The show must go on. Despite COVID-19 forcing Apple to close down all retail stores outside of China indefinitely, the company just announced a new 11- and 12.9-inch iPad Pro (starting at $799 and $949, respectively). Last refreshed in 2018, the new iPad Pros come with a faster A12Z Bionic chip equipped with an 8-core CPU and GPU, a new ultra-wide camera and a "LiDAR scanner" for AR.
However, the most surprising (or not surprising) announcement is a new Magic Keyboard accessory with a trackpad. Simply put: Apple just turned the iPad Pro into a laptop. The gap between an iPad Pro and Microsoft's Surface Pro is now narrower than ever before. This could mean the beginning of the end for MacBooks.
The new stuff — There's lots to unpack about the new iPad Pros. Apple is saying the A12Z Bionic chip has an 8-core CPU and 8-core GPU, but stopped short of saying how much faster it is compared to the A12 Bionic in the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro. Apple only says the gigabit-class LTE is 60 percent faster and the battery life is still the same 10 hours.
The cameras on the back look like the iPhone 11 Pro's triple-camera setup at first glance. But they're not. First, the ultra-wide camera is 10 megapixels versus 12 megapixels on the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro.
And second, the third lens isn't a telephoto lens, but a "LiDAR Scanner" which Apple says improves AR applications. The LiDAR Scanner "measures the distance to surrounding objects up to 5 meters away, works both indoors and outdoors, and operates at the photon level at nano-second speeds."
More laptop-like than ever before — Minor spec bumps are expected from second-generation refreshes, but the new Magic Keyboard is the real story here. With the insanely priced ($299 for the 11-inch and $349 for the 12.9-inch) keyboard accessory, Apple has essentially made a Surface Pro clone, a touchscreen laptop it has spent a decade resisting. (Fun fact: the Magic Keyboards works with the 2018 iPad Pros, too.)
Look at the keyboard — the Chiclet-style keys with the familiar CMD, Option, Control, inverted T-shaped arrows, and a proper trackpad — and tell me that doesn't scream MacBook keyboard to you. The keyboard even uses the same scissor mechanisms with 1mm travel just like on the 16-inch MacBook Pro and new MacBook Air that was just announced today.
There's even a pass-through USB-C port for charging on the case so you can use the built-in port on the iPad Pro for plugging in accessories like external storage. How laptop-like is that?
But back to the trackpad. It's a trackpad. From Apple. Which means it's gonna be amazing because the trackpads on MacBooks are best-in-class. The question is how well does a trackpad on an iPad Pro — a device designed for touch — work?
Here's what Apple says:
iPadOS 13.4 brings trackpad support to iPad for the first time for a more natural typing experience and added precision for tasks such as writing and selecting text, working with spreadsheets and pro workflows. Designed specifically for the touch-first experience on iPad, the cursor appears as a circle that highlights user interface elements, text fields and apps on the Home screen and Dock, giving a clear indication of what users can click on. Fluid gestures on the trackpad make it easy to switch between apps, access the app switcher and activate the Dock, Control Center and apps in Slide Over.
iOS 13 brought mouse support to the iPad, but it's hidden as an Accessibility feature and is kinda half-baked. The Magic Keyboard's trackpad elevates cursor support to the front, making it available to more people who don't want to jump through hoops to plug a mouse in via the USB-C port. I don't know how well it'll work, but I'm excited to try it.
RIP MacBook? — While Apple's official line is that the MacBook and iPad are on two separate tracks, it's hard to see how the iPad Pro isn't the better computer for most people in the long run. With the Magic Keyboard, the iPad Pro is Apple's first touchscreen laptop; it's superior to a MacBook with a touchscreen bolted on because of its many different use-cases and Apple Pencil support.
The iPad Pro's performance certainly isn't lacking compared to a MacBook. When I reviewed the 2018 iPad Pro, I was awed not just by its MacBook Pro-level benchmark scores, but by how much raw power it had in real-world applications.
In a 4K sample video project export I made, here's how much fast the iPad Pro exported the video compared to MacBooks at the time:
- 12.9-inch iPad Pro (2018): 54 seconds
- 12-inch MacBook (2015) with 1.2Ghz Core M + 8GB of RAM: 2 minutes and 1 second
- Surface Pro (2017) with 2.6GHz Core i5 + 8GB of RAM: 8 minutes and 8 seconds
- 13-inch MacBook Air (2018) with 1.6GHz Core i5 + 8GB of RAM: 8 minutes and 8 seconds
And that's power from the old A12X Bionic chip. It'll be interesting to see how much more powerful the A12Z Bionic chip is and whether it's really "faster than most PC laptops."
The only thing holding the iPad Pro back is iOS and its confusing multitasking gestures that many have found hard to discover and use. But Apple can improve these things in iOS 14 and beyond. When that happens, the iPad Pro will be more than enough "computer" to do the majority of laptop things.
So what happens to the MacBook? It won't die, but it will become more niche — for real specialists and professionals like the Mac Pro.
Remember how MacBooks became the most popular laptop on college campuses over a decade ago? Instead of MacBooks, iPad Pros with Magic Keyboards could be the new student laptop instead. Who will want a MacBook when it doesn't have a touchscreen now that there's an iPad with a touchscreen and a trackpad? Like Apple's new tagline for the iPad Pro says: "your next computer is not a computer."
If that wasn't enough, Apple also created an absurd video to presumably poke fun at "old" computers called "how to correctly use a computer," though the "rules" it lays out... aren't really how people use computers in reality.
Split launches — The new iPad Pros are available for order today and ship out on March 25. Weirdly enough, the Magic Keyboard isn't coming out until May (it's possible the coronavirus is delaying things).