing, and editing photos. There are elements we wish we could utilize on the iPad, such as an external adjustment knob or even additional gestures on the Apple Pencil, but it still remains an excellent experience. It’s a joy to lean back in a chair with the iPad, and pan around these massive photos to edit.
At the same time, dealing with the files is another matter. For a lot of my work, I use cloud storage lockers such as Amazon Drive to backup and store files, as well as locally. It is easy enough to dump photos from my camera — with no adapters over USB-C mind you — when I’m eager to start editing, but dealing with massive amounts of files is still a task left to my Mac.
The workflow usually involves duplicate photos in multiple locations, a daunting aspect no one particularly wants to deal with. This was also the case with the previous model, so the issue lies with iOS rather than the physical hardware of the iPad Pro. The iPad Pro hardware makes it easier, in theory, to deal with files in better ways thanks to the USB-C port.
USB-C has been an amazing asset to the iPad Pro, letting us connect our aforementioned camera direct to the tablet, with the same cable used to charge either the iPad or the camera, to transfer photos and videos.
This has a huge impact already, but we do want it to go further. We simply have too much media to handle and with Photoshop CC launching soon, Apple needs to find a better way to deal with it on the iPad. Requiring all photos and videos to be run through the Photos app is no longer acceptable in a professional workflow. A few personal photos are fine, and it remains fantastic to be able to import them right into iCloud. But, on a customer’s shoot, I want to keep them separate and import them right into the Files app.
And, we’d like to do this without reliance on FAT formatting or a DCIM folder.
Multitasking is designed for this large display, making it easy to have multiple websites open in split view, with slide over a quick way to access my Twitter feed or Mail. Doing all of those on the 11-inch iPad Pro is doable, but would be problematic with a smaller screen.
That larger screen also came into play when using it as a second monitor for our MacBook. Using Luna Display, The 11-inch is too tight to be entirely useful, but the 12.9 fits just right. Smaller bezels also allowed us to keep the displays close together and take up less space on our desk.
Of all the situations we utilized the iPad Pro for, writing and editing were by far the most common by man-hour. When writing, we tapped away on the updated Smart Keyboard Folio. We have quarrels with the new design overall —but it is still the best choice. It retains the same stiffened fabric keys that allow us to type as fast, and as accurately as we can on our Mac.
This entire review was created using this iPad sans for the above video which was handled by Final Cut Pro X —which is a bit of a problem for total migration given our workflow.
I created an outline of points to cover and a draft of the video script. I put together a shot list and points to film and photograph. I then imported the photos to my iPad for editing and processing which involved going first into the Photos app, importing to Affinity Photo, then exporting with the correct size and name into the Files app, then writing the final draft of the review and working it into the publishing platform for publication. The entire process was easy and streamlined other than the hurdles relating to Photos —and the video editing, of course.
For pros? Or no?
It’s been a week and a half thus far and we certainly have opinions on the device, but going back to our fundamental question of is the iPad Pro a real pro device? —we have to say yes for the hardware, with caveats for the limitations of iOS.
When Apple launches iPhones in the Fall, they come at the same time as the release of that year’s latest OS. This year’s iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max launched near simultaneously with iOS 12 and Apple baked in plenty of goodies just for those new phones.
With the iPad that isn’t necessarily the case. Rather, iOS 12 launched two months ago, and when the new iPad Pros came out there were no software-specific features for the new tablets other than perhaps Animoji or Smart HDR.
We will inevitably have to wait nearly an entire year for iOS 13 to be released before we start to see the full potential of this hardware. It is likely Apple could include solutions for many of our pain points in that release with better uses for USB-C or external displays. This all makes it difficult to fully judge the iPad Pro now because they run the same software as the previous generation, making the devices feel older than they are.
Apple has designed the new iPad Pro for the future, that much is clear. But, today, it does make significant inroads into simplifying our professional workflow. No, it doesn’t replace our computer, but at least right now, it isn’t meant to. Professionals don’t always have one machine. If we switched today to the iPad Pro and ditched our MacBook Pro, we’d still wind up with a Mac mini running in the background acting as a media server.
Whether it is meant to replace a PC or not is a different question, but it doesn’t mean that iOS and the iPad Pro can’t fulfill the potential it already has. The iPad Pro has room to grow, and it undoubtedly will. This iPad Pro feels like the most polished iPad yet and was worth our upgrading but we will still be here patiently waiting for third-party apps to tap into that unbridled power and for Apple to finally focus on new features with iOS 13 rather than the polishing and performance focused iOS 12.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5