Earlier today, Apple announced a new version of the iPad Pro, a 10.5-inch model that is technically just a little bit larger than the earlier 9.7-inch tablet but, with 40 percent smaller bezels, it offers much more screen real estate. Like all of the high-end iPad Pros its an impressive piece of hardware, with a brighter display, a new 64-bit A10X Fusion chip, and something called Pro Motion that increases the refresh rate and, Apple claims, makes the accessory Pencil feel even more natural.
For most people, the first question to ask is probably: okay, well how big is it? We didn’t have a 9.7-inch model on hand to compare the two, but I can tell you that the 10.5-inch iPad felt like a “normal-sized” iPad and isn’t nearly as ginormous as the 12.9-inch iPad Pro.
What’s more interesting are the new iOS 11 multitasking features for the iPad that are borrowed from macOS. With these changes it feels as though Apple has stopped trying to convince its iPad users (or potential iPad customers) that they should just figure out how to be productive despite mobile limitations, and has acknowledged that some people might actually like to be able to manipulate apps and files on mobile. In some ways it’s even reminiscent of what Microsoft was trying to do with Windows 8 on the Surface tablet, as my colleague Tom Warren astutely pointed out.
The first thing you’ll notice about the new iOS 11 on the iPad is that there’s an app dock at the bottom of the display. It automatically appears on the home screen, but when you’re in an app, you can swipe up from the bottom of the screen to pull up the dock at any time. From there, you can drag and drop another app to the side of the screen to put it in multitasking mode. Some, like iMessage, even exist as floating sidebars now, rather than apps that snap on to the side of the screen.
After using the iPad Pro for just a few minutes, I’ve pretty much determined that a dock is one of the simplest and best things Apple could have done for the iPad, which I’ve had a hard time accepting as a true productivity device, but there’s more.
You can now switch between iPad apps by activating a Mission Control-like interface using a four-finger swipe. This casts apps into spaces and lets you look at all of the apps that are opened or running. The four-finger swipe felt a little awkward and not entirely responsive on the iPad I tried it on, but iOS 11 is still in beta for now.
Drag and drop is also worth mentioning. In iOS 11 you can open two apps side by side — let’s use Mail and Safari as an example — and drag and drop web content directly into an email draft. You can also drag and drop any app into the dock, or just move it around the home screen. (The little delete “x” won’t appear as you’re doing this.) Apps still fall into Apple’s predetermined arrangement of application icons, which means you can’t move apps anywhere; and you still can’t put files anywhere you want on the mobile home screen. But Apple thinks it has a solution for that, too.
Which is Files, the thing that was leaked just before WWDC kicked off today. I didn’t get the chance to play with this app much, and again, I was using it on a preregistered demo model. But one of the more interesting features of this is the ability to use multi-touch to grab a bunch of files from one folder and drag them into another. You’re supposed to press down on one file first, and then you can use your remaining free fingers to tap other file thumbnails, and they’re immediately added to your selection.
There are other new iPad Pro-specific features, too. The text you write with the accessory Pencil can be indexed in Spotlight search results. And, of course, there’s an Apple-made smart accessory keyboard for this particular size and model.
The 10.5-inch iPad Pro goes on sale today and ships next week; while iOS 11 ships to consumers in the fall. The iPad costs $648 for the 64-gigabyte base model and creeps up from there, which not surprisingly puts it firmly in the category of very high-end tablets, unlike the $329 model we reviewed a couple months ago.
Despite the fact that Apple’s iPad sales have been declining for the past several quarters, Apple seems determined to make iPad work as a serious computing device, not just a tablet people use to shop and browse and consume. This is clearly another step in that direction.