The iPad Pro is designed for tablet users who need a lot of screen real estate in order to do their work or run applications. The iPad Pro's 12.9-inch (diagonal) Retina multi-touch display, Apple's proprietary A9X processor chip, a Touch ID sensor, four built-in stereo speakers, Wi-Fi or cellular Internet connectivity, front- and rear-facing cameras, and other technologies enable users to handle more types of work effectively—in some cases, better than the tools on a notebook computer.
What Makes the iPad Pro Unique?
From a functional standpoint, what sets iPad Pro apart from other small iPad models is not just the size of its screen, but the optional Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil that are available exclusively for the iPad Pro (but sold separately). The full-size keyboard makes touch-typing and handling tasks like word processing more accurate and efficient when using this larger iPad model, while the Apple Pencil stylus allows users to write, draw, or paint on the screen with extreme accuracy.
The ability to add a keyboard accessory to an iPad is nothing new. But the Apple Pencil introduces a new way to interact with an iPad tablet. Almost daily on the App Store, third-party app developers introduce innovative new ways to use the iPad Pro in conjunction with the Apple Pencil.
Held like a pencil or pen, the Apple Pencil is highly sensitive to pressure and tilt. It utilizes a built-in rechargeable battery, and it communicates wirelessly with the iPad Pro via Bluetooth. Unlike other stylus accessories, the Apple Pencil virtually eliminates the latency between the stylus making contact and the result appearing on the screen. Just like an ordinary manual writing, drawing, or painting instrument, the Apple Pencil adjusts instantly when you press down harder or tilt the stylus even slightly. As a result, when used with compatible apps, the Apple Pencil becomes an extremely versatile and accurate tool for drawing, painting, writing, annotating text, and photo editing. Ultimately this tool sets the iPad Pro apart from all other iPad models.
Apple Pencil functionality is already included in some popular iOS 9 apps, including Notes and Mail, allowing you to combine typed text with (for example) drawings, sketches, and handwritten annotations.
iPad Pro app developers are supporting the Apple Pencil in interesting ways. Such third-party apps as Paper by FiftyThree, Penultimate, Autodesk SketchBook, Procreate, Indeeo's Graphic - Illustration and Design, and Notability already support the Apple Pencil when these apps run on an iPad Pro. Each gives users a wide range of writing, drawing, painting, and sketching tools that allow for creating and editing new types of content on a tablet. When it comes to photo editing, Pixelmator allows users to manipulate and alter their digital images in ways that were not previously possible using an iPad.
Readdle's PDF Expert app, for example, offers a comprehensive set of tools for annotating industry-standard PDF files and completing onscreen forms. Using this app, you can sign letters and documents on the screen using the Apple Pencil, mark up text-based contracts with changes, accurately highlight text (using the Apple Pencil like a virtual highlighter), as well as create PDF files from other types of documents or graphics files. You also can import and export PDF files via the Mail app, or by using a variety of different cloud-based services.
Meanwhile, using an app like Adobe Fill & Sign, you can use the iPad Pro's camera to scan and import paper-based content into the tablet; then you can annotate it by writing on the screen using the Apple Pencil, and store, export, and/or share the scanned content as a PDF file.
Adobe, long a pioneer in developing software for creative professionals, has begun incorporating Apple Pencil compatibility into its most powerful and popular iPad apps: Adobe Comp CC, Adobe Illustrator Draw, Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, and Adobe Photoshop Mix.
Meanwhile, Autodesk has incorporated Apple Pencil compatibility into its AutoCAD 360 app, which allows users to create, view, edit, sync, and share AutoCAD drawings across multiple hardware platforms. Using an iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil, AutoCAD users now have the ability to work with their files directly on a tablet that offers the screen space and stylus accuracy to create or edit even the most detailed drawings or designs.
Microsoft has also taken full advantage of the iPad Pro's features and functions when updating its Microsoft Office apps for iPad. For example, when used with the iOS 9 Split Screen mode, two apps can run on the screen simultaneously, and data or content from the two separate and independently running apps, such as Word and Excel, can easily be copied and pasted between apps. These apps also support the Apple Pencil for creating, annotating, or editing content within the Office apps.
What if you're not a creative or artistic person? The iPad Pro's large screen and built-in speakers allow you to experience multimedia content such as movies, TV shows, home videos, games, and music in an immersive way, producing rich stereo sound that can fill a room—without using external speakers.
Thanks to its technological capabilities and the way app developers are utilizing the tools offered by the iPad Pro and the iOS 9 operating system, this latest iPad model is quickly closing the gap between what's possible using a tablet versus using a notebook computer, without compromising battery life or portability.
On its own, the iPad Pro runs all of the same apps as any other iPad model, and it utilizes the same iOS 9 operating system, but it gives users more screen space to display apps and content, or to run two apps side by side using the Split Screen mode. Also, many apps can detect that they're running on an iPad Pro, in which case they automatically unlock additional features and tools that can be used only on this tablet, such as Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard compatibility.
Thus, to take full advantage of the iPad Pro, and be able to use this tablet more like a notebook computer, you'll most likely want to purchase an Apple Pencil and a Smart Keyboard, as well as a protective cover or case for your equipment. Also recommended: an optional case that doubles as a stand, or a separate stand that allows you to position the tablet on your lap or a table at an adjustable height or angle. To further protect your investment, consider AppleCare+, which offers two years' worth of technical support and protection against damage to your iPad Pro.
The iPad Pro Is More Than Just a Costly Tablet
From a price standpoint, the iPad Pro starts at $799 for a model with 32GB of internal storage (Wi-Fi only). For the sake of practicality, since the tablet is not upgradeable later, you'll probably want the 128GB model, priced at $949 (Wi-Fi only). This space extension gives you ample storage for plenty of data, documents, files, and multimedia content such as HD video, music, and high-resolution digital photos. Giving your iPad Pro the ability to connect to the Internet using a cellular data connection (as opposed to Wi-Fi) increases the cost of the 128GB unit to $1,079 and incurs a monthly $15 to $50 fee for cellular data service.
When you add the cost of the optional Smart Keyboard ($169), the Apple Pencil ($99), a Smart Cover ($59), as well as AppleCare+ ($99), you're looking at an initial investment of $1,375 to $1,505 (plus tax). Without some or all of these optional accessories, the iPad Pro is little more than an oversized iPad Air 2 or iPad mini, both of which are significantly less expensive.
For about the same price as a fully-equipped iPad Pro, a full-featured MacBook Air notebook computer (for example) gives you full computing power, but it lacks the touchscreen capabilities and the ability to use a stylus unless you add costly accessories. Thus, before investing in an iPad Pro, think about how and where you will use it.
Artistic or creative people truly appreciate the portable computing power of the iPad Pro when used with the Apple Pencil. Someone with more traditional needs for word processing or spreadsheet management may determine that a notebook computer or an iPad with a smaller screen (such as the iPad Air 2 or iPad mini) is more practical.
The iPad Pro can handle some tasks better than a notebook computer can, especially applications that involve handwriting, annotating text, drawing, painting, or sketching. This tablet is also a powerful entertainment tool, providing a portable home theater experience for watching TV shows or movies, listening to music, or playing games.
Although the iPad Pro runs Microsoft Office applications that are fully compatible with the PC or Mac editions, the iPad editions of these apps are scaled down a bit, and they cater to the strengths of the tablet in terms of which features and functions they offer. This is also true for other popular computer applications that have iPad app counterparts. However, each new version of each app shrinks the gap between what's possible using the iPad versus using the computer edition of an application.
If you're looking to replace your notebook computer with the iPad Pro, visit an Apple Store or authorized Apple dealer first and try the applications you plan to use, so you can determine whether this tablet accommodates your existing work habits and needs. For some people, the iPad Pro is the perfect fit and a welcome alternative to carrying around a notebook computer, especially when utilizing apps that take advantage of the Apple Pencil. Other people with more traditional mobile computing needs may discover that they can still be more productive using a notebook computer while on the go, as opposed to using a tablet like the iPad Pro.
If you're already an experienced iPad user, upgrading to the iPad Pro might require you to learn how to utilize the Apple Pencil and the Smart Keyboard, both of which introduce entirely new ways to interact with the tablet while using specific apps. Try to select apps that have been updated to support these iPad Pro accessories, or that were designed specifically to accommodate them.
The Apple Pencil and what it can do in conjunction with compatible apps makes the iPad Pro uniquely suited to the needs of certain users, and that alone sets this tablet apart from other iPad models, though the core functionality is virtually the same. But viewing apps and content on the iPad Pro's larger screen, hearing sound emanating through four speakers, and interacting with the tablet using the Apple Pencil gives you a much more immersive, versatile, and flexible interactive mobile-computing experience.
Jason R. Rich (http://www.jasonrich.com) is the author of Que's iPad and iPhone Tips and Tricks, Fifth Edition, which covers how to use iOS 9 on all of the various iPhone and iPad models, including the iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, iPad Air 2, iPad mini 4, and iPad Pro. He is also the author of many other Que books, including My Digital Photography for Seniors, My GoPro Hero Camera, and Apple Watch and iPhone Fitness Tips and Tricks. Follow Jason R. Rich on Twitter or Instagram at @JasonRich7.