Did you ever think you’d see a cursor on an iPad? Or that you could run your work applications on it using a mouse?
That is exactly what has happened with Apple’s newest upgrades. For the first time, you can now largely operate your iPad without touching the screen. All you need is a trackpad keyboard, external trackpad or even an external mouse.
Even though this is a feature that will be open to all iPads with iOS 13.4, it’s what has fascinated me most in testing the latest 2020, 12.9-inch iPad Pro.
I’ve been using Apple’s impressive Magic Trackpad to do it, as the custom keyboard isn’t yet ready to ship.
I’ve had it less than a week, so this remains something of a first-impressions review.
But here’s the top line: the new iPad Pro makes the strongest case yet for those who want its speed and flexibility (and those apps) but who can’t drag themselves away from their laptop work flows.
I’m a fairly committed iPad Pro user. I lean on mine every day for work (writing, editing, online research, photo-editing) and playing (movies, video-editing, the occasional game). So I’ve a decent handle on what works well and what lags.
Technically, the upgrades to this iPad Pro are mainly in the cameras, with only marginal differences in the engine and almost none at all to the high-end display, battery and casing.
There are now two cameras on the rear of the iPad Pro, a regular 12-megapixel f1.8 lens and a new ultra-wide angle 10-megapixel lens. But the really significant additional bit is the Lidar scanner that accompanies them in the rear array.
This basically gives the iPad much more accurate depth-sensing abilities. It’s seen as a big boost to augmented reality apps (such as games or some enterprise software), but will be immediately apparent in more pinpoint-accurate readings within the likes of Apple’s Measure app.
As for power and speed, it appears to be very similar to the 2018 iPad Pro (which I still have and which is still blisteringly fast). It runs Apple’s multi-core A12Z processor, which is only very slightly faster than my existing iPad Pro 11, with its A12X processor. However, it is way more powerful than the previous iPad Pro 10.5.
It’s a similar story for battery life. The iPad Pro’s longevity is, so far, around 10 hours. That’s roughly what I got from the last model.
For me, the display is always a high point with higher-end iPads. This one has that wonderful 120hz smooth fluency and can reach 600 nits of brightness. The colours are just gorgeous too.
I watched a few episodes of ‘Star Trek: Picard’ on it and it renders absolutely beautifully. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a better display on a computer.
As for the keyboard folio case, it’s the same as the last one except for a wider cut-out for the additional cameras. Alas, the special trackpad case that makes this iPad Pro so interesting isn’t yet available, even to test for reviewers.
But the regular folio keyboard case is fairly comfortable to type on and very robust. It’s also very easy to handle because of the matt exterior finish; it’s unlikely to slip off a table like a phone might if there’s a slight incline.
Returning to the cursor and trackpad support, what surprises me is how relatively simple and intuitive this is. I couldn’t have imagined how a cursor would work within an iPad. But it does. Apple has done a pretty outstanding job here.
The ‘cursor’ is not an arrow but a small shaded circle (I’ve posted a few short videos on my Twitter account).
But when it moves over something it can affect, it changes appropriately. For example, when it hovers over text, it becomes a flat, vertical text selection icon. Or it morphs into a shaded ‘x’ when you bring it over a ‘close’ box of a window.
This isn’t universal: it doesn’t work as expansively across all apps or services yet. For example, within some of Google’s apps, the cursor does change shape and doesn’t allow for things like scrubbing forward during a video. It’s likely that universal application won’t happen for a while, as app developers (in particular) tweak their code to adjust for the new tech.
But it does work really well within Apple’s own apps, including Safari.
Apple is only making a trackpad keyboard that fits this new model and the previous 11-inch and 12.9 iPad Pros. But it’s likely that third-party manufacturers will step in with their own trackpad-specific keyboard cases.
The 11-inch iPad Pro starts at €909 for the wifi model and €1,079 for the wifi-plus-cellular model. The 12.9-inch model, which I’ve been testing, starts at €1,129 for the wifi model and €1,299 for the wifi-plus-cellular model. It starts at 128GB and is available up to 1TB.