Apple’s newest models of the iPad Pro, which were released last week, are dominating technology headlines this week as reviewers take in the tablet’s earth-shattering processor speed benchmarks in the context of its sky-high price and operating system limitations.
Lab tests of the new iPad Pro by Geekbench and Laptop Mag appear to validate Apple's claim that the new iPad Pros are faster than almost all laptops currently on the market. The A12X Bionic chips that power the new iPads boast single core speeds 30% faster and multi-core speeds almost double the speed of last year’s models. That puts the iPad Pro shockingly close in speed to the MacBook Pro laptops released by Apple earlier this year.
And the new iPad Pros feature much more than just processor upgrades. Altogether, they represent what is easily the biggest update to the iconic tablet since its release in 2010. The home button is gone, the curved edges have been squared, and an iPhone X-like Face ID scanner has been added. The tablets, which now come in 11 inch and 12.9 inch sizes, have crisp new LCD displays with better colour and narrower borders. Those changes make the 12.9 inch model more than 20% smaller than last year’s big iPad while the 11 inch version fills the same footprint as last year’s 10.5 inch model. Notably, the lightning connector has been replaced with a USB-C type connector, allowing the iPads to connect to 5K displays and provide power to other devices.
The jaw-dropping computing speeds of the new iPad Pros come after a decade of incremental improvements by Apple’s proprietary chipmakers. The A12X Bionic chip is the most powerful CPU that Apple has ever released and contains 4 high speed cores, 4 efficiency cores, and improved graphics processing that Apple claims is on par with the XBox One S.
However, there are questions about what Apple is trying to accomplish with its pricey tablet. Techradar argues, “Apple is...positioning this tablet for those who actually want to do stuff.” Paradoxically, the locked-down nature of the iOS operating system also makes it harder to do stuff.
For example, the Verge's Nilay Patel notes that there are currently no external flash drives that are compatible with the iPad Pro, though Apple promises that compatibility will be added later. And due to the protected iOS file system, importing images into applications like Adobe Lightroom is clunky and inefficient. "I just gave up and imported everything directly into Lightroom using my Mac," Patel writes. “My Mac doesn’t insist on abstracting the file system away into nonsense."
Laptop Mag's Mark Spoonauer struck a somewhat similar note in his review. While he praised the new tablets overall, he admits that the iPad lacks the ease-of-use of a laptop or other tablets. “If you're looking for a true laptop replacement, the [Microsoft] Surface Pro 6 is a better option. It's not as speedy, but Microsoft's 2-in-1 offers a more comfortable keyboard with a touchpad and a true desktop environment."
Then, of course, there is the price. Even though entry level iPad Pros come with just 64 GB of storage, prices start at $799 for the 11 inch model and $999 for the 12.9 inch model. Upgrading the storage alone can easily raise the cost by more than $1000. For instance, the maxed-out model reviewed by The Verge had a 12.9 inch display, a terabyte of storage, cell-phone connectivity, a $129 Apple Pencil, and a $199 Smart Keyboard Folio. The retail price for all of that comes to a whopping $2,227, or, “more than all but one standard MacBook Pro configuration.”
So while there is a lot to love in Apple’s redesigned and extremely powerful tablets, the new iPad Pros are still limited computing devices. But this may not matter. Apple proudly announced in its presentation last week that more iPads are sold each year than by any competitor’s entire laptop lineup. As long as Apple customers are willing to cough up ever increasing amounts of cash for those iPads, that trend will continue.