The new 10.5″ iPad Pro is Apple’s best tablet yet, offering clear advantages over the larger model and plain old iPad. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you should buy one.
As a platform, the iPad Pro has a big problem. If you’re a professional, and you’re thinking of picking up a “Pro” tablet, this might be enough to put you off.
Shock horror: you might even want to buy a Surface Pro instead.
Nice Tablet, Shame About the Apps
A lack of software availability is a problem that has sunk so many platforms in the past. Be they fledgling mobile operating systems (Firefox OS, anyone?), games consoles (looking at you, Wii U), even the Mac App Store has fallen out of favor and suffered as a result.
But the iPad Pro is different, right? Apple has spent nearly a decade building up a rich library of apps, and since the iPad Pro also runs iOS, it’s compatible with all of them.
While that may be the case, these apps are available on a regular iPad too. For the most part, there’s nothing “Pro” about them aside from some optimization for Apple’s accessories like the $99 Pencil stylus.
So what makes the iPad Pro worthy of the Pro moniker? After all, the MacBook Pro, Mac Pro, and upcoming iMac Pro are all high-end machines aimed at niche power users. This Pro tier status is reflected in the price, just as it is with the iPad Pro which costs roughly double that of the standard model.
Looking at the specs sheet, the new iPad Pro falls into line: a powerful A10X Fusion system-on-chip, flagship technologies like the 120Hz display, probably the best stylus on the market, and an overpriced yet rather excellent Smart Keyboard cover.
Even iOS 11 is being optimized for the Pro, with a proper file management app arriving in the fall alongside other features, like a Mac-style dock.
The whole lot will set you back around $900 for the base 64GB tablet and both accessories. That’s cheaper than a MacBook Air, and only slightly more expensive than an iPhone 7 Plus ($869). It might be the best value “Pro” product Apple has ever released.
But there’s more to consider if you’re looking at buying an iPad Pro. Most professionals require professional software, which is especially true on the iPad, since it runs a glorified mobile operating system.
To explore this problem in detail, let’s look at two professionals who might be considering a purchase: the artist or designer, and the full-time online writer or editor.
Exhibit A: Adobe
A few weeks ago I was sitting in a tattoo parlor, while my partner sat patiently for the artist to put another few hours into a large leg piece. I noticed a new Surface Pro being used to display a reference image, an odd choice considering the artist’s Mac and iOS background.
I asked why the Surface Pro instead of an iPad Pro? You can probably already guess the answer. The artist, like many others who have turned passion into profession, uses a combination of Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop to design, tweak, color, and produce finished designs.
I'd love to see an iPad Pro app focused on icon design not just another sketching app. Adobe Illustrator Shapebuilder tool would be amazing.
— Jason Csizmadi (@TheCsiz) April 13, 2017
The Surface Pro, which runs a “desktop” operating system in the form of Windows 10, is fully compatible with Adobe Creative Cloud — which includes “full fat” versions of Illustrator and Photoshop. The iPad Pro is not. Apple lost a sale to Microsoft purely based on third-party app availability.
The iPad Pro was the artist’s first choice. It’s still the preferred tablet, and a potential future sale hinges on Adobe’s willingness to bring proper Creative Cloud apps to iOS. We’ve hit a point where consumers are consciously avoiding a Pro Apple product because the lack of software that can realize the device’s potential.
You need a combination of iPad Pro, Pencil, third party app Astropad ($30), and a Mac use Apple’s tablet with full versions of Illustrator or Photoshop.
As of writing this, Adobe has shown no interest in bringing their best creative applications to iOS. Instead we’ve got stripped-down apps like Illustrator Draw and Photoshop Sketch. While many of these apps have demanding system requirements, the iPad Pro still surpasses the minimum Mac recommendations (see Illustrator as an example).
There are some good iOS-borne alternatives to Adobe’s might, like Graphic ($9), but these do not satisfy the demands of a power user ensconced in the best creative platform money can buy. If you already have an Adobe CC subscription, the iPad Pro on its own cannot currently put it to good use.
Exhibit B: WordPress
Did you know WordPress is the world’s most-used blogging platform? The open source content management system (CMS) powers many of your favorite websites, including this one. It exists as both a private, hosted blog at WordPress.com and as an open source standalone CMS.
If you’re a full-time blogger, you write for an established publication, you oversee the work of others, or edit content before it goes live, an iPad Pro and a Smart Keyboard might seem like the perfect solution.
It’s got the battery life to outlast most laptops, enough RAM for thirsty browsing sessions, a tiny form factor, and a surprisingly productive environment in iOS. I’m writing this on the 10.5-inch iPad Pro right now, which means I consciously decided not to use my MacBook Pro.
Unfortunately, if you do anything more than managing a small personal blog, the iPad Pro is not the perfect blogging machine.
The @WordPressiOS app is hopeless, can't display pending posts, or sort by category view.
— Tim Brookes (@timbrookes) July 28, 2017
The WordPress app for iOS has always been limited, but for power users it’s sorely lacking. You can’t do basic things like display only pending posts, or filter by category or author. Some of WordPress’s most powerful features, like the ability to add custom variables to posts, are also absent.
“Never mind, I’ll just use Safari instead!” I hear you cry. That was the fix when I reviewed the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, and the time before that too (12.9-inch). This time round, a bizarre bug that causes erratic scrolling in the text editor when I try and move the cursor has prevented me using this workaround.
This could just as easily be a Safari iOS error, though similar issues seem well documented among the WordPress community. Here’s a blog post and with a supposed fix, which doesn’t work for iPad Pro users. Maybe iOS 11 will fix it, maybe iOS 11.1 will break it again.
Without a fully-featured app or solid web-based experience, I can only draft my own personal posts on the iPad Pro. You may also be setting yourself up for a fall if you rely on such a workaround day-in, day-out — and is the risk worth the $900 entry fee?
I’d have more joy editing MakeUseOf content on a 10-year-old netbook. That doesn’t seem very Pro to me.
Pro by Name
So you might think I’m being a bit harsh, and cherry picking two (valid) examples. Unfortunately, it’s not only these two areas (design and publishing) that are ill-serviced.
No Illustrator means no Photoshop. Even the iOS version of Lightroom pales in comparison to the version that runs on Microsoft’s Surface Pro. I can use my camera connection kit to unload 25 MB RAW images off my new Sony A6500, but I can’t batch edit or export a selection at a size and quality of my choice like I do routinely on a Mac.
Things people almost universally want on the iPad Pro: Xcode, Logic, Final Cut Pro. All software, all apps.
— Mayur (@MayurDhaka) July 24, 2017
iMovie is about as “Pro” as video editing gets, despite Apple’s proud insistence that these tablets can handle 4K video editing and export. Premiere Clip is Adobe’s “fast and fun” editing app. While Swift Playgrounds made its debut in 2016, it looks like Xcode for iOS is still a long way off.
Musicians have also been left out in the cold, despite iOS being one of the best platforms for casual artists. If you want to take things to the next level, you’ll find a distinct lack of Ableton Live, FLStudio, Serato — even Logic Pro is only serviced by way of a remote app.
The iPad Pro’s app problem is unlikely to go away any time soon. As more potential customers realize the limitation of the platform on the basis of software, they’re going to stick to their laptops or jump into Microsoft’s camp with the Surface Pro — and who can blame them?
At the same time, unless developers see a good uptake on the iPad Pro (a tablet that’s been selling less and less, year after year) they may not see enough potential in the platform, and these apps will never arrive.
Do you buy Pro Apple products? Will you be buying an iPad Pro?
Image Credit: Denys Prykhodov via Shutterstock.com