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Envisioning an iPad Pro

Ted Landau | Jan. 16, 2014
Apple's iPad Air has received overwhelming praise as the best full-size tablet you can buy, and it'll likely rack up sales records for this past holiday season. And why not? It's lighter, thinner, smaller, and faster than its predecessor. In fact, it's so "impossibly light" that Jason Snell described handling it as being "like picking up a movie prop." Thus the obvious rationale for adding the word Air to the iPad's moniker.

Some have envisioned an iPad Pro that goes in this same direction, functioning as an iPad-MacBook hybrid. At one point, I imagined a hybrid that would have a detachable display (as opposed to, say, a 180-degree swiveling display). When the display was attached to the keyboard, it would function as a MacBook running OS X. When detached, it would instead serve as a touchscreen iPad running iOS. While some might see this as combining the advantages of both worlds, others view it as merging the drawbacks of each platform. Apple is clearly in the latter camp. At Apple's October media event, Tim Cook said:

Cook went on to assert that Apple has no intention of going in that direction. In other words, despite predictions of an OS X/iOS hybrid device this year, my expectation is that an iPad Pro would remain purely an iOS device.

Will an iPad Pro include a physical keyboard?
Although an iPad Pro might not be a hybrid, it needn't eschew a physical keyboard altogether. Keyboard cases and covers for iPads, from companies such as Logitech and Zagg, are already popular options, and it's easy to see why. If you do a lot of typing, a physical keyboard goes a long way toward making that task easier.

Make no mistake, however; there is a downside here. Even the thinnest, lightest keyboard cover adds significant heft to an iPad. And a keyboard case too often gets in the way when you want to use an iPad for tasks where no keyboard is required. Still, for the intended market of an iPad Pro (more on this in a moment), a physical keyboard would probably be a welcome addition.

Then again, Apple could continue to market its Bluetooth stand-alone keyboard as an iPad Pro accessory, leaving keyboard cases and covers to third-parties. However, I predict that Apple will offer something new, such as a keyboard case and/or keyboard cover that's specific to the iPad Pro.

Will an iPad Pro have Pro-specific hardware features?
For me, this is the biggest question of all. Will an iPad Pro simply be an iPad Air with a larger display? If so, I'll be surprised and disappointed. For an iPad Pro to carve out a niche for itself, I believe it needs to differ in some more significant way.

Of the features I'd most like to see, the top one would be external connectivity. In particular, an iPad Pro should expand beyond the ubiquitous Lightning connector, offering a fully functional USB and/or Thunderbolt port. As I have written previously, this would allow for options such as directly connecting an external drive to the iPad, which is essential to enable full local backups without requiring a Mac. A USB port would also make it much more practical to access peripherals such as portable scanners. I know the future is all about wireless connectivity, but we're not there yet.


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