Apple just released two new iPads. One of them, the entry-level 10th-generation iPad, has been rebuilt from the ground up. The new iPad Pro, by contrast, is a much simpler update. The company took last year’s model, swapped out the M1 chip for an M2, made a few other small tweaks, and called it a day. The iPad Pro is still ridiculously fast, and it’s still extremely expensive, starting at $799 for the 11-inch model and $1,099 for the 12.9-inch.
I can’t really fault Apple for this approach though. Even though the iPad Pro’s basic design was first introduced in 2018, it’s still a wonderfully crafted piece of hardware. It features one of the best screens Apple has ever produced, and it never ceases to amaze me that the company can pack so much power into such a compact frame.
While this year’s model closely resembles what Apple has already sold, it comes at a significant time for the iPad’s development. That’s thanks to iPadOS 16, which launched last week. For most iPads, it’s the expected collection of useful tweaks – but for the iPad Pro, it offers a brand new multitasking system called Stage Manager. It’s a clear answer to a question we tech reviewers (and many iPad Pro owners) have been asking for years: When will we get software that lets us harness the power of the iPad?
First a quick refresher. The iPad Pro is still available in two sizes: 11 and 12.9 inches. Storage options range from a modest 128GB to a truly staggering 2TB, and you can configure it with an optional 5G radio when WiFi isn’t available. And when you’re at home, it supports WiFi 6E, whereas last year’s model was limited to WiFi 6. As usual, we reviewers get to play with the near-top iPad: the 12.9-inch model with 1TB of storage and 5G service from Verizon. This iPad Pro costs a whopping $1,999, and that’s before you add the $129 Apple Pencil and $349 Magic Keyboard. At the moment we are in the MacBook Pro or Mac Studio area.
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At least the iPad Pro still feels like a device worth the money. (Whether that’s the case is another question.) The fit and finish remain exceptional, and while the 1.5-pound weight is a bit of a burden to hold compared to smaller, lighter iPad models, I’m still impressed with Apple’s capabilities. cram that much power into a device that’s so compact. There are other well-designed tablets on the market, but I still don’t think anyone can catch up to the iPad Pro.
The 11-inch model still has to make do with the same Liquid Retina LCD display it’s had for several years, but the 12.9-inch version has the Liquid Retina XDR panel that was first introduced on the M1 iPad Pro in May 2021. This screen uses mini-LED backlighting and features 2,596 local dimming zones that offer wide dynamic range and a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio. It also has up to 1,000 nits of full-screen brightness and 1,600 nits of peak brightness when playing HDR content, making movies really pop.
There’s nothing new on the screen this year, but it’s worth pointing out how good it is. Both iPad Pro models also feature a 120Hz ProMotion refresh rate; support for wide color gamut P3; a screen that is fully laminated to the windshield; and an anti-reflective layer.
Like last year, the iPad Pro has an ultra-wide 12-megapixel front-facing camera that supports Face ID authentication. This wide-angle camera supports Center Stage, which crops and zooms in on your face to keep you in the center of the frame during a video call. That’s all well and good, but unfortunately the iPad Pro still has the front-facing camera on the edge of the portrait screen, which means you’ll always be slightly off-center and not looking directly at the screen when your iPad is on. in the keyboard dock. This has been true of all iPads for years, but now that the entry-level model has received a landscape-oriented camera, we’ll be anxiously waiting for Apple to introduce it to its entire lineup.
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The rear cameras are also the same: There are 12-megapixel wide-angle and 10-megapixel ultra-wide-angle options, along with a flash and a LIDAR scanner. However, the M2 processor unlocks a new video trick, as the iPad Pro can now record video in the Apple ProRes codec at 4K resolution at 30 frames per second, a feature first introduced in the iPhone 13 Pro. This is something of a niche feature, but it shows the M2’s improvement over its predecessor.
In terms of accessories, the iPad Pro uses the same 2nd generation Apple Pencil and Magic Keyboard, which have been available since 2018 and 2020, respectively. The Magic Keyboard still provides the best typing experience you can find on an iPad, even if the whole package is quite heavy. It’s also insanely expensive, as I mentioned. And now that the base iPad’s new Magic Keyboard Folio offers a number of function keys and a slightly larger trackpad, I really miss those features here. But if you’re a wordsmith like me, it’s still an essential tool.
The Apple Pencil remains a tool I’m not particularly good at evaluating because I’m sorely lacking in visual arts skills. I sure wish I could sit down and sketch and doodle and make the amazing creations I’ve seen others make, but that doesn’t happen. If you’re a visual artist, chances are you already know how well a pencil works.
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The M2 on the new iPad Pro also enabled a new trick called Hover. If the stylus is within 12mm of the screen, icons and interface elements can respond to it. The simplest example is how app icons get bigger when you hover your pencil over them, showing you what you’re about to tap. It works system-wide, at least in Apple apps. Third-party developers will need to build Hover features into their apps, but it should be a nice new tool in the Pencil arsenal. One place I was able to try it out was in the Notes app; when using the new watercolor brush, you can place the pencil on the screen and see how the color will react with other elements that you have already drawn.
Another great implementation of Hover I found in the excellent image editing app Pixelmator Photo. Positioning and moving your pencil over the bar of different filters at the bottom of the app will automatically preview them. It’s an incredibly quick and fun way to see how your image will look. That said, it’s something you can already do with a trackpad and pointer; so far, a lot of the Hover actions I’ve seen are direct clones of what you can do when you hover over an interface element with a trackpad. However, I look forward to seeing what the developers come up with.
But let’s get to that M2 processor, shall we? Thanks to our review of the M2 MacBook Air earlier this summer, we had a good idea of what to expect here. And running the Geekbench 5 tests confirmed it. The M2 iPad Pro scored 1,888 and 8,419 in the single-core and multi-core CPU tests, respectively. Those are 12 percent and 42 percent better than the same tests on the M1 iPad Pro, and similar to the 18 percent and 38 percent gains we saw when comparing the M2 MacBook Air to its M1 sibling.
I saw similar improvements in the Geekbench 5 Compute test, which measures GPU performance. The M2 iPad Pro scored 32,834 — 52 percent better than the M1 and slightly higher than the 27,083 we saw in the M2 MacBook Air test. Obviously, synthetic benchmarks like this aren’t the best and final way to evaluate performance, but they give you an idea of what to expect. If you regularly push the M1 iPad Pro to its limits and use it in an environment where your time equals money, these improvements may justify an upgrade, but unless your workflow is extremely demanding, you can probably skip this generation. When you consider the fact that the basic design of the iPad Pro hasn’t changed since 2018, that’s another reason to hold off; I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple released an all-new Pro in the next year or so.
Finally, there’s the not-so-small addition of iPadOS 16, namely Stage Manager. As a reminder, Stage Manager allows you to open up to four applications in one group at once with overlapping resizable windows. Four additional groups (with up to four apps in each) appear on the left side of the screen based on how recently you’ve used them. Stage Manager can only run on a select few iPads: the iPad Pro with M1 or M2, the M1-powered iPad Air that was released earlier this year, or the 2018 and 2020 iPad Pro models running on the A12X or A12Z chip. (These older iPad Pro models will not be able to use Stage Manager on an external display; this is limited to M1 or M2 devices.)
Since Stage Manager arrived in iPadOS 16 betas earlier this year, there has been much talk of Apple’s implementation among the iPad faithful. At one end of the spectrum, you have someone like Federico Viticci at Macstores.net – he’s well known for being a dedicated iPad Pro user and writing massive, detailed breakdowns of every iOS and iPadOS release. Viticci, to put it mildly, is not a fan of Stage Manager; he wrote about 10,000 words detailing his inconsistencies and errors.
On the other hand, I didn’t run into nearly the same range of difficulties as Viticci, but I agree with his overall point. There are probably too many different ways to do things in Stage Manager (like adding a new application to a group); window management is tighter compared to Mac (or Windows or ChromeOS); and the behavior of the control bar on the left side of the screen remains confusing. Stage Manager looks like a work in progress – but when it works, I’ve created a grouping of apps that makes me much more efficient and productive than using the standard two-app Split View multitasking mode with a third app in a little ‘Slide’. Over” window.
And while Stage Manager was (and still can be) buggy, at least here on the M2 iPad Pro with the final release of iPadOS 16.1 I ran into far fewer problems. I’ve been working on this iPad all day and I think I’ve only had one app crash (Gmail, which isn’t exactly the best iPad app on its best days). I’m still struggling with some conceptual things about Stage Manager, like the best way to add or remove apps from a group, but I think the experience is worth spending a day or two to see if you can find your way.
There is no doubt that the new iPad Pro is better than its predecessor. It’s the same price and comes with a more powerful chip and a few more features. That said, I don’t think it’s as much of a sure bet as the last iPad Pro was when it came out in early 2021. This is mainly due to the design of the iPad Pro, which hasn’t changed much in the last four years. This is good news in some ways, as you could buy an Apple Pencil in 2018 and a Magic Keyboard in 2020 and still use them with the M2 iPad Pro.
But at some point, probably before long, Apple will shift the form factor again. Not that it necessarily needs to; The iPad Pro remains well designed and continues to be an excellent performer, as it should be for the price. But this front-facing landscape camera on the 10th-gen iPad tells me we’ll soon see an iPad Pro with a more substantial redesign and not just a faster chip inside.