On Tuesday, Apple announced the redesigned iPad would now be called the “iPad Air.” Many were surprised by this name, as there was zero hint beforehand, although we seemingly knew everything else Apple was to announce. I was following the keynote on Twitter and when I saw people talking about an iPad Air, I first thought it was some type of joke. However, that’s the name Apple is going with, and it allows me to run rife with speculation about the future of the iPad line.
First, it’s a little strange for Apple to use the “Air” moniker for its top-of- the-line iPad, when it also uses it for its lower-end, consumer laptop. I realize Apple is using the name to highlight the fact the iPad is so much thinner and lighter than the previous version, but using “Air” carries with it the baggage of being associated with the MacBook Air. When I think MacBook Air, I think cheaper and slightly compromised compared to the MacBook Pro. Thus, an iPad Air seems like it should be a more compromised version of an iPad, although much thinner and lighter. However, that’s not the case, and the iPad Air is the high-end, top-of-the-line iPad.
Yet, what if the iPad Air was only the top-of-the-line iPad temporarily, and Apple is set to introduce an even more powerful iPad in the future.
Enter the mythical iPad Pro.
When I think about an iPad Pro, there seems to be many ways to go about creating that concept. The easiest way, which has already been rumored, is to simply increase the screen size. I think a 13-inch iPad would seem the most logical increase in screen real estate. However, I’m unsure how useful that would be and whether there would be a market for such a large screen. It might appeal to people who need more room to work with apps on an iPad, such as editing movies, music, or photos. Yet, the iOS single screen interface makes it less useful, as you can’t view multiple apps at the same time as you can on a Mac.1 It also would make the iPad far less portable, although that might be an acceptable compromise for the Pro market.
Another way would to be to keep the 9.7 inch screen size, but bulk it up. Make it thicker and heavier than the current iPad Air, but use that extra space to fit in a much bigger battery and get 15-20 hours of battery life compared to the Air’s 10 hours. You also could add premium features such as 256 GB of storage or a faster processor. Maybe even add a fingerprint sensor or high end camera to make it seem more “Pro.”2 The counter argument to this is the fact Apple usually loathes making devices heavier and bulkier and seems to be working hard at shrinking down even their Pro lines of computers.
Yet, I think Apple could take some combination of these ideas and create an iPad that is clearly differentiated from the current iPad Air and which comfortably embraces the “Pro” name.
However, does the world want an iPad Pro?
Looking at how mature the iOS platform has become in recent years, I think a Pro device could be viable. Not only has iOS itself become significantly more powerful and versatile since its introduction, the iOS app ecosystem has matched that power. Just look at an app like Editorial, which allows one to do things never before contemplated on an iPad. Now imagine more professional apps being created to be used on an iPad Pro, such as a full fledged Photoshop, Final Cut Pro, or Logic. An iPad Pro, that has more battery life, power, storage, and maybe screen real estate, could open up new ways for people to use their iPad – it could become a truly viable laptop replacement.
There remains this ongoing debate about whether an iPad is a content creation device or simply a content consumption device. I personally am bored by the debate at this point, but I think an iPad Pro would finally put it to rest. The tablet form factor, in my mind, is the future of computing. Laptops will remain for the foreseeable future, but every year the tablet makes gains that place it right alongside the laptop as a full fledged computing device. If Apple decides to go in this direction with an iPad Pro, I think it would push those boundaries even further.3
1. Apple could theoretically remedy this by introducing a future version of iOS that allows multiple app windows to be opened at the same time, however, I’ve heard of no indication that Apple is thinking about going in that direction.↩
3. This discussion also brings up in my mind the hypothetical convergence of Apple’s operating systems and devices. I know many people think the Mac will go on forever, but I think given enough time, Apple will have to merge Mac hardware and software with iOS. I’m not sure what this future merged software and devices would look like or how they would work, but I think that day will come eventually. ↩