My iPad Air 2 is a critical part of my digital life. It’s where I do much of my online research, reading and browsing. I spend hours on it every day. It’s also an exquisite device: great form factor, quick, light, reasonably powerful for my purposes. I love the thing.
But as they say, bigger can be better. And I’m always game for faster. So a week ago I ponied up and bought the iPad Pro. But two days later the Pro went back to the Apple Store for a refund. What happened?
The iPad Pro: A Case of Being “Stuck in the Middle”
In business school they teach you about Michael Porter’s generic business strategies (e.g. differentiation vs. cost leadership) and the perils of getting stuck in the middle, being neither the high-value provider nor the low cost provider. That’s not exactly what’s happening with the iPad Pro, but the analogy is relevant.
Unlike the iPad Air, Apple strives to position the iPad Pro in both the content consumption and content creation ends of the spectrum. Tim Cook himself indicates this is a single device that certain professionals can use for both portable media presentation and laptop replacement. Basically, the iPad Pro is positioned as a convergence device spanning your tablet and your laptop.
In my view, that’s the problem: it’s caught in the middle. During those two days I realized the iPad Pro is not that great as a personal media consumption device, and it certainly isn’t great as a laptop replacement.
Using the iPad Pro as a Tablet
I could use a bigger iPad, and sometimes I find my 9.7” Air 2 a little too cramped for browsing, researching, etc. But the iPad Pro takes that up to a huge 12.9”. That proved to be too big:
- If you hold it with one hand, the weight becomes a bit unwieldy – the leverage from the larger size forces you to grip relatively tight (or risk dropping it).
- Lying in bed or on a sofa, it’s too big and clumsy to prop up on your chest or side.
- As you navigate or type on the onscreen keyboard, your hand travel is much longer and less convenient.
On the plus side, the iPad Pro has an undeniably excellent screen, it’s like having your own portable movie theater, and it’s very fast – that A9X processor screams.
In the end I found you lose something when you go that big on a tablet: it’s just not that comfortable for every day browsing, watching, surfing, reading, etc.
Using the iPad Pro as a Laptop
The other end of the spectrum, as a laptop replacement and content creation device for professionals, seems to be where the Pro is more daringly targeted. But I find the problems there are even more significant:
- The operating system (iOS) is nowhere near the capability of a real operating system like OSX or Windows. So forget the arsenal of “real” productivity tools you typically use (as opposed to apps).
- The optional keyboard is bad, even by portable keyboard standards. If you can type fast you’ll almost certainly dislike it. And the origami-like way it folds up to prop up the display is a mess (with inadequate choices of prop-up angles). Frankly I’m surprised Apple released such a sub-par keyboard.
- The optional stylus is good. Very good, in fact. But it probably has limited use for most people except a small segment who might be drawing or marking up things (e.g. certain types of creative professionals)
The reality is that if you need a laptop, an iPad Pro won’t cut it, period. Creative professionals need things like Photoshop, Illustrator, etc. – some might be hand-drawing, but most probably are not. Office professionals regularly work on elaborate PowerPoints or complex spreadsheets and they’ll need a real keyboard and mouse for those tasks. Not to mention the wide assortment of miscellaneous productivity programs most of us regularly use on our laptops.
Now of course there are scenarios where you’ll leave the laptop home and travel light. For such occasions the iPad Pro certainly fits the bill, but these are “pinch hitter” scenarios. You still need your laptop, just not for the next day or two.
Bottom line is that if you need a laptop, the iPad Pro is not a realistic substitute for your laptop. But you know what is? A thinner, lighter, more portable laptop! Get yourself a MacBook Air or any of several Windows-based ultrabooks instead.
Where the iPad Pro Shines
So the Pro is not a great laptop replacement, and it’s unwieldy as a personal tablet, so what is it naturally good for? I think the answer is staring us right in the face: just look at that big, honkin’, super fast screen!
With a screen like that, the iPad should make for a great media presentation device – as opposed to a personal media consumption device. For example, sales people giving presentations one-on-one or in small groups. Or engineers and creatives that need to brainstorm diagrams, specs or artwork with their colleagues and mark them up on the fly. Or kiosks that need to display information in a bigger and better way.
I think the iPad Pro fits really well for scenarios when you want to “show & tell”(present) in addition to “browse and read” (consume). I also think the IPad Pro will be a good device for very specific types of creative professionals. That stylus has a time and place in this world, even if that place is fairly limited and specialized.
An iPad for the Rest of Us
But for everyone else, myself included, I think what might be more compelling than the iPad Pro is probably just a marginally bigger, slightly faster iPad.
In the end, bigger may sometimes be better but “huger” may not be. Most people don’t need 12.9 inches of screaming terror. Maybe the current 9.7 inches, or perhaps a more reasonable 11 inches, will suffice.
However, speed is always good and speaking for myself I’ll gladly take that blazing A9X processor in an updated iPad Air 3 anytime.