When I started writing this review, it was going to be very different. In fact, I deleted it and started again. I have owned both sizes and all the accessories. Right now, I have the iPad 12.9” with folio. This is less a review and more a polemic, a few observations, with a review somewhere in the mix. Let’s begin by talking about the iPad in general, what it is and what it isn’t, and probably what it will never be.
iPad: Somewhere between a smartphone and a laptop
The iPad was born in a world of netbooks, abominations from which PCs never fully recovered. Netbooks were cheap, tiny, junk computers. They set the PC industry backward five years. Apple came along and offered some sanity to people who were taken in by the allure of a $200 notebook computer.
At $500, the iPad was exactly what netbook buyers wanted. Netbooks died the bad death they deserved. And the tablet market was created overnight. It took a couple of years for the tech press to realize there was no tablet market. There was, and remains only an iPad market.
I don’t think of Windows tablets as tablets. They are just PCs in a barely modified form factor. No Surface is used like a tablet. It is used like a compromised laptop, or small, portable desktop.
The iPad was never supposed to be a laptop, and certainly not a desktop computer. It was supposed to be more than a smartphone but less than a laptop. We iPad enthusiasts forget that when we are pontificating on whether the iPad Pro lives up to its calling. It is to that question we now turn.
First and foremost, an iPad
The most damaging thing reviewers have done to the reputation and potential of the iPad is compare its power to Mac laptops and desktops. Sure, we can use the same benchmarks. But should we? You see, as much as some might want it to be, the iPad Pro is first and foremost, an iPad. It is not a Mac.
Comparing it to a Mac is an injustice to both. It makes the Mac look less capable than it really is, and the iPad Pro more capable than it really is. One is a lawn mower and the other, a go-cart. It matters not that both use the same engine. Your go-cart can’t cut grass. And your lawn mower can’t make a kid feel like a race car driver. Comparing the engines is a sign that you misunderstand both.
I don’t entirely blame the tech press for this. Apple bears the burden of telling the product story. They have completely dropped the ball. They should have never asked the question, “What is a computer?” The Mac is a computer. A calculator is a computer. That was the wrong question. What they should have asked and answered is, what is an iPad. They have left us to answer that question. And we have handled it badly.
Somewhere along the line, we forgot that the iPad is still an iPad. We got lost in the tech geek frenzy of trying to transform one tool into another, as if a screwdriver would be made better if it were also a hammer. An obvious question to ask is why do we do this? Why are we so desperate to replace the laptop? Another question worth asking is, why do professionals keep buying the iPad and complaining that it isn’t a laptop.
Not a laptop
It can’t be said enough: The iPad Pro is not a laptop, nor was it ever meant to be. The way you can tell is that it doesn’t come with a keyboard. Really, if it doesn’t come with a keyboard, it isn’t a laptop. Here’s another way of knowing. The keyboard Apple makes for it is $200. That is a prohibitive price for a keyboard were it actually necessary. It would be like selling the stirring wheel as an add-on rather than a built in.
True, the Surface also sells without a keyboard. But this is somewhat unconscionable in my opinion. You really can’t get much use out of it without one. Also, Microsoft never actually markets the surface without the keyboard. It is integral to the experience. A surface without a keyboard really is a car without a stirring wheel.
The operating system is also a clue that the iPad is not a laptop. You simply can’t navigate it the way you can a traditional laptop. IOS is at its heart, a smartphone OS. When on the iPad, it is a slightly modified smartphone OS. It was made for the tablet lifestyle and workflow. It needs a lot of work to become a laptop/desktop OS.
The final clue is that Apple has ported zero professional apps to the iPad. The best Apple has done is put light versions of consumer applications on the iPad. If this was supposed to be a laptop, Apple would demonstrate it as such. They don’t. When Apple decides to port a full version of Logic or Final Cut complete with a useable workflow, we can revisit whether they see it as some kind of laptop.
A contradiction in terms
What I have been trying to say up to this point is that the iPad is fundamentally a consumer device that was designed to do tablet things in a tablet way. Remember Jobs. It was intended to slot between a smartphone and a laptop, not replace either one.
Tacking “Pro” onto the name does not change its fundamental nature. The first word in iPad Pro is iPad. If “Pro” turned it into a laptop, it would no longer be an iPad. What people have to determine is if they actually want an iPad, not if the iPad is a suitable replacement for a $1,800 laptop.
The $300 iPad is the purest expression of an iPad. The Pro upgrade is the same as the $300 iPad, only better in every way. It is still, however, an iPad. In the same way that an Acura is a better Honda but still a car and not a truck, the iPad Pro is a better iPad, but still an iPad and not a laptop.
For the love of iPad
The reason the iPad was such a huge success is precisely because it wasn’t a traditional computer. It was for people who were fed up with computers. It wasn’t a netbook. It was the computer alternative for the rest of us. It was unapologetically a tablet in all the limitations that entailed. It was our little sandbox.
We were fine with the big kids mocking us from their treehouses. We didn’t want to climb up there anyway. They saw that we were having fun and came down to see why we were so happy with that which they had rejected. Turns out, they liked our sandbox and decided they wanted it for themselves.
Not satisfied, they determined to transform our sandbox into a treehouse and found they couldn’t. They tor down the walls, stomped on our sandcastles, and made a mess of things until no one was happy. This is the story of how the iPad went from being the computer alternative for tablet lovers, to the failed laptop for the tech punditry.
Most of them only cared about the tablet lifestyle as a curiosity. They dabbled with the iPad from the comfort of their Mac Pros and MacBook Pros. They saw the fun others were having with the tablet, but complained that it wasn’t for them. Unable to leave it alone, they insisted Apple make it for them.
The 2018 iPad Pro is what happens when Apple tries to please the wrong audience. Apple tried to make it the perfect tablet for people who don’t really like tablets that much. They gave it USB-C which offers very few advantages over Lightning for tablet users. It might make sense for MacBook Pro users with a bag full of dungles.
It is always nice to see more power. But iPad lovers were hardly pegging the silicon on the 2017 models. They might have enjoyed more battery life. That power will be useful for the new Photoshop. But it is doubtful that those who enjoy the iPad as an iPad are itching to try Photoshop in any format.
Games are nice. But there is a good chance the people who enjoy iPads are interested in different kinds of gaming experiences, not necessarily those that hand you a military arsenal and point you at a hoard of enemy soldiers.
Casual gaming could be much better on the iPad. But Apple is only interested in showing off hard core gaming. Where are the more Nintendo-like titles? Again, Apple is catering to a different audience.
Get a Mac
A few years ago, Apple launched a marketing campaign called “Get a Mac.” It was possibly the best and most effective ad campaign ever made. Enjoy them all:
The thrust of the campaign was to contrast the Mac to the PC. There was a subtile message throughout the campaign that a lot of Mac users missed. The Mac constantly acknowledged the things the PC was good at while emphasizing what it was good at. Those were two different sets of functions.
The one time when Apple made a misstep in my opinion was when it used BootCamp to suggest that the Mac was the best Mac and PC - the only computer you would ever need. That was a mistake. Apple is always at it’s best when it is self-aware enough to know what its strengths are, and focuses on those strengths. Get a Mac if you want to do the things the Mac is good at.
iPad Pro critics (including myself) need to reacquaint ourselves with the “Get a Mac” campaign. The message is more relevant than ever. If you want to do iPad things in an iPad way, get an iPad. And if you want to do Mac things in a Mac way, get a Mac.
If the commercials were redone today, Justin Long would be playing the role of the iPad. While John Hodgman would be playing the role of the Mac. But the message would be the same. There are different tools for different jobs, styles, and preferences. Neither the Mac nor the iPad is excellent at everything. So get the thing that makes you the happiest without casting shade on the thing that doesn’t.
Conclusion: Let iPad Users be iPad users
I started this piece by saying let the iPad be the iPad. I also recognize there is more rant and less review than I intended. So I will swing back around in a different piece and do a proper review. But at the end of the day, the iPad Pro is less about what reviewers and even professionals think about the iPad Pro. It is about the people who have found a computing home thanks to the iPad platform.
They may not have an iPhone, or at least, not a very recent one. The iPad camera is the best camera a lot of people own. Let them use it as they will. Shame on anyone who tries to shame another for using the device they have the best way they can. Let iPad photographers be.
That goes for all the people who somehow get along just fine without a proper file system. They are neither wrong or less than in any way. Just look at them poking their little amateur fingers at the screen instead of being indignant that there is no trackpad support. Let them be.
None of this is to say that there are not areas where the iPad Pro can be substantially improved. I actually agree with every bit of the criticism that has been leveled at the iPad Pro. If I were commissioning Apple to build the product specifically for me, I would add a few things to those lists that other commentators have failed to mention.
But I have to recognize that there are days when the iPad Pro isn’t for me. I have a laptop for those days. As much as I would like to buy one product that handles my every need, that product does not exist. I need both an iPhone and an Apple Watch. I need both a desktop and a laptop. And yes, I need both a laptop and an iPad Pro.
So while Apple is working on incremental improvements for the iPad Pro, let us take a moment and appreciate it for what it is, and recognize those who find it to be all the computer they can handle. They are not wrong. And they are not less than us. They are being super-served by an excellent product. We envy them a little. But let us stop crashing through their sandcastles.
The world is big enough to accommodate us all. And thank goodness Apple is making enough products so that there is accommodation for us all. Let the iPad be the iPad. And when we do that, we find that it is a lot better at what it is intended to do than most products will ever achieve.