Apple says the iPad Pro is “better than a computer.”
(That’s an interesting claim to make for a company that makes computers.)
But is it true?
I’ve been pondering this question since Apple unveiled the new iPad Pro line and iOS 11 operating system at their WWDC event for developers earlier this month.
Surprisingly, my answer is: Yes! The iPad Pro is “better than a computer” — for some business users. But not for the reasons Apple gives.
Is the hardware better?
The new iPad Pro line definitely got a huge hardware upgrade.
For starters, it’s got a mind-blowing 2224 x 1668, 600-nit “ProMotion” display with an incredible 120Hz refresh rate. This is double the refresh rate of most other high-end mobile devices, and it results in heavily reduced blur while scrolling, panning and zooming and much better Pencil input. (Refresh rate is automatically reduced to save battery life when you don’t need it.)
The new Apple A10X Fusion chipset is part of what gives the new iPad Pros such blistering performance.
Other speed enhancements include USB 3.0 and LTE support.
When comparing various aspects of raw performance between MacBook Pro and iPad Pro models, the laptops and tablets scored very close, with the iPad Pro actually beating the laptop on some graphics-intensive benchmarks but not most.
Benchmark tests are not a perfect measure of relative real-world performance. And benchmarking a comparison between laptops and tablets is even less realistic.
One refrain you hear is that laptops are better for content creation, and tablets are better for content consumption. But that’s a generalization. It really depends on what kind of content is being created.
If your content involves video of yourself, the front-facing camera on the iPad Pro records video at 1080p, compared to the puny 720p of the MacBook Pro. The iPad has an even better back camera, while the MacBook, of course, has none.
Also and obviously, any content creation involving “pen” or touch input can be done much more seamlessly and elegantly on the iPad Pro.
Other types of content creation, such as writing, are equally doable on either device, for the most part.
When it comes to content creation that requires large screens, the 15-inch MacBook Pro has the edge. But both tablets and laptops can connect easily to very large stand-alone screens.
For an extra cost, you can even now get up to 512 GB of storage on an iPad Pro.
Some users have complaints about Apple’s fabric-covered $159 Smart Keyboard keyboard, but of course the iPad works with any Bluetooth keyboard, including Apple’s own Magic Keyboard line, which in my opinion is better than the keyboard built into the MacBook Pro line and which works with any device, from phones to desktops.
The new iPad Pro line represents a huge hardware boost that brings it closer than ever to the power of a laptop. And for specific use cases it has advantages.
Generally speaking, however, the iPad Pro’s hardware itself does not make iPad “better than a computer.”
Is the software better?
An even more persuasive case for the iPad over the MacBook is to be found in Apple’s new mobile operating system, iOS 11, which ships free this fall.
As with most mobile OS updates, the next iOS comes with a host of tweaks, boosts and interface improvements that subtly make everything better, especially for productivity.
iOS 11 comes with a list of new features that eliminate many of the frustrations users had with trying to do productive work on an iPad.
The new OS offers a desktop-like App Switcher and easier drag-and-drop and multitasking.
Crucially, a new “Files” app finally enables you to see, move and organize files not only on your iPad, but also on iCloud and third-party cloud storage services like Google Drive and Dropbox.
But the new iOS 11 does not make the iPad Pro “better than a computer,” either.
Why iPad Pro is “better than a computer”
The iPad Pro line and upcoming iOS 11 bring Apple’s tablets closer than ever in hardware and software functionality to laptop and desktop operating systems. But what makes the new iPad Pros “better than a computer” is that the world is changing in favor of mobile devices, mobile operating systems and mobile apps.
It’s true that there are advantages both to working on desktop and laptop devices using desktop operating systems, like macOS and also to working on phones and tablets using mobile operating systems like iOS.
But what’s also true is that with each passing year, the advantages of using mobile grow faster than the advantages of desktops.
So while tablets evolve toward productivity, the world evolves toward phone and tablets.
There are many users, especially and including developers, professional video editors and many others for whom tablets are not even worth considering. And there are other users (i.e. older users set in their ways and happy with “computers” who will never feel comfortable leaving the warm embrace of real desktop or laptop devices).
So while Millennials, are a “mobile-first” generation, “Generation Z,” which is the generation now entering the workforce out of college, are “mobile only.” They have never and will never use a “computer.”
Each year, millions of desktop and laptop “computer” users retire from the workforce. And each year, millions of “mobile only” users enters the workforce.
For many, tablets in general and iPad Pro tablets in particular, are going to be increasingly “better than computers” with each passing day.
For example: In business, documents need to be signed, then sent electronically. This most basic of business processes favors pen-based mobile tablets. In fact, iOS 11 includes an upgraded Notes app optimized for scanning documents, which can then be signed with a legally binding signature using the Apple Pencil before instantly sending to a recipient.
And sending such a content, especially one containing sensitive information, also favors mobile.
Apple’s coming macOS High Sierra is expected to be a relatively secure desktop and laptop operating system.
However, there’s one vital area where using an iPad is always more secure than a MacBook Pro — communication.
The most secure type of business communication is email or messaging with strong end-to-end encryption.
But even if you, personally, stand ready to exchange encrypted email, most other business users are not. And there’s not much you can do about that. As a result, nearly all email communication is unencrypted and extremely insecure.
That’s why people these days tend to pull out their smartphones and use secure messaging apps like WhatsApp, Signal, Telegram, Confide and others.
Some secure messaging apps have desktop options, but most do not.
An iPad Pro enables you to do all your communication on the same device you use to scan and sign your sensitive business and financial documents.
Some of the world’s biggest social sites are mobile only — Snapchat, for example, has no desktop version. And the trend toward mobile-only services will only accellerate.
In fact, huge chunks of the web are going mobile friendly, mobile first or mobile-only. With each passing year, the web becomes less friendly to desktop browsers.
Initiatives like Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages, or AMP, as well as Facebook’s Instant Articles, speed up web pages for mobile devices in some cases by a factor of ten.
The world is changing in other major ways. For example, augmented reality is about to explode as a category. This will have enormous impact for both consumer and business applications. Apple rolled out its ARKit at WWDC, instantly making iOS 11 the world’s biggest platform for augmented reality apps.
Until the day comes when we’re all wearing smart glasses, augmented reality will be mainly for smartphones and tablets — devices with mobile operating systems and rear-facing cameras.
Laptops will be mostly left behind in the coming world of augmented reality.
In short, even as tablets like Apple’s iPad Pro become ever more friendly for doing real work, the work becomes ever more friendly for tablets like the iPad Pro.
So, yeah. For a growing number of people, iPad Pro really is “better than a computer.”