The Liquid Retina XDR display on the 12.9-inch iPad Pro.
Image: Apple

My first Apple computer experiences date to the mid 1980s. That history is relevant when I admit I tired of “death of the desktop” stories in the 1990s. Although I’ve seen firsthand as an IT consultant how critical a role desktop and laptop computers play in small and medium businesses, that may all be about to change thanks to the new M1-powered iPad Pros Apple announced at its April 2021 Spring Loaded virtual event.

For the first time, the iPad Pro is powered by a true desktop-level processor. Apple’s M1 chip is surprisingly powerful and efficient. Packing such performance and power efficiency within a highly portable and expandable tablet changes the options available to professionals seeking a truly lightweight device that can also serve as a heavy-duty office system connected to a 10Gbps network, external display, keyboard and other peripherals.

Four specific improvements position the new M1-powered iPad Pro as a true desktop and laptop replacement: genuine desktop computer-level performance, impressive battery life, true expandability and superior audio and video capabilities required by today’s remote workforce.

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1. Truly capable performance

Admittedly, headlines occasionally unabashedly celebrate new Apple products. Descriptors such as “revolutionary” and “innovative” are common. Don’t mistake the M1 chip’s accolades as such hype, however.

Apple’s Silicon employs a new design that delivers impressive performance, stout security and better battery life. The M1 chip is a potent desktop computer-equivalent engine that provides the iPad Pro with the computing, graphics and security performance that legitimately rivals, or exceeds, desktop and laptop computers.

Following the pandemic, people are—and will likely continue—working differently. Hybrid work environments, in which employees frequently work from various locations, will prove the norm for many organizations. The ability to use a single device whether commuting, traveling, in a coffee shop or conference room, at the kitchen table or in a traditional cubicle or office is more than compelling and convenient—in some cases, it’s necessary.

Available in two sizes, the new M1-powered iPad Pro’s 11-inch version boasts a Liquid Retina (2388×1668 pixel, 264-pixel-per-inch LED-backlit) display, while the 12.9-inch edition has a Liquid Retina XDR (2732×2048 pixel, 264-pixel-per-inch mini-LED backlist) display. With storage options beginning at 128GB and growing all the way to 2TB, there’s no lack of space for storing presentations, videos and other files that typically stressed previous tablets.

The real performance star is Apple’s M1 chip with its 8-core CPU packing four performance and four efficiency cores that can deliver up to 50% faster performance than the previous chip. The underlying architecture enables fast file access, quick-loading applications and accelerated cloud-platform performance. The dedicated 8-core GPU, which is up to 40 percent faster than previous models, and 16-core neural engine further increase performance, assisting the iPad Pro in actually outperforming many traditional laptops and computers.

2. Serious battery life

Gone are the days of constantly needing an electrical outlet. While I used to know the locations of restaurant booths and coffee shop tables with handy power outlets—previously a necessity for IT consultants constantly working on the go—that’s proving no longer necessary as Apple’s engineers have learned how to extend battery life. Thanks to the M1 chip, the new iPad Pro models should provide up to 10 hours of active web searching, Wi-Fi operation and video playback. Even cellular models are predicted to provide up to nine hours of web access.

Thus, regardless of the location from which a professional is working, the iPad Pro will prove a reliable and robust workhorse in most settings. Not only does the iPad Pro possess the performance that meets or exceeds laptops and desktops, but the tablet can be operated all day without having to locate an electrical outlet.

The resulting freedom permits users to focus on their work without having to worry about juggling files between a mobile system and an office-based standby. Instead, the iPad Pro now reasonably fulfills both roles using a single device.

3. Legitimate expandability

When on the go, mobile users value portability, at which the lightweight and compact iPad Pro excels. But, when having to compose presentations, build collaborative materials, edit graphics and video or perform myriad other tasks, multiple displays and a full keyboard are often a necessity.

Thanks to cable and dock options, and corresponding Thunderbolt and DisplayPort connectivity, when using the iPad Pro at a desk, it’s easy to add another display. In fact, the Thunderbolt connectivity and optional high-performance cables and docks mean the iPad Pro can even power Apple’s Pro Display XDR at full 6K resolution.

Because an array of additional peripherals—including the Apple Pencil, backlit Magic Keyboard that packs an integrated tracking pad and Magic Mouse 2—are also available and compatible with the new iPad Pro models, the tablet no longer approximates the desktop or laptop Mac experience (Figure A).

Figure A

Apple’s Magic Keyboard features scissor-action and backlit keys, as well as an integrated touchpad.
Image: Apple

The new iPad Pros match or exceed many traditional setups’ capabilities, while simultaneously providing the ease of taking just the table with you, too, if desired to continue working or performing less complex tasks, such as sending and receiving email, creating and editing documents and performing common functions using cloud applications.

4. Studio-grade audio and video

Audio and video capabilities weren’t necessarily the important consideration in early 2020 that they have become in 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic has likely permanently introduced the need for quality microphones and speakers that better service GoToMeeting, Zoom and Microsoft Teams conference requirements.

Apple designers recognized the need, as evidenced with the iPad Pro’s integration of a TrueDepth, 12MP, 122-degree ultra-wide front camera that supports Center Stage. The new video call feature supports a wider view and machine learning that, thanks to the M1 chip, enable the iPad Pro to keep the user in the center of the frame—even when the user is moving—as well as accommodate other participants who join the conference midstream.

The new iPad Pros also support 4K video recording at up to 60fps, 1080 HD video recording up to 60fps and 720p HD video recording at 30fps. With video stabilization and a 2x optical zoom, the iPad Pro provides additional important video capabilities. In addition to supporting stereo recording and Dolby Vision production, the new models feature four-speaker audio enabling Dolby Atmos sound, too.

Shipping May 2021

Available for order beginning April 30, 2021 and shipping in the second half of May 2021, the new models start at $799 for the 11-inch version and $1,099 for the 12.9-inch model. With available 5G connectivity, even those users needing leading-edge CPU and GPU performance, 2TB of storage and a 5G, HDR-capable tablet will find all their needs fulfilled by the new M1-powered iPad Pro.

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