Home/ Technology / Gadgets/  Apple iPad Pro 2020 review: One small step for iPad, a giant leap for Apple

Your next computer is not a computer. Or at least that’s what Apple says about the 2020 iPad Pro. What it really means (to me) is that no matter how much the iPad Pro becomes ‘like’ a PC, it will never be one. Apple’s fine with that, and this year, so are we.

The new iPad Pro has fancy new cameras, a new processor as always, and touchpad support. That last one’s coming to all iPads though, which is great for us but not so great for this year’s iPad Pro. And I’ll tell you why.

The 2020 iPad Pro has dual-cameras with a Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) sensor. The cameras are great for a tablet, as they have always been on iPads. The “Pro" part here is that it clicks 4K videos at 60fps, something many movie makers tell me is worth their attention. They say iPads are always present on sets as a review mechanism, and if they can shoot too, it’s a redundancy they don’t mind.

But what gives you a peek into the future here is the LIDAR sensor. LIDAR tech uses lasers to measure distances. Excellent technology. But why do I need it on an iPad?

Well, it’s for Augmented Reality (AR). The iPad detects objects in a room much faster, which means it can separate them faster too. So, imagine a furniture company like Pepperfry wants to use AR to place a table in your living room. It will be able to take advantage of the LIDAR to show you exactly how it’s going to look including the part of the table that’s going to get covered by your couch.

That’s great for Pepperfy, but it really only matters to you once developers take advantage of it. And not many do at this point.

I have a small qualm with the front camera. For one, it moves to the left side when the iPad Pro is being used in landscape mode, which is how you will use it at most times. Also, it turns the camera off when you’re on a video call and move to another app. Something that stems from the iPad’s mobile roots.

If you really think about it, the differences between last year’s iPad Pro and this one really aren’t huge. The A12z Bionic chipset is not a big leap in terms of real world performance specs. The iPad Pro 2020 is fast, just as last year’s version was, and that one hasn’t slowed down on me yet.

The reason I like this iPad is the Magic Keyboard and touchpad support. The user experience is so polished that you tend to forget what the iPad can’t do and focus on what it can. But the Magic Keyboard and Touchpad are more iPadOS features than iPad Pro 2020 features. They work with pretty much every iPad now. So why buy the 2020 iPad Pro at all?

The Magic Keyboard is expensive, at Rs. 27,990. If you have the older iPad Pro or the iPad Air, it makes sense to just buy this and make that device more functional. In a way, that’s the most PC-like thing about the iPad Pro. It’s the most advanced tablet on the market today, which most people don’t absolutely need. But that’s exactly what we say about the most advanced PCs too.

Big tech really wants you to stop using PC hardware for everything you do. That’s why they keep making devices like the iPad Pro and Surface Pro X. Apple and Microsoft have never been closer to that reality than they are in 2020.

In just over a week with the iPad Pro, I’ve truly not touched my PC for any of the work that I do, except WhatsApp Desktop, which too will be solved when they add support for multiple devices.

The iPad routinely reminds me that it isn’t a real PC, but I’m fine with that. It’s lighter and more portable. I even had the chance to use it alongside the Surface Pro X, Microsoft’s poster boy for Windows on ARM, and I worked more on the iPad. Point, Apple.

It took Apple a while to realise that adding a proper keyboard and touchpad would make the iPad Pro better. Now that they finally have, it’s safe to say that the new Magic Keyboard and touchpad are amongst the best portable keyboards today.

Key spacing is perfect for touch typing and there’s ample feedback too. Its touchpad isn’t the biggest, but it’s big enough. It also supports various gestures, most of which are already well known to Mac users. Windows users may take a day to get used to them.

The gestures actually take longer to adapt to with connected mice. For instance, you drag the mouse down to show the dock, drag it further downwards to go to the home screen, and further still to enter the multitasking screen. It’s much easier to do this with the touchpad than with mice.

My big problem with the Magic Keyboard is that it doesn’t allow much flexibility in terms of how much the screen tilts. The floating iPad looks great and works when you’re sitting on a desk, but you will pack the keyboard up when you’re using it to watch movies or when you are working with the device on your lap.

Perhaps the next generation will have more flexibility in how the screen can be placed. You will find more on this in my iPad Pro and Surface Pro X comparison here.

For a Mac user like me, the iPad Pro is an instant fit now. Most of my work revolves around browsing, reading documents and articles, video calls and writing. The iPad Pro works, and without the stutters of the Surface Pro X. Apple’s software and apps are already made for mobile processors, so no problems there.

Apps work fast and touchpad gestures feel much more natural than touching the screen. I’m much faster with the new Magic Keyboard than I was with the older Smart Keyboard Folio.

The mouse pointer has also been redone for iPadOS. It adapts to what you’re doing. So when you move it around on the home screen, you’ll see apps light up instead of the cursor. On apps like Twitter, it will highlight buttons when you scroll over them, and it will change to a cursor when you hover over text.

But as much as the iPad Pro feels like a PC now, there are things that need to be added. And those things almost entirely come down to how much support developers are willing to add for this device.

For instance, Google Docs needs an extra click whenever you come back to it from a different app. You can’t just swipe over and start typing. Similarly, YouTube still needs you to touch the screen to seek instead of seeking with the arrow keys. Twitter doesn’t recognise the swipe right to go back gesture, etc.

There are issues that pros may face. Creator apps like Photoshop are a shadow of their full PC versions on the iPad. The App Store does have other options for photo and video editing, but they’re not always full fledged replacements to the popular creator apps or software. They’re excellent for what you can do on a mobile device but not PC replacements for sure.

You can also connect the iPad Pro to an external monitor, something many pros will do. But while the 6GB of RAM is great for using it as a tablet, it may not be enough for such use cases. Connecting to a bigger display reduces its multitasking capabilities considerably. When you’re using multiple apps, say in split screen or otherwise, you’ll see them reloading even with a few browser tabs open. It doesn’t matter to users like me, but it will to pros.

The bottomline is this. Your next computer is the iPad Pro only if your answer to the following questions is yes.

Do you absolutely have to have the most advanced features even if you don’t use them? And, do you want the newest and greatest out there, irrespective of price?

If not, just pair the Magic Keyboard with an older iPad Pro. Or better still, an iPad Air.

Prasid Banerjee
An engineering dropout, Prasid Banerjee has reported on technology in India for various publications. He reports on technology through text and audio, focusing on its core aspects, like consumer impact, policy and the future.
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Updated: 14 Jun 2020, 07:31 PM IST
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