The iPad Pro is not something you can review in a couple of days. That’s not because it’s a new product category or even a dramatic reimagining of one – we’ve all used iPads by now, and more or less understand what kinds of tasks they can do and apps they can run. If anything, the iPad Pro represents a shift in workflow. The trick isn’t what the iPad Pro can do, but how it allows you to do more with an iPad than you’re doing already.
I’ll be giving myself a little over a week to write Macworld’s iPad Pro review, since it’ll take some time to adjust to the iPad and evaluate what benefits and drawbacks it offers over my Mac. But from the moment I ripped off the shrink wrap and fired it up, I noticed a few things I wanted to share. Here are the five most striking impressions the iPad Pro made on me in the first couple of hours.
1. So much wasted screen space
Apple should really take this opportunity to rethink the classic ‘grid of square icons’ we’ve had since the very first iPhone launched in 2007. My iPad Pro came with 32 apps preinstalled: four in the home row, 16 more on the first page and 12 more on the second. The icons are huge, bigger than my own thumbnail, and they’re spaced so wide that my index and middle fingers can fit comfortably between each one. In portrait mode, the iPad Pro screen can show five rows of four icons, plus the home row. In landscape mode, four rows of five icons. The home row can still expand to up to six icons, but it wouldn’t feel crowded with more, assuming the icons could shrink a little.
When the iPhone got a bigger screen, we got a choice: the iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 6s and 6s Plus all have two display modes. Zoomed mode enlarges everything, including type and icons, while Standard mode keeps the icons the same size as your older, smaller iPhone, meaning you have space for an additional row of icons on your home screen. It makes zero sense to me that my 4.7in iPhone 6s can have six rows of four icons in portrait mode (aside from the home row), while the 12.9in iPad Pro can only have five rows of four icons.
I think Apple should consider reimagining the iOS app grid – I like how Android does it, personally, but if we aren’t comfortable admitting that out loud, let’s say the new layout could be more Mac-like rather than more like Android. Let me put my most wanted apps and folders (and dare I say widgets?) on the home screen, arrange them however I like, and keep everything else stuck in a drawer that can expand with a tap or swipe.
2. So much beautiful screen space!
Still, no iPad user spends much time gazing at the home screen. iPads are for apps, and once I opened an app, I was so glad to have the extra inches of screen real estate. Apps like Mail, Maps, News, Calendar, Photos, FaceTime – heck even the App Store – all benefit from the extra elbow room.
My usual iPad is an iPad mini, because I work on a MacBook Air and tackle away-from-keyboard stuff on my iPhone whenever possible. The iPad mini is just a fun ‘bonus’ device, for gaming, shopping online and watching video. So I was initially a little sceptical that I would find a faster iPad with a bigger screen that much more compelling, but even using the software keyboard that gobbles up a third of the screen leaves plenty of room for my content.
Like many other reviewers before me, I’m planning to use this as my main work machine during the review period, and it was immediately clear that I’ll find it so much easier to get things done, even viewing one app at a time.
3. Best software keyboard ever
At first I was salty that the Smart Keyboard I ordered with my iPad Pro wouldn’t ship for another week. (Apple is sending us a loaner unit tomorrow, so I won’t actually have to wait that long, and yes, I know what a privilege that is.) But this software keyboard is the best I’ve ever used, so I’ll be able to struggle through without much struggle at all.
Like a good digital citizen, I use complex passwords full of letters, numbers, and symbols, even though that kind of password is harder to enter on my iPhone, requiring me to jump between the keyboards for letters, numbers and symbols in a way I just don’t have to on my Mac. The iPad Pro’s software keyboard has a row of numbers and common symbols along the top of the letter layout, just like the Mac. Shortcuts even pop up per application – in Mail, the options to insert a photo or attach a file are handy to have right onscreen without any tap-and-hold tricks required to find them.
But speaking of tricks, the two-finger trick in iOS 9, turning the keyboard into a trackpad for easier letter insertion, is easier here than on the iPad Air, since the cursor is bigger and easier to see. I also like tapping-and-holding on the keyboard-switching Globe icon to find the toggles for the emoji keyboard and predictive text option. (This menu will also show you all the third-party keyboards you have installed.)
I even tried touch-typing in landscape mode, and found it surprisingly possible. Keeping my fingers on the home row of keys (ASDF and JKL;), I was able to type without looking at the keys, with fewer errors than I thought, thanks to auto-correct. It felt weird tapping on the screen with no feedback, but it was possible. If Apple can someday upgrade the software keyboard with Taptic Engine haptic feedback, this will be even easier.
4. Split View is my jam
I never tried seriously to use my iPad as my work machine for a couple reasons: my job’s content management system didn’t work so well in Mobile Safari and required a VPN, and I almost never work in one app at a time. Writing an article for Macworld can take several apps: byword for composing, editing photos in Pixelmator, looking up facts and links in Safari, not to mention producing and publishing the article there. While I can use all those apps on an iPad, juggling them wasn’t fun, and felt like it was slowing me down.
iOS 9’s multitasking features, Split View, Slide Over and Picture in Picture, all work on the iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 4, but they feel so much more at home on the iPad Pro. Running Byword and Safari side by side, I have about the same space in each than I had on my iPad mini’s entire screen. And there’s no delay in pulling out the Slide Out drawer, or expanding a Slide Out app’s view to full Split Screen. Even Picture in Picture makes more sense here – Mail on the iPad Pro has enough free space for me to stash a smallish Netflix window without covering up too much.
5. It’s not a hybrid. It’s still an iPad.
Like I said, I’ll be spending the next week or so using the iPad Pro as my main computing device, avoiding my trusty MacBook Air whenever possible. That means I’ll be using the iPad Pro quite a bit while sitting at a desk – not my usual location for iPad computing. Because Windows 10 is designed to run on both tablets and laptops, our friends at PCWorld get to sample plenty of devices that are meant to straddle the line, hybrids that can act as laptops or tablets depending on how you swivel the screen or snap off a keyboard.
The iPad Pro is still an iPad all the way, whether I’ve got it propped up on my desk with a Bluetooth keyboard paired, or I’m sitting back with it on the couch, tapping out this article on the software keyboard. Aside from keyboard support, which every iPad has, it isn’t trying to be one machine on my desk and another on my lap. It’s an iPad through and through – just a really big, really fast iPad that may fix the pain points I had with working from a tablet… or may not.