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The iPad Pro is a pilot fish for Apple's ARM Laptop

Glenn Fleishman | Sept. 16, 2015
The latest iPad is a distinctly different creature than its predecessors, and Apple openly compared it to a laptop in specs. But is it a sign of even greater convergence?

ipad pro microsoft office
Credit: Matt Kapko

When you come to a fork in the road, take it, Yogi Berra is alleged to have said. Microsoft chose this bon mot to guide its Windows 8 strategy, converging mobile and desktop in a way that pleased no one. And now the new iPad Pro sits beside the 12-inch MacBook to suggest Apple is approaching that very same fork.

I was confused during Apple’s introduction of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, which has a display so large, it can nearly fit two iPad Air 2s side by side. The Pro’s focus on drawing seems highly specialized. And despite some other productivity features, the iPad Pro doesn’t seem to have a natural audience. Yes, it has amazing specs, but can a bigger, pencil- and keyboard-compatible iPad really be the answer to Apple’s stalled tablet sales?

The iPad Pro is a full-fledged product—more so than the original MacBook Air (which was underpowered, port-poor, and battery-weak); the original iPad (which lacked dedicated app support); and the 12-inch MacBook (which has a poor keyboard and a dearth of ports). Compared to all these other first-gen efforts, the iPad Pro looks much more buttoned-up—if not also incredibly niche. 

But don’t get too caught up on what the iPad Pro is now, because it’s also a pilot fish: Apple is testing the waters for future tablet directions, all while paving the way for an ARM-based laptop running OS X.

ARMed and ready

Ever since Apple began designing its A-series chips, we’ve heard rumors that the company is working on a laptop powered by an ARM chip. Certainly, Apple tests all kinds of ideas in locked-down labs. The iPad was built years before it finally shipped, and the iPhone actually came out of its development, not the other way around. Similarly, Apple had a group building OS X on Intel chips long before the PowerPC processor line was dropped.

And thus we can be sure that OS X is running on prototype ARM-based hardware somewhere at One or Two Infinite Loop. While Intel ticks away at producing faster and more efficient processors, Apple focuses on controlling its own destiny. It’s been this way since the return of Steve Jobs, and slowly reducing the need for Intel processors would be a reasonable path.

ipad pro cpu chart
"Desktop-class," Phil Schiller said about the iPad Pro's performance.

Please note that in last week’s keynote, Phil Schiller discussed iPad performance in a way Apple has previously avoided. The new tablet has a 64-bit chip that offers “desktop-class performance.” The iPad Pro’s CPU is 22 times faster than the original iPad’s chip, and twice as fast as the iPad Air 2’s processor. The new tablet also has twice as much memory—we know it’s 4GB thanks to an accidental disclosure by Adobe. Graphics performance is also 360 times faster than the original iPad.

 

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