Recently I had an opportunity to play with an iPad Pro at one of the Apple Stores here in San Francisco.I was excited for this hands-on time, albeit brief, as I have long preferred working from an iPad over a traditional laptop.
As I recently wrote for Macworld, I find Apple's tablet to be more accessible than a laptop such as the 12-inch MacBook. I find iOS, conceptually, to be simpler and more focused for my computing needs. As a writer, I don't require much to get my work done, and an iPad is more than capable of helping me be productive. More importantly, in terms of accessibility, the iPad as an object is better ergonomically than a laptop. I can hold it as close to my face as I need to see comfortably, whereas a laptop's screen has always felt "far away." Also, I find the iPad better because of the directness of iOS's user interface. It's easier for me to use taps and gestures to interact with apps than it is to use a mouse and cursor.
I like OS X and I love the new MacBook, but the iPad is the better computer for me.
It's this sentiment that has me so excited for the iPad Pro. Here are some assorted thoughts on the device after my aforementioned trip to the Apple Store.
That was my initial reaction after picking up the iPad Pro. It's huge.
The photos of iPad Pro in Apple's marketing materials don't do it justice. I was struck by how massive the 12.9-inch screen is in real life, both in terms of its sheer size and in terms of information density. After seeing it, the 9.7-inch screen of my iPad Air feels downright tiny; in context, it feels like an iPad Mini.
The Pro is noticeably heavier than my Air, but isn't too heavy to hold. I do wonder if holding it for extended periods will become tiresome, as I do a lot of reading on my iPad as well. The obvious benefit of the Pro's screen for me is the size --- more content on screen means my eyes will squint less, and I'll have more room to spread out using iOS 9's multitasking features.
Another byproduct of the Pro's big screen is the bigger virtual keyboard. Believe it or not, I type every one of my articles (including this one) on my iPad nowadays using only the soft keyboard. While I'm not the best typist, I like to think I do pretty well under the circumstances and I actually enjoy it. Thus, the Pro's keyboard is great. It's familiar, comfortable, and I was pleased by the experience.
iOS on the Big Screen
During my time with the iPad Pro in the store, I mostly used a few of Apple's built-in apps: Notes, Mail, and Safari. (As for App Store apps, I did use Paper with the Apple Pencil. More on that later.) One thing I needed to change right away was text size, so I went to Accessibility > Larger Text and moved the Dynamic Type slider one notch from the middle setting. I decided that with the larger display and its high resolution that I needed larger text to compensate.
iOS looks...like iOS, although I think it would behoove Apple to further optimize the interface of, say, Mail to better take advantage of the huge display. Icons and buttons are quite small --- because of their size on the large display, I found that controls were harder to see and tap than those on my iPad Air. It occurred to me that perhaps a Standard/Zoom screen option, in a similar vein to what Apple introduced with last year's iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, would be useful on the iPad Pro. For visually impaired people like myself, a Zoomed display would make text and interface elements easier to see. I don't know how technically feasible adding such a feature is or would be, but it's an idea nonetheless.
One final note. I've made the case in the past that Apple should add an option to iOS which allows people to enlarge or magnify the insertion point. This would be similar to the option on the Mac to alter the size of the pointer. On my iPad Air, it's difficult for me to find the insertion point when writing due to its small size, and the problem is exacerbated on the Pro. It's too small on the Air and it's way too small on the Pro. And forget about moving the insertion point; in my tests, the loupe is just as hard to see. The same goes for the text selection mechanics --- the grab handles and cut/copy/paste menu. Again, these are tiny.
On the Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil
First, the Smart Keyboard. I must admit, I wasn't too happy with it. Maybe it was that I have trouble typing properly and was using a brand-new keyboard, but I didn't like it much. The keys felt "sticky," in the sense that I didn't like the way they felt under my fingers; it was as if my fingers got "stuck" to the keys, making it hard to press. Again, maybe my displeasure was due to the newness and my unfamiliarity of the Smart Keyboard. I could very well adjust and learn to like it, but at first blush, it was off-putting. (I even tried pairing a Magic Keyboard with the iPad Pro, which I
stole borrowed from one of the Mac Mini demo units. Sadly, it didn't work, but an employee told me it should work just fine.)
As for the Apple Pencil, it's nice. Very light and feels good in my hand. As John Gruber notes in his iPad Pro review, the Pencil is the more technically remarkable accessory. I'm not a doodler or illustrator by any means, but the Pencil worked well in my tests. The palm rejection is aces.
Reserving the Right to Change My Mind
I've gone on the record to say that, to date, the iPhone 6s Plus isn't the best phone for me. The reasons are mainly ergonomical: my cerebral palsy and the size of the Plus make for holding and using it a clumsy and less-than-ideal experience. Because of this, I've remained committed to my belief that the smaller iPhone 6s is best for me because it offers the "just right" combination of usability and pocketability. It's the Goldilocks iPhone, so to speak.
And yet, I wonder if the iPad Pro might cause me to change my stance.
I wonder if, should I fully embrace the iPad Pro in all its ginormous glory, I discover that screen size trumps all. In other words, if I'm able to cope with the Pro's large physical size because I so love its screen and productivity gains, then maybe I ought to reconsider my feelings on the ginormous iPhone too. Maybe the screen advantage is truly superior, but I didn't realize it because my mindset was so fixated on having the neatest overall package.
This is all pure speculation on my part, but I think it's a valid thought exercise. Even in my brief time with it, the iPad Pro's screen wowed me. It's interesting to ponder what could happen regarding my iPhone choice if the iPad Pro ends up being a key part of my toolkit. I may completely change my mind.
Or I might not, who knows. Still, it's fun to think about.
Taking the Wait-and-See Approach
The biggest takeaway I have from my time with the iPad Pro is that I'm even more excited about it now than I was when it was announced in September. At this point, I can't definitively judge the product until I've spent quality time using it outside of a crowded Apple Store. That said, my first impressions are positive, and I think the Pro has the potential to be an even better iPad for me.