iPad Pro: What You Need to Know About Apple’s Giant iPad

Stephen Lam/ Getty Images

Stephen Lam/ Getty Images

Apple’s giant new iPad Pro made a lot of headlines when Cupertino introduced it alongside this year’s new iPhone 6s. But unlike the new iPhone, the all-new iPad hasn’t yet gone on sale. So you may have a few questions about what the device is, how it works, and how it stacks up against devices in its class.

Let’s start with the basics. The iPad Pro features a 12.9-inch Retina display with 5.6 million pixels. The display is the highest-resolution of any iOS device so far, and in case you’re having trouble picturing how big a 12.9-inch display is, Apple is quick to point out that the iPad Pro’s display is 78% larger than that of the iPad Air 2. The display also integrates a new Multi-Touch system that’s designed to be used with your finger or with the new Apple Pencil stylus — the same one that caused an Internet sensation all on its own thanks to Steve Jobs’ vocal disapproval of the stylus in a very different time and context — which uses pressure and tilt sensors to recognize when you’re pressing harder or shifting the angle.

In addition to the new Apple Pencil, Apple also introduced the new Smart Keyboard for the iPad Pro. The surface of the keyboard is formed from a single sheet of custom-woven fabric, and beneath that is what Apple identifies only as “new conductive material” that enables the two‑way flow of power and data. The Smart Keyboard is attached to the iPad Pro via the new Smart Connector port, and gives the iPad Pro the silhouette and convertibility of a tablet/computer hybrid.

Apple plays into that idea, noting that iPad Pro is powered by the new A9X chip with 64-bit “desktop-class” architecture, which delivers 1.8 times the CPU performance and double the graphics performance of the iPad Air 2. Apple Insider reports that the new iPad has 4GB of RAM — a specification that Apple doesn’t talk about, but is quickly revealed by analysis of new devices. The iPad Pro has four speakers, which are contained in housings machined directly into the unibody enclosure. That’s a key move that catches the iPad up to other tablets that use multiple speakers. Finally, the iPad Pro weighs 1.57 pounds and is 6.9mm thick.

So those are the raw numbers. But what about how the iPad Pro works, and how it’s meant to be used? The iPad Pro is new for Apple not just because of its sheer size and power, but also because of the addition of the new stylus and keyboard. The new accessories make the iPad Pro more like the hybrid tablet PCs that are growing more numerous — but also highlights how the iPad Pro is still an iPad, and isn’t really a replacement for your computer.

Linus Sebastian and Luke Lafreniere of the LinusTechTips team explain that the Smart Keyboard is “straight out of Microsoft’s playbook,” and point out that while Microsoft was criticized for introducing a removable keyboard accessory with the Surface, three years later, Apple fans are much more receptive to Apple’s implementation with the iPad Pro. (Notably, Microsoft doesn’t seem to mind and is bringing full support for an iOS version of Office to the iPad Pro.)

While Sebastian notes that Apple Pencil has “all the usual stylus stuff,” he says that Cupertino’s first stylus manages to feel like “Apple in a nutshell.” While many commentators have argued that the Apple Pencil turns the iPad Pro into a machine for professionals and for productivity, Sebastian posits that it doesn’t represent such a pivot at all. In fact, he thinks that the Apple Pencil furthers “Apple’s M.O.” of “convincing casuals that they’re professionals.” He continues, “The iPad Pro could have been a cool product, but it’s running iOS. So ultimately, it’s a doodle pad for cool kids.” Sebastian and Lafreniere are skeptical of the iPad’s professional applications given that it won’t run the full version of professional software, but will instead run modified versions of the software that you could run on hybrid tablets like Microsoft’s Surface.

In comparing the iPad Pro to Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 — which has since gained a successor in the just-unveiled Surface Pro 4 — Apple Insider’s Daniel Eran Dilger reported that the Surface is more of a small laptop, while the iPad Pro is a large, slim tablet. That makes sense, given that Microsoft has positioned the Surface as a hybrid device — “with all the legacy of a desktop PC and all the novelty of a tablet” — while Apple positions the iPad Pro “as a mobile screen, with no trappings of a conventional desktop computer.”

While Microsoft is unifying all of its devices, regardless of form factor, with the single Windows 10 operating system, Apple’s iPad Pro runs iOS 9, not OS X, which runs on the company’s Macs. iOS 9 brings an updated virtual keyboard, new multitasking views (Slide Over, Split View, and Picture in Picture), a new shortcut bar, and enhancements to the built-in apps that users depend on. While features like Handoff enable you to move tasks between your iPhone, iPad, and Mac, it’s worth noting that you can’t use the same third-party software on the iPad Pro as you do on the Mac.

As Mikey Campbell reports for Apple Insider, current rumors indicate that Apple is planning to start sales of the iPad Pro in the first week of November. That’s also when the company is expected to debut the Apple Pencil and the Smart Keyboard. The iPad Pro starts at $799 for a 32GB WiFi-only model, and a version with 128GB of storage costs $949. The top-of-the-line model includes 128GB of storage, plus support for WiFi and cellular connectivity, and carries the hefty price tag of $1079. The Apple Pencil will cost $99, and the Smart Keyboard will cost $169.

More from Gear & Style Cheat Sheet: