Reflections on the iPad Pro after WWDC

2021 iPad Pro

I completed this column a few days back, however the response to WWDC from the Apple community continues to evolve, and with it, so too have my observations. As an avid iPad Pro user, for whom this is my principal device, I want to concentrate specifically on the user community’s response to iPadOS 15. 

Following WWDC, there were three types of bearish responses to iPadOS 15. One was disappointment commingled with optimism about the future, and a ‘buy’ recommendation for the M1 iPad Pro. The second was an angry denunciation of largely ‘cosmetic’ changes to iPadOS, accusing Apple of intentionally holding back the iPad Pro, with a recommendation of ‘hold’ if you already have any iPad from 2018 forward. The third was an apoplectic response, accusing Apple of outright betrayal, having built up expectations, and a recommendation that people return their M1 iPad Pro, and use MacBooks to get ‘real work’ done.

iPad Pro Popular Gripes

Here are five complaints amongst these unhappy iPad Pro users:

  1. The file system was not fixed, lacking the ease of use of the macOS file system, including naming, adding or modifying folders.
  2. macOS ‘pro’ apps, like Logic Pro, were not announced. 
  3. The RAM specs on the M1 are not being tapped, since all current iPadOS – compatible apps are capped at 5GB, and no popular ‘pro’ apps were announced. 
  4. Swift Playgrounds is not a serious developing tool, so one still cannot develop real apps on the iPad Pro (see Charlotte Henry’s piece from 16 June for a fuller breakdown). 
  5. Apple did not put macOS on the M1 iPad Pro, thereby enabling a user to purchase only one device and have a true desktop experience.

Let’s Review These Objections. 

#1, true, the file system does not work like macOS, nor does iPadOS permit any way to format the hard drive. However, there are multiple file options on iPadOS, including Dropbox, OneDrive, Google and others, as well as on the iPad itself, not to mention using Airdrop to nearby devices. Another part of this is the inability to format attached Thunderbolt drives, many of which are not formatted for the iPad and therefore do not show up when attached via Thunderbolt. All valid criticisms that Apple can and needs to change.

As for #2, if the 2021 iPad Pro, with its M1 processor and 8-16 GB RAM can run (in principle) anything that the Mac can, then why were no ‘pro’ apps announced? Apart from the problem with the ‘pro’ moniker meaning different things to different users, ‘pro’ users were anticipating certain apps, like Final Cut Pro coming to the iPad (although some counter that apps like LumaFusion have evolved and are already available). While some enterprise-specific apps are available, like MS Office, most specialized apps are not. This will be up to specific third parties to make it so. Market forces dictate that, if and when the iPad Pro achieves a critical mass of adoption (more on that shortly), then competition will drive companies to overcome market inertia accordingly.

As for #3, at least one benchmark test suggests that iPadOS 15 beta possibly lifts the 5GB cap on apps, freeing developers to exploit the greater RAM capacity on the M1. Further tests will be forthcoming once iPadOS 15 is released. If true, it enables robust ‘pro’ app development (see #2 below). 

#4, see Charlotte Henry’s link regarding  Swift Playgrounds. Several developers on YouTube have commented similarly. However, as one recent MacVoices guest mentioned, the future for all app development is likely Swift and not Xcode. One indicator that this is likely the case is what The Verge piece points out, namely that with Swift Playgrounds developers can soon submit their apps directly to the App Store. This is a huge time-saver and a competitive advantage. In short, this tool may become both more powerful and the standard across the Apple platform, including the iPad. Adoption will assist in driving this forward. 

As for #5, macOS on the iPad Pro, this would be contrary to Apple’s observed development philosophy. Apple is less likely to apply an older system to ‘upgrade’ a newer system than they are to continue improving that newer system, and macOS was never conceived or designed as a touch interface. 

Next, we’ll look at macOS, iPadOS, and iPad Pro as well as our conclusions

3 thoughts on “Reflections on the iPad Pro after WWDC

  • The RAM specs on the M1 are not being tapped, since all current iPadOS – compatible apps are capped at 5GB,

    I was surprised by the reaction to this. “OMG I can’t use all 16GB for my one app.” Before the 2021 Pros were announced all iPads had four or at most six GB of RAM. You couldn’t get anywhere near 5GB dedicated to any one app anyway. So after thinking about a 1TB 11-inch model for the extra RAM, I’m now leaning toward a 256GB 12.9 inch one. The bigger screen will be more useful and I’ll still have twice the RAM in my 10.5″ iPP. I’ve only occasionally run into particular situations where I was RAM limited on the 10.5, Eight is going to feel luxurious, even with a 5GB per app cap, assuming Procreate doesn’t use the fix to work around it.

    1. @geoduck:

      Unsurprisingly, you’re making a rational choice. 

      A couple of things. 

      The grousing iPad Pro power users are not wrong in spotting not only the potential of the iPad Pro ever since the 2018 model came out, as being the future, certainly of portable computing, but for most users, computing full stop. It’s not that Apple put a Mac chip into the 2021 iPad Pro, but that Apple put an iPad Pro chip into the Mac; it’s the same chipset as in my 2018 iPad Pro but with more RAM and slightly boosted specs. Benchmarks show comparable single and multi-core performance between the 2018 and 2021 chipsets. All devices are now on a common SOC standard; which means that the iPad Pro can do everything that the Mac can do, provided that it has the instruction set, and can do things that the Mac cannot do. These early adopters want that potential released now. It’s Apple and the broader user community that aren’t ready; not quite yet. 

      Second, the iPad Pro is over-powered for its current scope of work. That’s because it wasn’t built for its present scope of work, but for the future; rather like Von Braun’s Atlas V, which was over-powered for the Moon. It wasn’t built for the Moon, but for Mars. The iPad Pro is Mars-ready; we’re just not going there yet. My guess is that we’re at the top of a chute that’s 3 – 5 years long. 

      This means that your choice will not only serve you well in the present, but for the foreseeable future. And, by choosing the 12.9” model, you get to play with the screen of the future today. The Liquid Retinal XDR display beats anything out there in its class and then some. Storage is cheap, so you can offload either to the cloud or get a portable SSD, if needed. Your 8 GB of RAM won’t even break a sweat, probably for the next 2 – 3 years, if then. 


      1. Funny thing, I’ve made a point of increasing the storage of my devices, usually doubling it when I bought each new one,32GB, 64GB, 128GB. My 10.5 has 256GB so I at first assumed that I should go with the 512. But then I looked at my usage. I’m only using 97GB on the iPad. Digging deeper I found that half of that was movies I had bought but could download again at any time. I’m actually using only about 50GB, So 256GB it is. I think I’ve reached my max, for a while at least.

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