Apple’s decision to put an M1 Mac chip inside the iPad Pro surely means it’s about to make some big changes in the user interface for Apple’s pro tablet, making these systems an even better fit for business professionals.

Fast enough for anything?

Apple’s new iPad Pro introduces a Liquid Retina XDR display and the same 8-core M1 chip used inside over 50% of all the Macs Apple currently sells.

It promises 50% faster CPU performance and 40% faster GPU performance compared to the previous model. Prices for the 11-inch tablet start at $799, while the new 12.9-inch version starts at $1,099. 5G is available, but it costs $200 extra.

One of the best ways to assess what this power means is to look to the immediate improvements Adobe experienced when it introduced an M1-native version of Photoshop for Macs. It will be interesting to see what that application is capable of on an iPad, and it surely brings Final Cut Pro X for iPad closer to becoming a reality.

But hardware doesn’t tell the whole story. Most industry watchers seem to think that while the power of the chip is remarkable, what can be achieved with the device will be limited by the user interface. “Users are not able to take full advantage of Apple’s unifying hardware architecture yet,” observed Oppenheimer analyst Martin Yang.

The business case for iPadOS+

The potential for these iPads will be unlocked by what Apple does in the next iteration of its OS, which it will introduce at WWDC 2021, beginning June 7. At this point, we don’t know very much concerning Apple’s future plans to improve iPadOS with version 15.

Bloomberg recently claimed that improvements will include an updated lock screen, a redesigned Home screen with enhanced widget support, new notification preferences, and big improvements to iMessage designed to make that system a more convincing alternative to WhatsApp.

Most of what Bloomberg shares sounds interesting, if perhaps a little lacking in terms of what the professional users most likely to invest in iPad Pros need, so it seems probable that Apple will also push forward to improve the devices’ weaknesses, such as multitasking.

The thing is, these M1-powered tablets should be able to run anything. After all, if you can run Linux or Windows for ARM on an M1 Mac using Parallels Desktop, why not run the same operating systems in emulation on iPad OS? And if you can run those, why not run macOS with those as well?

The new iPad Pro can also output to the Pro Display XDR. That’s nice, but not every app supports display output, which makes it likely that Apple will introduce multi-display support in iPadOS 15.

Apple is nothing if not ambitious. Having built a platform capable of so much, the company is unlikely to want to hobble its potential. We also think we know the company hopes to shift five million of its new iPads this year — and that’s even before it begins manufacturing the other tablets we believe it intends to introduce in 2020.

Who are iPads for?

With entry-level iPads starting from $300 and the new Pro range costing as much as or more than some Macs, there really is blue clear water emerging between consumer and pro users in Apple’s tablet empire. 

We’ve also seen a lot of growth in the product line over the last 12 months. “Apple has seen a major renaissance of growth from its iPad… showing 40% year-over-year growth the last few quarters as more employees and students went through an iPad refresh,” said Daniel Ives at Wedbush Securities.

Given that the people purchasing iPad Pros are also likely to be working from home at least part of the time, it makes complete sense that Apple would want these devices to be compelling work machines, rather than being companion products.

“We believe demand from enterprises to adopt more mobility-friendly, productivity-enhancing computing devices to support a hybrid workforce makes Apple well-positioned to grow its share in the PC/tablet market,” said Katy Huberty at Morgan Stanley.

Power, but to what purpose?

With the same processor now inside Macs and the iPad Pro, one compelling direction of travel might be to move broadly toward a dual-OS system, with iPadOS as default and macOS as required. I don’t think Apple is ready to do that, but it’s an enticing idea to contemplate for future products.

At WWDC 2021, Apple will be under a little pressure to show how its platforms fit together. Will iPadOS 15, coupled with the capabillities of the M1 iPad Pro, provide us with insight into the future of Apple’s pro computing platforms? Will Apple show us what all that power is for?

What story will we be told? Will that story resonate with the discriminating pro users Apple’s iPad Pro is aiming for?

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Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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