Why it's time for bigger iPads

11-inch iPad Pro
11-inch iPad Pro (Image credit: iMore)

I miss the 17-inch MacBook Pro.

I never actually had one myself, though a couple of my friends did. It was discontinued the year before I bought my last MacBook. But I loved that it was out there, a ridiculously large powerhouse, an absolute lunch tray of a computer ready to take on anything a user could throw at it with a beautiful, massive display that could fit all of the content you could want.

I think it's time for the iPad to have its own lunch tray moment.

Because my most powerful wish for iPad hardware in the near future is that we start seeing bigger tablets come out of Cupertino. I'll take all of the iPad screen real estate I can get. And yes, I'm primarily thinking about the iPad Pro, but I'd love to see the more mainstream iPad and iPad Air models offer bigger variants.

But what could bigger iPads offer that Apple's current tablet lineup can't? Well, here's what I think.

It's all about space

The primary advantage of having a bigger screen on any device is to be able to display more content or higher-resolution content. This is true for Apple's 'Max' line of iPhones, the 15-inch MacBook Pro, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, and the 27-inch iMac and iMac Pro. These bigger screens can display more, which makes them more flexible for your productivity and creative needs, as well as just consuming content.

Best iPad for artists (Image credit: iMore)

On a product like the iPad, where the display is the device to a degree beyond a MacBook or iMac, offering even bigger screens is even more essential. Artists would have bigger canvases. Your apps would have more room in side-by-side and slide-over modes, or you could fit more on your screen when editing photos and videos.

I currently use the 12.9-inch iPad Pro because it's the biggest available. But I'd definitely get something bigger if it was available. And for anyone who wants to say "get a MacBook." Know that I already have one. I don't want to get another MacBook. I want to use iPadOS. I like using iPadOS. I appreciate its simplicity. I like the Apple Pencil. I love Shortcuts. So the ideal device for me would be a larger iPad.

But how big should an iPad be?

Since 2016, Apple has had both a smaller and a larger iPad Pro, and the smaller one has changed sizes with each generation. First, it was 9.7 inches, then 10.5, and now 11. But the larger iPad Pro has always been 12.9 inches. That hasn't changed since day one. I think it's time for a change, and I honestly want to see how far Apple can push it.

What I actually want is for Apple to experiment when it comes to its hardware design. I think that the ideal size for an iPad Pro, one that offers maximum screen space while still being portable, would be around 15 inches. But I'd like to see Apple push that even further. Maybe Apple could try bringing back the lunch tray and offer a 17-inch iPad Pro. I know for a fact that a lot of artists that love the Apple Pencil just want the biggest screen they can get, so there'd be at least some kind of audience for it.

But we shouldn't limit our thinking just to the iPad Pro. While the larger iPad Pro has remained at 12.9 inches since its inception, two other iPad lines have seen their displays grow in recent years. The iPad, Apple's low-price, mainstream tablet, made the jump in 2019 from 9.7 inches, the screen size of the iPad since it launched, to 10.2 inches. Earlier in the year, the iPad Air made its triumphant return, growing almost an inch from 9.7 inches to 10.5.

I think that these iPads can grow bigger still. I'd concentrate on the iPad Air first, since Apple seems to have positioned it to be well balanced between the iPad and iPad Pro, offering more power than the former while remaining much less expensive than the latter. Introducing at 12.9-inch iPad Air would give people who want a bigger display an option that didn't require them to shell out for an iPad Pro. Plus, the iPad mini is essentially a smaller version of the iPad Air, so why shouldn't there be a bigger version, too?

Thinking bigger

The iPad was initially pitched as the perfect balance between two worlds: more mobile than a laptop, but more capable than a phone. Portability has always been a chief concern for the iPad. It's likely why Apple has chosen to keep 12.9 inches as the high end of the spectrum for iPad display size up to this point.

But what if we left portability aside for a moment? As I said above, I want Apple to get experimental with the iPad. Bold. I want Apple to do something with the iPad that makes us say 'WTF' when they reveal it. And that's why I want to see Apple introduce a 27-inch iPad.

Suface Studio (Image credit: Windows Central)

Yep. I want Apple to make an iPad as big as an iMac. Maybe it won't be successful. But if Apple did this, and really committed to it, I think it would benefit every iPad user in the long run. Like the Surface Studio, Microsoft's large touchscreen all-in-one PC, a 27-inch iPad would likely be especially appealing to artists, who could use that entire massive screen space with the Apple Pencil to create their art. For other tasks like editing videos, working with documents, or just viewing content, more space would serve those purposes better, too.

At this point, I think it would be fair to say that the 27-inch iPad wouldn't be, strictly speaking, a tablet. Maybe Apple would have to call it something else. But as long as it runs iPadOS and supports Apple Pencil, I'm fine with calling this theoretical device an iPad for now.

A matter of software

But what about iPadOS? After all, it's an operating system built for portable touchscreens, not massive, desk-bound behemoths. Well yes, iPadOS would need to change to provide a more comfortable experience for desk-based use. You don't, after all, want to be holding your arms up all day to tap across that display. But here's the thing: iPadOS kind of needs this now. Whether the iPad is 10, 13, 15, or even 27 inches, work could be done right now to make the iPad a better experience for those who use one sitting on their desks.

Because while iPadOS should remain a touch-first operating system, now that it's branched out from its iOS roots, I think that Apple can do some work to give it a better desktop experience. This includes better support for mice and trackpads and actual app windows. This latter feature will be especially important if Apple does end up making larger iPads.

While I actually like to use full-screen apps on my MacBook for some activities, (web browsing, watching videos, and viewing multi-page PDFs, for instance), it can just get obnoxious on a 15-inch screen. At least on my MacBook, anything I want can just live in my desktop space, and I can re-size anything as needed, or move it out of the way, or into a position so. I would love to see this functionality come to the iPad.

iPad Pro with MacBook (Image credit: iMore)

But why do this? Why try to make iPadOS more like a desktop or laptop, rather than adding touch support to macOS? The answer lies in the directions that it would require both macOS and iPadOS to go. iPadOS is built from the ground up for touch, while macOS is a traditional desktop operating system. And when I think about what I want from my day-to-day computer, I'd rather have a touch-focused system that can work like a desktop, than a desktop system with touch support bolted on.

It's not that I don't think that Apple could do a good job putting touch on a Mac. But I think it'd be easier, and even more organic, to build a new desktop-like experience on top of the existing iPadOS foundations than it would to put touch on a Mac. I feel like a Mac touch experience would always feel like the secondary way to use macOS, and that's just not what I want out of my primary computer.

Final thoughts

My wish for larger iPads stems primarily from a genuine desire to get the most screen on a device that I can. But I also want to see Apple branch out more within existing product lines, to play around a bit. I think the iPad line provides a safer space in which to experiment with things like screen size than either the iPhone or Mac because it's not as closely tied to Apple's quarter-to-quarter fortunes as the iPhone, nor to Apple's hardcore fanbase as the Mac.

Maybe bigger iPads would mean that Apple also plays around with device thickness for increased durability or resistance to bending. Or maybe it causes the company to rethink portions of iPadOS to better accommodate those that want to use iPads a bit more like traditional computers when it comes to productivity.

Even if it eventually fades, much like the 17-inch MacBook Pro, I want Apple to give us that lunch tray iPad, that absolutely ludicrous slab of aluminum and glass. I want it to play around with how to adapt iPadOS to bigger screens, how to make the best experience possible for professionals, artists, and even general consumers, across a wide set of screen sizes.

As the iPad moves into its second decade, it feels like that device still has some growing up to do, both in terms of software and hardware. I think bigger iPads could help achieve both, to the benefit of iPad users everywhere.

What do you want to see?

Do you think now is the right time for bigger iPads, or should Apple stick with what seems to be working? Give us your thoughts in the comments below.

Joseph Keller is the former Editor in Chief of iMore. An Apple user for almost 20 years, he spends his time learning the ins and outs of iOS and macOS, always finding ways of getting the most out of his iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Mac.

  • I also want Apple to try this before they consider switching Macs to their ARM chips because otherwise it is going to get confusing quickly. Catalyst isn't working out well but that is just Apple not providing enough docs and shipping it too early. If Apple expands iPad to larger sizes to match Macs, they can optimize iPadOS to be as good as macOS faster than they can make macOS as good as iPadOS. iPadOS was designed to be secure from the get go and Apple is trying to secure macOS by locking it down too much and it may not work out at all as we've seen from the Catalina complaints. Move people to iPadOS instead of moving Mac users forward. It would be awesome if Apple can port XCode and Hypervisor to iPadOS, so we could build apps without Macs. Also, run VMs for software dev type of work.
  • Before they make the iPad bigger, they need to make their applications work like those found on MacOS. For example the photos app. The lack of a full set of editing tools is a major short coming.
  • Interesting, Joseph! However, I don't side with you. I keep loudly repeating my view: that the unique selling point of a tablet is the combination of two properties: the ease of changing orientations (portrait, landscape) and the presence (but only if needed) of on-screen controls (typewriter keyboard, piano keyboard, pinball flippers). You can always add them in hardware if needed (like for pressure sensitivity). You don't seem to appreciate these two properties, merely the touchscreen. That makes me wonder if you really want a large tablet. Most of my comments stand out by their length. Yet I have typed them leaning back on the couch, on an iPad in portrait orientation. A large iPad Pro (third generation) has been my default device at all for some eight months now. Yes, I have come to apppreciate iOS/iPadOS, but I also use Android, macOS, Windows and Linux. At one time I had three then new devices gathering dust: a large iPad Pro (first generation) in a Logitech clamshell, a Pixel C with its magnetically attached keyboard, and a Surface Pro 3 with its companion keyboard cover. My default device at all was an iPad Air 2, later a 10.5" iPad Pro with the companion keyboard cover that I hardly ever used.
    These devices have all re-entered service, with the Surface trailing - even though I considered it the best blend of tablet and notebook. It's the only one I use (if at all) with its keyboard attached. My point: I don't seem to use touchscreens when being "beyond" a hardware keyboard. I have a notebook with a touchscreen: a Matebook X Pro (by Huawei). Hardly touch that screen. Years ago, I bought a 28" Full HD touchscreen. Imported it from the USA to the Netherlands, which doubled the price for me. I intended to use it with graphic applications on a Windows powerhouse, but I have never used it. Thanks to my habit of storing electronic copies of user manuals in the cloud, I can mention its brand and type: Planar PCT2785. If large touchscreens would have been a success even in the States, I wouldn't have needed my query to come up with the brand name.
    The artists, apart from wannabe me? Just view the "appendices" ("making of") of the "The Hobbit" trilogy: Macs and large screens abound, but the artists use Wacom graphic tablets as their input devices. Not necessarily the largest editions of these tablets. My idea, too: rest your hand in one place, and cover the entire large screen without lifting the palm of that hand. I already mentioned that MateBook X Pro. It features a 13.3" screen. I won't expand, but I soon bought a MateBook 13 (which is a cheaper version) and a 13" MacBook Pro (its specs roughly between theirs). I also mentioned my two iPad Pros. Yes, 13" seems to be my preferred screen size. I can tell, as I also have the 2013 models of 15" MacBook Pro and 11" MacBook Air, both recently reinstated from under three years of dust. I even do like that 11" screen, but I find it too coarse. I have observed, that I seem to prefer these 13" screen to have a resolution of roughly that of the large iPad Pro. Should I prefer to see more pixels, then I could reinstate my 2015 iMac (was it 27" or 28"?), should I prefer a larger viewing screen, then I have 43" 4K television sets waiting. To me, it's not so much pictures that form my computing screen preference, but rather spreadsheets, side-by-side file manager panes, music synthesizer controls (I have been trying to resume making music for fifteen years...) and finally creating graphics (still intending to resume 3D Modeling after twelve years). So, Joseph, time will tell regarding large-screen iPads. :-)
  • I am still waiting for an iPadPro refresh to replace my 2007 17-inch MBP "LunchtrayDeluxe". If Apple releases a 17-inch iPadPro I am all over it. One thing I've noticed though is that the 12.9-inch iPadPro seems to cover a lot of the 17-inch screen's real estate. Was there a change in how the size of a screen is measured over the last 13 years? I thought it was diagonal? Is it due to the different screen ratio? Or is this just an optical illusion? I'd type more but my 5th battery only lasts about 40 min these days so I gotta get going! And my right fan is about as noisy as a helicopter. But this thing just won't die. Love the 17-inch HD+ (1920x1200) matte screen! Perfect contrast to my iPhoneSE.
  • I’d love to have an iPad version of a Surface Studio, but I know I’d have to raid my kid’s college fund and take out a second mortgage on my house to afford one. I think a slightly different approach could achieve the same thing at what might be a more affordable price. The goal is a big screen that supports the Apple Pencil. With that in mind, why not make a 27” monitor that has a slot for the iPad where it plugs in and serves as the computer to power the display?
  • Because that 27" monitor has to support the Pencil on its own, and that raises the price considerably. The Surface Studio isn't the price it is because of the PC parts, they are lack luster. It's the screen. For fun, look at Dell Canvas, https://www.imore.com/e?link=https2F2Fclick-100048... Basically a 27" active touch screen monitor. BTW, "At this point, I think it would be fair to say that the 27-inch iPad wouldn't be, strictly speaking, a tablet." Maybe they could put folding legs on it and call it the Apple Table.