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New iPad Pro 11-inch: First Impressions

I was all set to go on a weeklong trip out of the country just one day after the new iPads became available. It was as if Apple knew I was leaving town and rushed it out on a Wednesday instead of the usual Friday.

Now that I’m back, some initial thoughts, in no particular order:

  • I went with the 11-inch model. As I’ve said in the past, this is purely a personal decision. There is no right answer to which iPad size is best. I’ve owned literally every size iPad screen Apple has ever offered. For me, last year’s 10.5-inch (now stretched to 11) is the one. As a bonus, it still fits inside my Waterfield Designs AirCaddy travel case. The 12.9, despite being smaller this year thanks to shrunken bezels, is still a bit large to fit into my current carrying case lineup. But I totally get why others want the larger screen. I still think Apple will make an even bigger iPad eventually.
  • This is the best-looking iPad to date. I probably should have gone with silver this time around, since it still has the black bezel. But I ordered the Space Gray out of habit. No regrets. But now I’m craving a matching Space Gray Magic Keyboard.
  • I went with 256 GB. I will eventually want more storage, but for now, I can load up quite a bit of media while traveling without filling the device. I don’t sync music to it, since I always have my iPhone handy for music listening. Once I start Photoshopping next year I may wish I had more storage, but I’ll cross that bridge with my next iPad.
  • Once again I went with cellular. I can’t recommend this enough. T-mobile offers me 5 GB of data that I can use over a span of 6 months for only $10. No commitment. No recurring fees. Use it until I run out. Buy more as needed. If someone offered me this on my Watch, I’d actually pay for data on my Watch. Most of the time, I’m on WiFi. For those few times I’m not, though, having cellular kicks the ever living crap out of trying to tether, draining my phone battery, and so on.
  • I love the new Pencil. It’s smaller. The magnet is clever and way more convenient for charging. I never lost the cap on my old Pencil, but I certainly came close a few times. Glad to see it gone. I will still likely use the Pencil less often than I should.[1]
  • I wish Apple made a Smart Cover for this new iPad. Instead they went with a two-sided folio. Not for me.
  • I never get the Smart Keyboard with my iPads. I hate the feel of those keys about as much as many developers seem to hate the new generation of MacBook Pro keyboards. To each their own.
  • The squared-off sides: Oh man, do I love the way the sides of this new iPad feel. Some people call it “retro” to the iPhone 4 or 5. Fine. As far as I’m concerned, squared off sides are better. The tapering gives the illusion of a thinner device, but once you’ve reached peak thinness, there are many advantages to a squared off edge. (Pencil charging, for one.) I can’t wait until the iPhones go back to squared off edges.[2] I think this is the future, not the past.
  • Face ID: I was right to be scared of the camera being on the “short” portrait side of the device. Whenever I’m holding the iPad in Landscape (just about 100% of the time) my thumb is covering the camera. I tend to hold the device in my left hand and use my right to “swipe up” to unlock. But because I’ve always wanted the home button on that right side as well, I tend to hold the device with the camera on the left side. (Apple clearly figures this as the “normal” landscape orientation as well, since they set the pencil charging magnet along the top edge when you hold it this way. That means despite taking a hand off the device to unlock, it’s always the “wrong” hand for me. Thus, I get the dreaded “Camera covered” message about 70% of the time when I am unlocking.[3] As I wrote earlier, this could be completely avoided if the camera were on one of the longer landscape sides of the device. But who knows? Maybe there’s some engineering reason that couldn’t be done. Suffice it to say, this is my only true complaint about this new iPad. It’s annoying as hell, in fact. But I will learn to swipe to unlock with my left hand, hold the device with the camera on the right (which will put my Pencil under the device), or just reposition my thumbs somehow. I’ll get over it.
  • The home indicator. My friend Alec Pulianas pointed this out, and he’s absolutely right: There’s really no need for a permanent home indicator on this iPad. The behavior has not changed for swiping up since iOS 11 last year. People have had a year to “figure out” how to go home with the iPhone X. Sure, turn the indicator on for the first few days for new customers, but it should disappear after that. The graphic only gets in the way for most apps. I hope Apple is considering this UI affordance a temporary thing.
  • It’s taking longer than it should for some apps to be updated to support the new screen aspect ratio. I’m not talking about indie apps made by developers who are working their butts off. I’m talking about Netflix (Took almost a week.) HBO. (Still not updated as of this writing.) Apps with large teams who, let’s be honest, had more than a year to prepare for the removal of the home button. Watching letter boxed video inside a pillar boxed app is far from ideal.
  • I didn’t think much of the switch to USB-C at first, but the benefits are slowly sinking in. I’m charging my nearly dead iPhone as I write this with my iPad. Sounds silly, but in a pinch, it’s turning out to be a very handy feature. I doubt I’ll be connecting to an external screen anytime soon. But I’m glad that’s now available to video editors, etc. Eventually, I have to think the Files app will get external drive support, which will be awesome. More accessories will work with either Mac or iPad. I think this is one of those changes that will take some time to sort out but eventually will be a “how did we ever live without that?” type of thing. Not sure if it makes sense for iPhone, but I’d be happy to see that happen as well. I wouldn’t be surprised or disappointed either way.
  • Being able to travel with just my laptop charger and give it double duty for charging iPad as well is quite nice. I will probably never need a second charger for this iPad.
  • Speed: I’ve never thought any iPad I’ve owned is slow. Then again, why not push the state of the art forward? I’m happy these iPads are getting faster, support more storage and RAM, and are generally kicking the ass of laptops the world over. This is what Apple does. I know some have suggested the RAM is overkill, but when I think of apps like Final Cut Pro X, Logic, and other “pro” apps people complain about not existing for iPad, the one thing those apps need that current iPads don’t have yet is tons of RAM. (Have you ever loaded a set of virtual instruments into Main Stage?) I say bring on more and more speed and RAM until it becomes physically impossible to add more. Here’s the thing: an iPad is in no way a “lesser” device from a hardware standpoint. Which means it doesn’t need to be any lesser from a software standpoint, either.
  • Speaking of software: Yes, iOS needs more iPad-only features. Apple is still paying for the mistake of encouraging “Universal” apps for iPad back in the day. I wrote about all that years ago, so I won’t go into it again. I do think starting simple with iPhone’s OS and getting more complex over time was the right move. It’s taking longer than any of us would like, but I’m optimistic about iOS 13 next June. Will they fork iOS into an iPadOS eventually? Maybe. Not sure it’s necessary, though. Just keep adding iPad specific features where appropriate, and share with iPhone when that makes sense. I don’t think maintaining yet another full operating system is going to be a net gain.
  • More on software: Apps. Pro apps. Whatever that means. They exist. More will exist. All I can say is when they come, be willing to pay for them. And for my friends making those apps: be willing to charge for them. I’ll be using Photoshop on my iPad a year from now. I can’t imagine XD won’t follow soon after. At that point, I’ll be able to do almost all my design work on iPad. If you have design apps now that are Mac only and you don’t have an iOS road map, you’re as good as dead to me in a few years.[4] How long before I can say the same for most of my development work?[5] And once apps like Photoshop appear, look for the gaps in the surrounding ecosystem. I’d love to see Adobe bring something akin to its plugin architecture to iPad. That may take some cooperation from Apple, but it could spark an entirely new market for third parties on iOS. The future is looking bright.
  • And that brings me to my final point. iPad has been my favorite Apple device for a long time now. This new edition only strengthens my feeling. I am newly inspired to write apps for this machine. I want to use it more than I already do. It doesn’t have to replace my laptop. It needs to expand my current concept of how and where I use computing devices. And that’s been steadily happening since the first iPad was released in 2010.

Congrats to the entire team who worked on these new iPads. They are truly remarkable.

  1. I keep hoping the Pencil will inspire me to learn to draw better, but I still haven’t committed to it. ↩︎

  2. The taper is, by definition, a compromise. Retaining a pure rectangular shape is more honest, if you’ll permit me some design-snob terminology. ↩︎

  3. Oddly enough, I even get this message sometimes when my hand is nowhere near the camera. I figure this is a bug that will eventually get worked out, though. ↩︎

  4. That CC subscription keeps getting more valuable over time. Still my favorite bill to pay every month. ↩︎

  5. I’m not just talking about Xcode here. Panic’s Coda and Prompt already get me a good part of the way there on the web front. There are lots of other good code tools out there, too. ↩︎