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By Jason Snell

The Case for the 10.5-inch iPad Pro

Is there room for a Smart Keyboard in between these two sizes?

Dan Provost of Studio Neat wrote an interesting post last week about reports that Apple is planning on releasing a new 10.5-inch iPad Pro alongside the 12.9- and 9.7-inch versions.

The idea seems kind of far-fetched at first. Provost himself cites John Gruber’s statement that it doesn’t make any sense, but after reading Provost’s post, Gruber said that “the math works out”. And I have to admit, the more I think about it, the more appealing this possible product sounds to me.

First, let me walk you through Provost’s math. If you think back to the introduction of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro in the fall of 2015, you may remember that Apple’s Phil Schiller pointed out that the width of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro is the height of the 9.7-inch iPad. A 12.9-inch iPad Pro can run two full-sized iPad apps side by side in portrait mode. The screen is basically a two-for-one of the 9.7-inch iPad.

Then take the leap: Imagine doing the same exercise with the iPad mini. The mini is a bit of a forgotten device these days, but it’s actually got the same number of pixels as the full-sized iPad—they’re just packed more tightly (326 pixels per inch) into a smaller display. So if you made an iPad Pro that could run two iPad apps side by side at the iPad mini’s resolution, that display would be… 10.5 inches diagonal.

Depending on how small the bezels were around the display, a 10.5-inch iPad Pro could have roughly the same physical dimensions as the 9.7-inch model, but would have the same number of pixels (2732 × 2048) as the 12.9-inch iPad Pro.

I love the 12.9-inch iPad Pro because I love that huge screen and all the information that can be displayed on it. But there’s no denying that it’s a beast, at 12 by 8.7 inches and 1.6 pounds. 1 I pick up my wife’s iPad Air and am shocked at how small and light it is. A lighter and smaller iPad Pro that still offered a big screen with lots of pixels—that really interests me.

That said, I’m actually hoping that the 10.5-inch iPad Pro comes in a shell that’s a bit larger than the one on the 9.7-inch model. That’s because when it comes to keyboards, every millimeter of width helps. Typing on the 12.9-inch iPad Pro is much better than typing on the 9.7-inch model, whether you’re using the on-screen keyboard or an add-on keyboard case that matches the width of the device.

At 9.4 inches wide, the smaller iPad Pro is a little too small for a full-sized keyboard, which is why Apple’s Smart Keyboard features shrunk-down keys, as does Logitech’s. I like both of those keyboards, but the closer you can get to a full-sized key layout, the better. (The same is true of on-screen keyboards, of course.)

A slightly wider iPad Pro would give Apple and third-party keyboard makers a little more room with which to work. Yes, the 12.9-inch model is 65 millimeters wider than the smaller iPad, but a look at the respective Smart Keyboards suggests that the 12.9-inch Smart Keyboard has width to spare. There’s at least 30 millimeters total of wasted space on the sides of the larger Smart Keyboard. Squash a few of the modifier keys at the edges, as on the smaller model, and an iPad that’s only slightly larger would probably allow for a keyboard with full-sized keys.

Of course, Apple will provide a Smart Keyboard for the new iPad Pro (unless it’s identical in size to the 9.7-inch model, of course). I also wonder if this might be an opportunity for Apple to release its own keyboard cover based on the new butterfly keyswitches it’s using on the MacBook and MacBook Pro, rather than leaving traditional keyboards to the third-party market.

In any event, I like the idea of taking all the pixels in my 12.9-inch iPad Pro and shoving them into something a bit smaller. If a 10.5-inch iPad Pro were exactly the size and weight of the current 9.7-inch model, that would be nice. But I’ll give back a little bit of physical size if it also can bring support for full-sized external keyboards to the party.

Beyond that, I’m hopeful that 2017 will bring the iPad Pro a set of synced-up features—True Tone display, wide color gamut support, USB 3 transfer speeds, and fast charging support—across the entire line. And a new version of iOS with much-needed improvements to iPad multitasking features, of course.

  1. 305mm by 220mm, and 713 grams! I’m amused to realize that Apple doggedly uses inches to describe its screen sizes everywhere in the world. Sorry, everyone else! ↩

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