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How Apple is grooming the iPad to take over the Mac

Michael Simon | April 8, 2016
The iPad Pro shows a maturation of the iPad lineup, moving it in a much more Mac-like direction.

As Apple’s first truly new tablet in years, the iPad Pro is every bit the beast it was rumored to be. Built around a gorgeous 12.9-inch screen, it doesn’t skimp on the pixels or the power. With its eye-popping 2732-by–2048 resolution and the cutting-edge A9X chip, the big iPad Pro drew a clear line in the sand between it and the Air. As Steve Jobs might have said, it was a screamer.

With the new 9.7-inch iPad Pro, however, Apple has blurred those lines a bit. With the same screen size and resolution as its predecessor, the smaller iPad Pro might seem like an inevitable evolutionary step, an update that ticks off the usual boxes and offers basic incentives to upgrade over previous generations. But by elevating the classic form factor, Apple is grooming the iPad to one day replace the Mac, creating a diverse family with clear differences that belie the natural overlap between models.

Like a pro

In many ways, the iPad Pro is Apple’s first tablet with an identity all its own. A unique device that raises the post-PC bar, it establishes a new set of standards for what an iPad can do. Where the original iPad was criticized for being a giant iPhone, the Pro is much more than a refresh of the classic tablet; it’s Apple’s first touchscreen device truly imagined for professionals.

ipad pro 97 review 2016
It’s not a toy. Credit: Adam Patrick Murray

Before the Pro, the iPad was viewed mostly as a companion device, more than capable of performing a variety of tasks but still seen as needing to defer to the Mac for longer, labor-intensive projects. The Pro has removed much of that perception. While Apple has made it clear that it won’t be building a hybrid machine anytime soon, the new iPad Pro is an important step in the post-PC march, one that brings it closer to replacing the Mac as our most capable device.

Breaking the trend

Apple’s idea of pro has never had much to do with screen size. While there’s a general rule that larger screens equate with more powerful processors, Apple never assumed professional Mac users preferred them. Case in point: at the same time a monstrous 17-inch PowerBook was released in 2003, a diminutive 12-inch model also made its debut, and both were geared toward professionals on the move.

But the assumption that the 12.9-inch screen would be the main distinguisher between the Pro and the Air made sense in light of the iPad mini and the iPhone Plus. Apple’s iOS naming scheme has always been contingent on the size of the screen—Plus at 5.5 inches, mini at 7.9, Air at 9.7—and without any BTO options for processor or RAM, going Pro was primarily a decision to opt for more pixels.


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