This is a brief follow-up to yesterday's piece on The problem with hybrids, and what Apple can do to reinvent them. I suspect the rumored iPad Pro will become a reality this year. There were plenty of reasons to believe in the iPad Pro last year. Once Apple announced the name change for the latest iPad, it left us with only one reasonable conclusion. For the past few years, Apple has distinguished its notebook line with the suffixes, Air and Pro. By calling the latest iPad, Air, they are begging us to anticipate the iPad Pro. I happily oblige. Beyond anticipating the products existence, I also anticipate its nature. We know what an iPad is. We know that the iPad Air is thinner, lighter, faster. So what exactly will put the "Pro" in iPad Pro? Here are a few possibilities:
Let's go ahead and get screen size out of the way. Of course it's going to be bigger. Right now, the expectation is for something in the 13" territory. Too big? Hardly. Is the 13" MacBook Air too big? Of course not. That screen is almost a half an inch bigger than what I expect for the iPad Pro. The more surface area the screen has, the thinner the device can be. A larger screen is important for any device intended for professional work. Professional applications like spreadsheets, photo editors, and media production software need as much room as they can get. There is a reason you do not see people doing these things on screens smaller than 13". For many of these tasks, even that is a bit cramped. Professionals need a lot of information density. And that requires a larger screen with high resolution. This will be the most obvious feature of the iPad Pro.
In that bigger body, Apple will need to pack a lot more RAM and disk space. Pro applications demand larger assets such as full-res images and high-def videos. 16 GB simply won't cut it. Even 32 GB is too small for professional use. I believe the base model will have to be 64 GB, and go up from there. Perhaps we will see a 256 GB model. If it will do laptop-style work, it will need to offer laptop-style storage. Bigger files demand more RAM. If Apple makes the iPad Pro a hybrid, they will need to provide at least 4 GB of ram to accommodate any version of OS X on ARM. I just don't believe that 2 GB will cut it. And 1 GB is out of the question.
It is hard to imagine an iPad Pro without the pro-level security of Touch ID. I suspect that its use will be expanded to lock individual files and folders. This will be a nice differentiator for enterprise customers. As for the processor, we don't really know what all the current A7 is capable of. Those in the know seem to agree that it is overkill for its current use. Will it be enough to power a pro machine? Only time will tell. I expect that by the time this product is released, we will be looking at an A7X, or A8. That architecture has more than enough headroom to scale to a pro device.
The hardware story of the iPad Pro is easy to predict. It will be more of everything that is in the iPad Air. More battery, more power, more storage, and more RAM are table stakes. There is a good chance it will even have a better camera. Why Not? But alone, the hardware is not enough to warrant the "Pro" label. Such a device would need to enable new capabilities not available in the consumer models. Those abilities will be unlocked via a new class of software. That is where I believe things get interesting.
There is a big difference between consumer grade and professional grade software. I find it almost impossible to put that difference into words. A professional already knows the difference. An amateur wouldn't understand the difference. It cannot simply be reduced to more features. There is plenty of consumer software with unnecessary feature bloat, and plenty of professional software that only does one thing. Suffice it to say that professional software allows the user to do some pretty amazing things.
The App Store does feature some professional grade applications for the iPad. But the bulk of the apps are decidedly consumer grade. I recently considered an iPad app that can do much of the work of a $50,000 movie editing rig. At $30, the value proposition of that app is difficult for the average consumer to understand. Such is the world occupied by professionals. If Apple is going to introduce a product that specifically caters to that crowd, they will have to shepherd the evolution of a higher level of application.
Yesterday, I talked a little about the PhotoShop problem. I encourage you to read that article for a fuller description. I do not believe that a company like Adobe could ever port the full experience of PhotoShop for an all-touch device. Many desktop computers cannot run PhotoShop well. Professional applications cannot be merely ported, but must be completely rethought, and rewritten from scratch for a new class of device. This undertaking may be in progress behind the scenes, but we still await the advent of professional apps from mainstream developers.
So far, the ones taking up the challenge are indie developers with few resources, and no name brands to offer the platform. The task is monumentally difficult. Microsoft has all the incentive in the world to produce such a product for its own devices. To date, they simply have not been able to do it. We keep hearing rumors that a true, touch-based version of Microsoft Word is coming. But as of yet, it is still a rumored work in progress. There is no evidence that any other major company is even trying to reproduce their pro apps for new-style devices. There is not so much as a rumor that Apple is close to producing pro apps for the iPad. So, if mainstream pro apps for the iPad are so far off into the future, what kind's of apps should we expect for the iPad Pro?
When Apple introduced the A7 processor that powers their latest iOS devices, they described it as having a desktop-class architecture. What is the point of a desktop chip in a smartphone? None that I can tell. I do not believe this line of chips has anything to do with iPhones. I believe it will find expression in the iPad Pro. While mainstream pro apps are sometime away, I believe that desktop consumer apps are within our reach. I do not believe pro apps for the iPad will mean PhotoShop, more like PhotoShop Elements. Apple does not need Logic Touch. They need a version of GarageBand Touch having parity with its desktop counterpart.
Pro on the iPad will equal consumer on the desktop. Desktop Safari is not a pro application. But it has capabilities that the mobile version lacks. The same is true for Mail and Messages. iWork and iLife on the desktop are far more capable than their mobile counterparts. It's not even close. It is not just a matter of interface. It is a matter of functionality. There is simply much more of it in desktop applications.
If the iPad Pro has desktop-class hardware, it will be able to run desktop-class software. That software still needs to be written. Apple is definitely working on that with iWork. The progress is frustratingly slow. This is the software revolution that I believe Apple is in a good position to lead. The first step is to make tablets that are full citizens in the computing world. They do not have to be servers and supercomputers. They only have to be able to do all the things that a consumer laptop can do. That will be enough to make the iPad feel like a professional device. The PhotoShop problem can be put off for another day.