Is a (possibly vaporware) iPad Pro worth waiting for?

Sections: Features, iPad, iPad Air, iPhone/iPod touch/iPad, Opinions and Editorials, Originals

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Over the holiday season, I thought I had my hardware upgrade roadmap plotted for the foreseeable future. I put the first phase in place with a Black Friday purchase a 13-inch MacBook Air to serve as my anchor Mac for the next few years, and my intent was to put the $150 Apple gift card I received as a Black Friday discount toward purchase of an iPad Air in 2014—perhaps around the time my current iPad 2 turns three years old in June.

But now it’s rumored that a 13-inch panel iPad Pro is on the way, most likely for release in the fall, muddying the upgrade waters again.

The new iPad Air is a great machine (the best Apple tablet yet in my estimation) but for the sort of use I put it to, a pro-spec iPad sounds like it would be even better for my purposes, and I now may be persuaded to soldier on with the old iPad 2 for a while yet. On the other hand, not everyone is on board with iPad Pro anticipation. In an interview with CNET’s Brooke Crothers, IHS market metrics firm’s director of tablet and monitor research Rhoda Alexander expresses skepticism about the likelihood of a larger display iPad debuting in the foreseeable future.

iPad Mini

Last month, MacRumors’ Eric Slivka was one of several pundits who cited a research report by Evercore analyst Patrick Wang affirming that his insider supply chain sources are telling him that a larger display iPad is indeed in the works for a 2014 fall release, targeting enterprise users in particular. However, Mr. Wang believes it won’t just be a larger-screen iPad Air, but rather a “hybrid” device intended to fill the divide between tablets and notebooks, to be powered by an Apple A8 SoC (possibly quad-core), and with more storage capacity, which implies greater than the current maximum 128GB available with the Air.

Unfortunately, it also implies that such a device would likely be priced a full tier up from the current iPad Air range, and possibly even as high as the current 12-inch MacBook Air, which might be completely replaced by it.

In his report, Mr. Wang estimates that the Intel Haswell Core i processors used in the MacBook Air represent 22% of the machine’s cost, while the ARM processors used in the iPad account for only about 4% of materials cost for the high storage capacity (64GB, 128GB) models, and therefore the much lower cost for Apple’s A-series chips could enable a serious, price-competitive, Apple challenge to the the light enterprise notebook market.

Barrons’ Tiernan Ray thinks a challenge from a 12-inch iPad/hybrid computer could be a significant setback for Intel dominance in enterprise notebooks, and once again transform the traditional notebook market, noting that Evercore’s Patrick Wang suggests only two potential obstacles to Apple success with an iPad Pro: no Microsoft Office and inadequate local storage. Apple has no control over the first, but the storage matter should be no big problem other than cost. I paid an extra $200 to upgrade my MacBook Air to a 256GB SSD.

An Apple hybrid tablet-laptop would be as much a revolution in portable computing devices as the MacBook Air was back in 2008 (and especially the redesign in 2010 that was copycatted in Intel’s Ultrabook spec) that could once again change our conception of laptops forever. Personally, despite the Microsoft Surface’s slow start, I find the general concept of tablet computer hybrids appealing, and evidently so do many others. It can’t have escaped Apple’s notice that the second best selling laptop at over the 2013 holiday season was Asus’s hybrid Transformer Book T100 tablet/laptop, bracketed by two Google Chromebooks.

Further forcing the issue is that Samsung has beaten Apple to market with its new “Pro” line of tablets: the new Galaxy NotePRO (12.2-inch), and TabPRO (12.2, 10.1, 8.4-inch) machines. And not by a little if the rumoristas are correct about a fall release for an Apple machine. Samsung unveiled its Pro tablet lines at the CES in Las Vegas, with shipping slated to begin sometime this quarter in various parts of the world.

“We created the Galaxy NotePRO and TabPRO series to kick-off a year in which Samsung truly establishes its leadership in the tablet market,” said J.K. Shin, Samsung Electronics CEO and President of IT & Mobile Division, in a release. “This new line offers the best-in-class content consumption and productivity, combining a stunning viewing experience with Samsung s design legacy. The Samsung Galaxy NotePRO and TabPRO truly demonstrate our commitment to providing our customers with extraordinarily versatile product offerings, tailored to tablet users of every description.”

Samsung’s Galaxy NotePRO and TabPRO present the world s first 12.2-inch WQXGA Widescreen (16:10) display, offering a 2560 x 1600 WQXGA LCD resolution panel with a 247 ppi pixel density and more than 4 million pixels, supporting full HD video play. One of the NotePRO/TabPRO 12.2’s marquee features is Multi-Window (reminiscent to Apple veterans of the MultiFinder feature in Classic Mac OS System 6), which allows not just two windows open to manage simultaneous tasks, but supports up to four at a time, not counting the ability to add pop-up windows on top of that. If Apple is serious about flogging iPads to productivity-oriented users, one of the iOS’s major deficiencies that needs addressed is adding the ability to support at least two simultaneously open windows side-by-side. Up to now, requests for such a feature have fallen on deaf ears. Memo to Apple: multitasking worthy of the name means multiple windowing.

Samsung’s PRO tablets’ virtual keyboard also leverages haptic feedback to produce a more realistic typing experience, and the Samsung S Pen is included with the Galaxy NotePRO.

Samsung’s Galaxy NotePRO 12.2 weighs in at 1.66 lb. (750 grams) measures 7.95 millimeters thick, and runs Android 4.4 KitKat. It features dual-band WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac MIMO, USB 3.0 and Bluetooth 4.0. The NotePRO and TabPRO line will come in various connectivity options: WiFi Only, WiFi and 3G, or WiFi and LTE. Users can choose between the 12.2-inch Galaxy NotePRO that comes with an included S Pen, and the 12.2-inch Galaxy TabPRO, Galaxy TabPRO 10.1-inch, and 8.4-inch without the S Pen.

The Galaxy PRO WiFi and 3G models will be powered by Samsung’s in-house Exynos 5 Octa (1.9 GHz QuadCore 1.3 GHz Quadcore) SoCs, and the LTE variant a Snapdragon 800 2.3GHz Quad. Either chip comes with 3GB RAM. A 32GB SSD drive is standard and 64 GB optional. The 12.2-inchers have a 9,500 mAh battery.

“What we always hear consistently is that people want to do more with their tablets,” The Register’s Rik Myslewski cites cites Samsung Telecommunications America VP for tablets and emerging business Nanda Ramachandrar telling a press conference at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in January.

Another Samsung PRO tablet capability is multiple workspaces, which sounds like a sort of lite version of OS X’s Spaces/Mission Control, and there’s a built-in Remote PC UI that allows dragging and dropping files between a PC and the PRO tablet; yet another productivity enhancer.

Aside from those interface tweaks, however, the NotePRO 12.2—both by description and in photos—appears to essentially be a scaled-up version of Galasy Note 10.1, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, I hope Apple will set its sights higher than just making their Pro tablet a scaled-up iPad Air. Think true multitasking, user access to the file directory, better hardware connectivity, a well-engineered detachable keyboard, and trackpad/mouse support.

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  • Matthew

    One point I’d like to make is that this rumored iPad Pro cannot be vaporware at all. That is because vaporware means an announced product that never makes it to market. No announcement has come from Apple about an iPad Pro.