The iPad Pro (2021) feels like a story half-told — iPadOS 15 will complete it

Ipad Pro 11 Magic Keyboard Hero
Ipad Pro 11 Magic Keyboard Hero (Image credit: Christine Romero-Chan / iMore)

When the iPad Pro launched in 2015, it set out to be absolutely the most powerful iPad ever and give people the chance to complete serious work on a mobile platform. Since then, each iteration of the iPad Pro has always pushed the envelope when it comes to power and performance — and the iPad Pro (2021) steps it up to the next level.

Apple's newest darling, the M1 chip, is what's powering the iPad Pro (2021) that Apple announced during its keynote. The M1 chip has 50 times faster CPU performance compared to the original iPad Pro and it is also said that the graphic performance is up to 1500 times better. In layman's terms, the iPad Pro (2021) is going to be a performance monster. But I have to ask, what's the point?

Most people weren't complaining about the power or performance of the iPad Pro (2020), but rather the limitations that the iPad has a platform. That's why I think this story is half-told. Apple's upcoming iPadOS 15 is the other half.

The iPad Pro (2021) itself doesn't change what an iPad can do

Ipad Pro 2021 Hero (Image credit: Apple)

While it's completely possible that the iPad Pro (2021) might be the best iPad Apple has ever made, the hardware itself does very little to alleviate any of the issues that stop the iPad platform from truly replacing a MacBook or Mac for a lot of people.

While the Thunderbolt port on the iPad Pro (2021) is certainly a welcome addition and will make it a lot easier to use docks, displays, hubs, and other peripherals, it's still only one lonely port, which is a limitation that Macs don't have. Plus, needing to buy an external keyboard, trackpad, and/or mouse adds a lot of money to the already expensive iPad Pro, especially the 12.9-inch version. And of course, battery life only being about 10 hours is far less than most MacBooks, making it harder to rely on it as a Mac replacement. Software is where a lot of improvement could be made on the iPad Pro, and the upcoming iPadOS 15 is the perfect place to do it.

iPadOS 15 could be a huge update

12.9-inch iPad Pro (Image credit: Joseph Keller / iMore)

It's important to remember that iPadOS is still pretty new, and we even called iPadOS 14 a great refinement over the previous iteration. It worked out some of the old kinks, added great features like trackpad and mouse support, and added stability to the platform. It's now up to Apple to blow us all away with iPadOS 15.

I know multitasking is a huge pain point for a lot of people on iPadOS 14. It just doesn't flow as great as it does on macOS. It's certainly gotten better as of late, but Split View and Slide Over still have their limitations.

I'm sure some people think the best solution is just to put macOS on the iPad and be done with it, but I don't think an approach that drastic is needed. That also wouldn't fix any of the hardware limitations I spoke about earlier. The iPad Pro is an iPad, not a Mac, and I think Apple wants to keep it that way. That doesn't mean that iPadOS 15 couldn't be a huge update — especially for the iPad Pro (2021).

It's clear to me that the launch of the iPad Pro (2021) is only half the story. There's so much power and potential inside the M1 that iPadOS can now start to tap into, and if iPadOS 15 doesn't start to take advantage of it, Apple is leaving a lot on the table.

What do you think?

What do you think Apple has planned for the iPad Pro (2021)? What feature do you want to be added to iPadOS 15? Let us know in the comments down below.

Luke Filipowicz
Staff Writer

Luke Filipowicz has been a writer at iMore, covering Apple for nearly a decade now. He writes a lot about Apple Watch and iPad but covers the iPhone and Mac as well. He often describes himself as an "Apple user on a budget" and firmly believes that great technology can be affordable if you know where to look. Luke also heads up the iMore Show — a weekly podcast focusing on Apple news, rumors, and products but likes to have some fun along the way. 

Luke knows he spends more time on Twitter than he probably should, so feel free to follow him or give him a shout on social media @LukeFilipowicz.

  • Well, this can become very complicated: (1) do you just let the user dual boot MacOS and let them deal with small touch targets, or basically mousing and keyboard; OR (2) do you try to add better mouse support, much better multitasking, multi-instances of the same App, Finder, true external monitor support beyond 4x3 mirroring (not app dependent)? I'd enable dual booting and move on. For those of us wanting a laptop in tablet clothing, we are on our own and more power to us. For those at Apple who refuse to go beyond the tablet paradigm, they are happy and protected from freedom.
  • You can just get a Surface Pro. The options exist /shrugs Personally, I don't find the price reasonable. Once you add the Pencil and Keyboard in, its just too much. I'm looking at the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7+ I really like their DeX mode, and I think that's superior to iPadOS when it comes to making a Tablet work like a Laptop. Plus, it's cheaper. I don't find i use tablets for heavy work. I actually bought a new 14" Asus laptop for that stuff. The Tablet is mostly for travel and media consumption on the road.
  • But there's the rub - with so many people (like myself) stuck in the Apple walled garden (prison actually once your family settles in on Apple - iMessage, Facetime, Watch, News+) the Surface Pro and Galaxy Tab 7+ are not alternatives.
  • I'm on a quest to change the verbiage. It's not a walled garden, it's a gated community. ;)
  • This is Essentially the same difference. Walled gardens tend to cover gated communities as well.
  • It’s easy to leave it. You just stop buying Apple devices and replace with others when you upgrade. It’s really quite simple… Or you can do the actual intelligent thing and protect yourself by never letting yourself get in that situation in the first place. Nothing you list is a killer feature worth paying more and locking yourself in even further. Lol… News+. Bless. The Surface Pro and Galaxy Tab S7+ absolutely are alternatives. You seem completely out of the loop with just how well Windows 10 and Samsung devices work together, these days. iMessage and FaceTime are easily replaceable services. Samsung makes great smart watches. I’m really not seeing the problem. I have an iPhone 11 Pro and iPad Air 3 and I’ve never felt the need to deep dive into all of those other accessories, never mind Apple’s services aren’t generally class-leading, anyways.
  • I think a ton of people would disagree with you about iMessage. My family is just fine within Apple's privacy focused garden ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
  • “ iMessage and FaceTime are easily replaceable services.” With what? FB services and Skype? No thanks. The only good alternative for me is LINE, but not even everyone has a legit reason to job on that platform.
  • In addition to the disagreements I'm seeing here to what you said, a very big issue is that the iPad Pro with an M1 chip is vastly faster than your Surface laptops or anything from Samsung. That's not all that important for many people. But it is for people who want to use their devices seriously. The limits of iOS are certainly there, but adding Thunderbolt made one big difference that makes the differences less important for iPad Pro owners. Not to mention security and privacy.
  • Xcode. What else matters?
  • As a PSA, don't buy a new iPad because of what you think it might do after iPadOS 15, or rumors to that effect. Buy it for what it does right now. That's all that is guaranteed.
  • Wow that’s a partially stupid way of looking at it. You’re telling people to spend $300-$2400 on a product for what it does today and not 3-5 years from now? Is this how Android users see it? When you are buying a product that you may end up paying $1K of course you want to know what it does today, tomorrow and the day after, that’s how you know if your investment is worth. This isn’t exactly the stock market we are talking about here. Like, I get being careful if a promise of what happens tomorrow isn’t guaranteed, but if you insist on buying a tablet for “today,” the iPad isn’t it, it’s the Pix. . Oh wait! P.S. - I’m really not trying to bash Android users here (to each their own), but this is honestly complaints I hear from still current Android users, and well, Google abandoning tablets is a fine example of why you don’t buy products for what it offers today.
  • Looks like Apple users disagree with your buying advice. Earliest shipping date is 6-8 weeks.
  • You totally missed the point. If the device doesn't meet your needs today, don't buy it. It is likely to get better, but may never get the functionality you had to have. I heard MS is going to release Visio and Project for iPadOS is a poor reason to drop $1000 on an iPad, if you depend on Visio and Project. I heard Parallels is going to run Win10 on iPadOS would be the same.
  • No, I think you missed the point. Say you buy the iPad Pro today knowing it supports full photoshop but for whatever reason it just doesn’t work out after a year and Adobe decided to abandon Photoshop on iPad. Congrats, you just spent $1000 on a tablet simply for a program you needed to use today but can no longer use now and need to go through the hassle of getting other hardware to make it work. If you’re buying it for functionality you need today, that’s just as pointless because that same functionality is not promised tomorrow, that’s a fact. 32-bit apps in 2021 that never got updated? Forget it, go to Windows. Never ever buy a product for what it does today if no one is promising you it will work tomorrow. Buy it because you know it will still guarantee you future productivity. Photoshop is just an example, but best believe people have gotten screwed over for making a decision in the present as well. I have Mac apps that no longer work after Catalina. Have I seriously depended on those apps still yeah I would’ve given Apple quite the hate Mail.
  • Color me confused. You think iPadOS 15 is the answer without actually talking about iPadOS 15. We don't need macOS running on it but we do need Apple to port it's Pro apps and Xcode to it. Would also help if video out runs at the full res of the external monitor with the ability to use it as a secondary (rather than just mirror)
  • That’s exactly what I’m saying. Why people want to playing around with 2 devices on the same OS is beyond me. This isn’t even a first world problem, or even a problem for that matter. Apple finally shut everyone up with a keyboard and mouse, but even so iPad is and will always be a Touch First device. If they cannot get an interface running on touch, or don’t wanna bother putting the effort into it, best believe it won’t matter.
  • The iPad does not need to replace a Mac. Both do what they were designed to do, very well. Besides, both are also flying off the shelves these days. Replacing one with the other makes no business sense either. Putting a mouse and a keyboard on an iPad makes as much sense as putting a steering wheel and automatic transmission on a Harley Davidson. You can have both a car and a motorcycle. There is no need to combine them. We have already seen the train wreck that happens when you put a touch screen on a desktop OS. Windows 10 sucks as a tablet, and I have tried several times to use it as such. I had a Surface Go 2, a Pro X and a 2017 Pro. I ended up selling them all on eBay. Keep iPads simple to use. Don't assume the user has a mouse and keyboard. If I need a laptop, I have laptops. If I need a tablet, I have iPads.
  • Needs better multitasking and a better file system.
  • I like what Renee Ritchie suggested in a recent Podcast, that MacOS and iPadOS are not going to merge, but Apple might just be cooking up a whole new operating system that will adapt to all their devices without having to hack APIs and Frameworks to be usable where they weren't originally written for. I think that's pretty much a genius thought, and look forward to such a new OS landing in another four to ten years hence.
  • I really can’t always agree with Renee, but he is absolutely right on this one. Apple straight up said they were dead set against merging iOS and MacOS. So it’s going to be at least another generation of new Apple execs before that idea goes back on the Table.