By Jason Snell
October 18, 2022 5:30 PM PT
The iPad’s erratic odyssey continues
On Tuesday morning, Apple announced new iPad and iPad Pro models via press release. On their own, they are reasonable and understandable upgrades over the previous-generation model. Look at them together, along with the other members of the iPad product line, and everything’s a lot less understandable. The iPad continues to move forward, but sometimes that advancement is so fitful and even contradictory that it feels almost haphazard.
The new 10th-generation iPad is a nice update, adding Touch ID (on the wake/sleep button) and an A14 processor, kicking the home button to the curb at last. (Except not quite—the new iPad is more expensive at $449, so the ninth-generation iPad remains in the product line at $329.) It even comes in some nice bright colors—blue, pink, and yellow, plus a neutral silver.
But there are some also real head-scratchers, both positively and negatively. Apple has moved the iPad’s front-facing camera to its long edge, and as someone who uses my iPad almost exclusively in landscape orientation, this is a great step.
Apple has also built a new keyboard-and-trackpad case for the iPad, with the same key mechanism as the Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro and iPad Air. It’s a very different product, though: rather than creating a laptop-style flat surface via a clever cantilever method, Apple’s new $249 Magic Keyboard Folio resembles a lot of third-party cases in having an adjustable kickstand and the ability to detach the keyboard magnetically when you’re not using it.
I’m not a fan of kickstands—they’re good on tables but lousy in laps—but the Magic Keyboard is really an accessory that’s only good for typing, while the Magic Keyboard Folio could reasonably be your only iPad case since you can pull the keyboard off if you aren’t using it. The Magic Keyboard Folio also has a row of function keys that the Magic Keyboard sorely lacks. (The Magic Keyboard Folio lacks the key backlighting of the Magic Keyboard.)
While the iPad is basically a complete hardware redesign, the new M2 iPad Pro models are very subtly upgraded versions of last year’s hardware. This makes complete sense—but it also means that they haven’t been updated to support some of the advances in the 10th-generation iPad. It’s a very weird situation to be in when the low-end iPad is showing the way to a new front-facing camera position and an embracing of function keys, but the high-end iPad Pro is stuck in the past. (And the poor 11-inch iPad Pro couldn’t even get an upgrade to the XDR display in the 12.9-inch model.)
I get it. The iPad Pro isn’t ready for a complete hardware redesign, nor did Apple want to redesign the Magic Keyboard this year. But the result is that the leading iPad is missing innovations that the cheap iPad offers. It’s weird.
Speaking of weird: The Apple Pencil! The 10th-generation iPad has switched to USB-C, which is a great move. But the original Apple Pencil uses a Lightning jack to charge, and the Apple Pencil 2 was designed to magnetically attach to the side of the iPad to charge via induction. Apple sort of painted itself into a corner here and decided to punt rather than come up with a new version of the Apple Pencil.
Instead, Apple has made the awkward move of building a $9 Pencil-to-USB accessory, which will also now be included in the box with future Apple Pencils. To use it, you’ll need to plug the Apple Pencil’s lightning jack into one end and a USB-C cable into the other, and then plug the other end of the USB-C cable into the iPad.
Yuck. (At least there’s a USB-C version of the Logitech Crayon now.)
The big new feature of the M2 iPad Pro is Hover, a feature that detects when the tip of an Apple Pencil 2 is just above the top of the screen. This feature is a cousin to the hover state apps can adapt to when the pointer from an external trackpad is hovering over interface elements, but it’s not quite the same feature, and developers will need to use a new API to address it.
It feels like it’s about time for an Apple Pencil 3, but since Apple isn’t ready to go there yet, the Hover feature sort of adds an interface element to the Pencil 2 with no hardware upgrade required. When the Pencil is in the hover state, apps can change their behavior, which can lead to some very interesting interactions. For example, in the Procreate design app, you can pinch the screen while hovering to adjust the size of a paintbrush. Double-tapping on the Pencil while hovering can kick off a completely different command than double-tapping when it’s not hovering.
Just as with the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, the move from M1 to M2 will offer some nice but modest speed boosts for the iPad Pro. And Apple is smart to show off video apps like DaVinci Resolve and Octane X that really take advantage of the full power of the M2. But when I see Apple boasting about how the M2 can be put to work for serious video work with those apps, it’s bittersweet because I’m reminded that Apple’s own pro video app, Final Cut, still hasn’t made it to the iPad.
There’s no getting around it: The absence of Apple’s pro media apps on the iPad Pro is an embarrassment. All these other apps are great, yes, but Apple has had an opportunity to take the lead in defining what the pro app experience should be on one of its platforms and has never seized it.
Overall, Tuesday’s announcements left me with mixed emotions. The individual products look fine, and I look forward to trying them out. But zoom out to the iPad line as a whole, and it’s kind of a mess. From the old ninth-generation iPad all the way up to the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, there’s an iPad for everyone—if you can figure out which ones have which features and whether those features are worth the extra price.
If the growth of the iPad is a journey, today shows that it’s still an erratic one. At least it’s moving forward—but there are an awful lot of weird sidesteps along the way.
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