Apple’s new 9.7-inch iPad Pro, introduced yesterday, is in some respects a smaller version of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro introduced last year. While it might lack the one-more-thing wow factor Steve Jobs kept hidden until the end of a product announcement, it may have enough mini-wows to entice customers. The big question here is while iPhone owners may trade in every year or two, iPads are generally on a slower upgrade cycle; will the iPad Pro change things?
My own last full-size (9.7-inch) iPad purchase was the iPad 2 in 2011. It runs the current version of iOS and most current generation apps just fine. If a thinner and lighter device, increased speed, Touch ID, and Retina screens were not enough to entice customers to upgrade in the past few years, what does the new iPad Pro offer? Let’s go through the list of differences Apple points out in its comparison chart of currently sold iPad models — the 12.9 and 9.7-inch iPad Pros, the 9.7-inch iPad air 2, and the 7.9-inch iPad mini 4 and iPad mini 2 — and see if we can find reasons to upgrade over and above the major changes introduced in iPads over the past few years.
Physically, there are no differences in length, width, thickness, and weight when comparing the new smaller iPad Pro with the iPad air 2. And, all the currently sold iPad models are said to have “Up to 10 hours of sur?ng the web on Wi?Fi, watching video, or listening to music.” So what makes the 9.7-inch iPad Pro different from the other iPad models?
Wide color display. This means that it has 25 per cent more color saturation (wider color gamut) than other iPads. Or, as Apple says, “colors are more vivid, true to life, and engaging.”
True Tone display. This iPad has four-channel ambient light sensors that detect the lighting where you are and adjust the display to look more natural, with the goal of making viewing the screen as comfortable as looking at a sheet of paper.
A9X SoC. This processor is the same one used in the larger iPad Pro and is a step up from the A8X used in the iPad air 2 and iPad mini 4.
Camera upgrades. The new camera in the iPad Pro has quite a few new features. First, the rear facing camera gets a bump to 12 megapixels, compared with the 8-megapixel rear facing cameras on earlier iPads. The front facing camera is now 5 megapixels with a Retina Flash, compared with the 1.2 megapixel camera used in older iPad models.
The rear-facing camera has a lower f/stop (F/2.2) than other iPads (f/2.4). In fact, it has the same f/stop as the cameras in the iPhone 6s line. A lower f/stop means that the lens has a larger opening and can let more light in, so it does not have to stay open as long to get enough light for a photo. This basically translates to a faster shutter speed, which can get you better photos in a number of situations. It also includes Autofocus with Focus Pixels, an improved sensor first introduced on the iPhone 6.
Live Photos. This iPad is the first iPad model to get the Harry Potter-like moving photos feature previously only available in the iPhone 6s line.
True Tone flash. This feature was introduced with the iPhone 5s. This uses a pair of LED flashes (one white and one amber) and is used with a light sensing algorithm to adjust the color temperature of an image to make colors look more accurate.
Auto HDR. The High Dynamic Range (HDR) photo setting is an optional manual setting in other iPad models. Dynamic range is the ratio of light to dark in photos. As practiced by serious photographers, this involves taking at least three photos of the same scene with different exposure settings (bracketing). While properly prepared HDR images can be stunning, the ones I’ve taken on my iPhone 6 Plus have not been great. On the other hand, the HDR photos from the Android-based Nexus 6 have been impressive, and I frequently leave the setting turned on there.
Panoramic photos of up to 63 megapixels. Apple’s panorama photo recording ability — a series of photos stitched together to create a larger image than could be created using a single viewing angle — can create stunning photos of landscapes. Previous iPad models were limited to panoramic photos of up to 43 megapixels. Thus, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro can create panoramic images as large as what the iPhone 6s can create.
4K HD video. Older iPad models can record video in 1080p, which is considered high definition video and probably the limit of the TV sets that most of us own. 1080p has a resolution of 1920×1080. Apple’s 4K HD Video has a resolution of 3840×2160, or 8.3 megapixels.
If you combine the incremental features that led up to the Pro models (Retina display, Touch ID, thinner, lighter) with the Smart Connector and ability to use the Apple Pencil inherited from the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, and the enhanced features described above, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro is extremely enticing to the many people like me who are using full-sized iPads that are now several generations old.
Apple is aggressively positioning the new model, which makes sense given the way iPad sales have slumped in recent quarters. The 9.7-inch iPad Pro is available with 32GB, 128GB, or 256GB of storage. The Wi-Fi-only models are priced at $599, $749, and $899, respectively. The Wi-Fi+Cellular models are priced at $729, $879, and $1,029. You can pre-order them starting March 24, with deliveries scheduled for March 31.