Thoughts on iPad Pro

There's a lot of speculation floating around about a possible "iPad Pro". The idea that Apple always slavishly follows precedent is one that continues to addle smaller minds. The notion that, since the iPad is now called the "Air", it naturally follows that there will be an iPad Pro because that's how the notebooks are named seems to me to be very pedestrian thinking.

Regardless, Federico Viticci put together a round-up of some of the rumours. He boils it down to the three options:

  • A bigger, faster iPad
  • A bigger, faster iPad with some serious software differentiation
  • An iPad-like device that runs Mac OS X

I only have a few observations on this:

Firstly, any attempt at differentiation by API availability will be a disaster. It has already been a disaster on the Microsoft Surface RT and would be, to my mind, an utterly idiotic strategy for Apple to pursue. The only APIs that should be limited in availability by the form factor are those APIs that necessarily relate in some way to the form factor.

There are, today, some APIs that are only available on iPad or iPhone because of the UI idioms that are used in each form factor. At some level, this is a fudge around the fact that iOS UI design has hitherto not been "responsive" design but has been sized for the three individual device form factors Apple has sold (3.5" iPhone, 4" iPhone, iPad).

In the grand scheme of things, these are minor differences and are largely being deprecated in favour of auto-layout for iOS apps. There are limits to responsive design, though, but that's a topic for another time. Differentiation by actual software capability rather than layout or appearance is another matter entirely.

Imagine that, today, the iPad could multi-task but the iPhone could not. This being the consequence of the iPad being positioned - hypothetically - as the "pro" iOS device. Wouldn't that suck?

Differentiation by hardware capabilities (size, weight, speed, storage, camera quality) is the world we live in on the Mac. Macs vary wildly in their capabilities in all of these areas yet there is only one OS X that runs on everything from an 11" MacBook Air to a 27" iMac. Again there are limits to the kind of "responsive design" that has been commonplace in Mac apps since forever, as anyone who uses both of these Macs knows.

I had a conversation today with a visiting teacher about when there would be an iPad Pro that could run Photoshop. My belief is that Photoshop will be ported to iOS before OS X is sold in a tablet form-factor. iOS is Apple's mainstream platform for the future. I just don't see compelling reasons to run OS X on a tablet without serious modifications and I would contend that "OS X with serious modifications" is, in fact, exactly what we have in iOS.

In the end, I agree with Federico's assessment. Whether the iPad Pro becomes real or not is almost beside the point. What needs to become "pro" is iOS. I've written about this before: better inter-app communication, better data sharing between apps, better stylus support, better keyboards. iOS 7 is great but "iOS Pro" needs to be a whole other step up.