On The iPad Pro: Does Anyone Need a 12.9-inch iPad?
It's that time of the year and the Apple rumor machine is running in overdrive. Mixed in with the iPhone 6 S rumors is this one about an iPad Pro. The iPad Pro is supposed to be a 12.9-inch iPad and is alleged to either come with, or support, some type of pen/stylus input, like the Microsoft Surface line of devices. I have my reservations on why an iPad this big should exist and I’m skeptical as to the mass market appeal for such a device. I’m going to list a few of my reasons for why such a device will not or should not be made.
At 12.9-inches, this purported iPad Pro would be as large as a 13-inch MacBook Pro and larger than the new 12-inch MacBook. To get a sense of how big this iPad would be, take a look at the image right above. Here, I have my iPad Air 2 nestled between my iPhone 6 Plus and the 12-inch MacBook. A larger 13-inch iPad would be an ergonomic nightmare. It would be uncomfortable to carry and use, unless propped up on a table or on a lap. I believe that Apple got the iPad’s screen size right the first time. At 9.7 inches, it strikes the perfect balance between a PC and a portable handheld device that is excellent for watching movies, browsing the web, reading and composing email while at home and on the go.
Another rumored feature of the iPad Pro is Force Touch. Force Touch was first introduced on the Apple Watch, then on the 12inch MacBook. It was then implemented on the rest of Apple's laptop lineup. Force Touch can be described as a secondary or even a tertiary click. While the name is the same, implementation and functionality is different on the Apple Watch than on the MacBook. On the Watch, it is used to call up secondary menus and functions, whereas on the laptops, it's more of a third click. Also, the Apple Watch's tiny screen prevents the placement of buttons and controls, so a menu function actionable with a longer press makes a lot of sense. On the laptop, not so much. Other than Apple's implementation in QuickTime for fast forwarding or for calling up Wikipedia entries and addresses, there is very little use and support for Force Touch on the Mac. Maybe El Capitan will offer better support for it.
It is possible that iOS 9 will gain support and features for Force Touch, though the beta I'm currently running on my iPad Air 2 has no such functionality. It stands to reason as no current iOS device has any Force Touch hardware. That said, I'm not sure how Apple will implement the feature. Will the feature work similar to how it works on the Apple Watch or will it be more like the MacBook trackpad? I am concerned because in both instances, discovery and usage is not intuitive. I discovered on the Watch by accident that you can use Force Touch to clear all notifications and use it to change the color of some, though not all, of the emojis. And on the laptop, it is more of a nuisance than anything. I'm unable to enable it on the first try whenever I need to call up a dictionary definition. Almost always, I end up selecting and highlighting a sentence or two that I didn't intend to highlight.
Speaking of the MacBook, how will Apple position an almost 13inch iPad Pro against a 12inch MacBook? Apple sells the 11inch and 13inch MacBook Air. And they still sell the 13inch aluminum MacBook Pro with the DVD drive and regular hard drive though that has not been updated in a while and is not sold in stores. These, on top of the new 12-inch MacBook Retina. I bought the 12-inch MacBook Retina after it was announced. I returned it after two weeks, concluding that it was limited and a bit underpowered for my power user needs. That said, I think that the 12-inch MacBook is the ideal machine for someone looking for a machine thats as thin and light as the iPad, but with an operating system capable of running desktop applications. A popular trend amongst some iPad users is to attach a Bluetooth keyboard to the iPad. Combined, the weight of an iPad and a Bluetooth keyboard is comparable to that of the 2.03 pound MacBook.
Some have speculated that an iPad Pro would be useful for designers, artists and even some in enterprise. I don't see it. Sure, a bigger iPad - with, potentially, stylus support - would be great for photo editing, sketch art and some design work. But these are niche markets. If this was a big market, why is the Microsoft Surface not setting the world on fire? And the current size is big enough to be useful for those creative types. I'm my opinion, there are three main reasons that prevent the iPad from being widely adopted in the professional environment.
The first is the perception (reality for some, including me) that without a keyboard and mouse, precision input and control is impossible.Next is the lack of I/O. The iPad is famous (or infamous) for having only one port (two, if you count the headphone port). Traditional PCs have multiple USB ports and SD slots for easy data transfer. Without these, it is challenging to get files on and off the iPad. Finally, there’s the App Store, and this is a big one. Pro apps on the Mac and Windows cost a lot. Historically, pro apps have always been expensive. They have had to be, in part because the number of users has always been small. And they often require a lot of work on the part of the developer to deploy the advanced features required by the users. Unfortunately, the pricing of apps in the App Store favor cheap or free apps with in-app purchase. The economics of scales then don’t favor professional grade apps on the app store.
Now just because something doesn't make sense yet doesn't mean that it shouldn't exist. Until Apple announces it on stage, all of this is sheer speculation. That said, for an iPad Pro to exist and be commercially successful, Apple will have to address these and a few other concerns. One feature in iOS 9 that has fueled this rumor is Split View. With a larger iPad, you can display two apps side by side in full screen and have each app window be comparable in size to a single view window on a smaller iPad. Who knows, maybe this larger iPad will exist as another alternative in the iPad lineup as a larger iPad for anyone looking for a larger iPad. After all, Apple offers their laptops, desktops and phones in multiple sizes. I am very curious to see if Apple releases this product, how they position it, and what hardware differentiations, if any, will exist between it and the other iPads. We will find out pretty soon.