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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

Three big questions about Apple’s new iPad announcements

Note: This story has not been updated for several years.

Monday was a big day for the iPad. Apple introduced new iPad Pro models, and the unveiling of iOS 11 revealed a major focus on iPad productivity features.

As someone who frequently uses an iPad to get work done—in fact, I didn’t even bring a Mac to WWDC this year—the announcements on Monday made me happy. I can’t wait to spend a lot more time using the 10.5-inch iPad Pro and iOS 11. But in the meantime, I do have a few lingering questions…

How does the 10.5-inch iPad Pro compare to the old 9.7-inch model and the 12.9-inch iPad Pro?

The 9.7-inch iPad Pro is dead. The classic iPad screen size is now only available on the fifth-generation iPad introduced earlier this year. Instead, Apple has created an iPad Pro with a larger screen while trying to maintain the weight and general feel of the classic iPad.

I was able to use one for about half an hour yesterday, and without holding it up to a 9.7-inch model, it certainly didn’t feel any bigger—and was still noticeably smaller and lighter than the 12.9-inch iPad Pro I tote around most of the time.

In most cases, a mobile device’s dimensions getting bigger wouldn’t be great news, but the new iPad Pro is taller by .4 inches—and that means that the Smart Keyboard and any other keyboard accessories built for it will have room for slightly wider keycaps. The old 9.7-inch iPad Pro was a little bit too narrow for full-sized keys, but this new model should be better. And the larger display means the on-screen keyboard will be more comfortable, too.

The new iPad Pro’s screen isn’t just bigger, it’s got more pixels—at 2224 by 1668, it’s larger than the 9.7-inch’s 2048 x 1536 resolution. Unfortunately, Apple hasn’t chosen to include a higher-resolution display that would match the 2732 by 2048 resolution of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro.

In the end, I suspect that the 10.5-inch iPad Pro will be a nice upgrade for users of the 9.7-inch model, thanks to that bigger screen and slightly taller dimension. But it’s good that Apple has chosen to keep the larger 12.9-inch iPad Pro around, because that model still has a larger screen with more pixels.

How fully baked is iPad multitasking?

The most dramatic changes in iOS 11 all seem to relate to multitasking on the iPad. The classic iOS home screen Dock has been given an upgrade, featuring more apps (including apps suggested dynamically by Siri) and the ability to drag apps out into Slide Over or Split View. The old many-cards multitasking window is gone, replaced with a view that’s a set of tiles reminiscent of the view when you zoom out of a web page in Safari, mixed in with a strong Mission Control vibe from macOS. A new version of Slide Over, which features an app window floating over another app on the side of the screen like an overgrown picture-in-picture window, opens the possibility of running three apps at once.

In the half an hour I spent with an iPad Pro running an early version of iOS 11, I came away impressed. This isn’t a small revision designed to nudge iOS across some imaginary goal line: this is a whole set of features that have been rebuilt to interoperate, all in service of making it easier to flow from app to app. Dragging apps around was smooth and fairly intuitive; the only time I ran into a problem was when I tried to dismiss an app running in Slide Over—I ended up having to transmute it into a Split View, then slide it off the screen from there.

That’s almost certainly a bug, which makes an important point: I would expect that some aspects of the iOS 11 approach to multitasking to shift over the summer as Apple gets customer feedback and rethinks some of its decisions. But what I have seen so far makes me feel that this is a feature that’s extremely well thought out and implemented.

How big a paradigm shift is the new Files app, really?

Every time you star to read a story about how Apple betrayed the simplicity of the iPad this week by recreating the macOS Finder in the new Files app, close the window and move on with your life. That’s a really bad take.

The fact is, if file browsing is a Pandora’s Box for iOS, it was opened a couple of years ago when Apple introduced the iCloud Drive app. That app provided a system of files and folders that iOS users could browse and act upon. The genie’s been out of the bottle for two years, at least to a limited degree.

Also, I’d dispute that the addition of Files is any sort of Pandora’s Box. Unlike the Mac, where Finder sits at the heart of the computing experience, Files is an app that you only see if you choose to open it. People who don’t need to think in terms of managing files will never need to use it. But for those of us who do have workflows that require managing files, Files should allow us to stop fighting the operating system and get down to business.

I have a bunch of questions about the details about how Files works and what its limitations are, and I suppose we’ll learn a lot more as the summer progresses. I wonder how different cloud-storage providers will choose to integrate with Files. I’m curious about how drag-and-drop and Files will interoperate. I wonder where the files in the “On my iPad” folder live, and if this new app will make it easier to load files from external devices or network shares or files dragged in from a Mac via iTunes. It’s all in the details, but the big picture is promising.

How awkward or not-awkward will new two-hand gestures feel?

One of the cooler features in iOS 11 is its embrace of two-handed gestures on the iPad. You can drag an app icon with one hand while flipping through pages on the home screen with the other hand. You can select one app with one hand and tap with the other to add additional apps. This is next-level multitouch support, and it has the potential to be pretty powerful—but also pretty confusing for the uninitiated. How Apple manages that trick, so that people won’t accidentally trigger these figures and end up lost and confused, is going to be something to watch.

There are also ergonomic issues: To use two-handed gestures, your iPad can’t be in your hands. So these are gestures primarily intended for iPads that are on a table, in a case, in a lap, or otherwise someplace where you’ve got both hands free to manipulate data. That’s limiting, but it’s also freeing—these large devices are far more likely to be put into situations like that, and if you consider a future with even larger iOS devices, two-handed gestures should become an even bigger part of the interface story.

Still, this is a first step—and it may be a little weird to start. I look forward to seeing how people react to the gestures and how natural they feel.

It matters to some more than others

Yesterday I was sitting with a couple notable Apple writers and they were taken aback with the device I was writing my article with—a 12.9-inch iPad with the Brydge keyboard. I’ll grant you, at first glance it’s easy to get confused about what device I’m using. It looks like a MacBook Pro, but it’s not. It’s an iPad and a clip-on Bluetooth keyboard.

But once they realized I was working on my iPad, the larger issue was that they both didn’t really understand why. And I realized, this is an interesting area where the Apple world—which is often viewed as monolithic from the outside—is actually segmented in a few interesting ways. Those of us who work on the iPad are a loud, passionate group—but there are many people who would just prefer to use a MacBook. I don’t think these positions are necessarily in opposition—not every Apple product is for every person, and that’s fine. But it was an interesting reminder that even among my peer group, there are plenty of people for whom the progression of the iPad as a productivity device is an interesting story, but not one with any personal impact.

Fair enough. Whether you’re an observer or someone who is actively involved in using the iPad Pro, this has been pretty good week—and the road to iOS 11’s release promises to be an interesting ride.

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