Switch to iPad: Issue 43

iPad Pro 2021: Mac power parity


Apple held its Spring Loaded event two days ago, and it was a treat for anyone eying a new iPad Pro. In fact, the iPad Pro took such a centre stage that Apple announced colorful M1 iMacs, and the much-rumored AirTag accessory, before even getting to the iPad Pros.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what they announced, rather than just rushing to posting something as I initially had planned. There’s a ton of recaps out there, you’ve probably read some of them, seen some videos where video producers are gushing over the ridiculous power-bump the iPad Pros received, and they’re not wrong being enthusiastic, optimistic even.

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Let’s dive into the iPad Pro details right away. First of all, it’s still two sizes so the 11” isn’t going anywhere this year, despite the iPad Air’s existence. They look and weigh the same as previous years, so if you’re on a 2018 or 2020 model, expect to be able to use the same Apple Pencil or Magic Keyboard with your new purchase.

Both iPad Pro models get the M1 chip, which isn’t surprising but still pretty great. Combined with the fact that Apple are bumping the RAM — 16 GB in 1 TB and 2 TB models, 8 GB in lower storage options — and you’re basically looking at M1 MacBook Air parity in power here. Except you get a touchscreen on your iPad Pro, and the snappiness of iPadOS. I’d hoped this would mean even better battery life — an M1 MacBook Air outperforms my iPad Pro, which seems magical and weird, in that area — but Apple are still talking all-day battery, so I guess not. And yes, there’s a 2 TB option now too.

The new iPad Pros all have Wi-Fi 6, and the USB-C port is now actually Thunderbolt, which is nice. The iPad Pro can now power the crazy expensive XDR display if you want it to. If you’re going for the cellular version, you get 5G now too. Finally, there's a new TrueDepth camera with 1080p support at 25, 30, or 60 frames per second. The new Center Stage feature, which tracks you and your fellow humans by zooming in and out, basically acting like a camera operator, looks really promising. Center Stage is available as an API too, but don’t expect it to hit other video conferencing apps than FaceTime anytime soon. For shots, the camera has a 12 MP wide and a 10 MP ultra-wide camera, which is up one camera from before. The TrueDepth camera is also 12 MP ultra-wide now, another bump.

There’s a perk for the 12.9” model, and that’s the new Liquid Retina XDR display. This is the rumored Mini-LED update, and it proved to be true. It’s crazy by the numbers, with 10,000 Mini-LEDs, 2596 dimming zones, 1,000,000 to 1 contrast ratio, and 1,000 nits screen brightness. Those numbers are staggering. By comparison, the 11” model has 600 nits, also a pretty strong screen. The iPad Pro screens have been outstanding from the beginning, but this new Liquid Retina XDR display sure sounds like something else, and given Apple’s track record, I’m inclined to believe the hype.

But what do those numbers mean?

  • The 2021 M1 CPU is 50% faster than the 2020 A12Z.

  • Graphics in the M1 is supposed to be 40% faster than the A12Z.

  • Thunderbolt transfer speeds are up to 40 Gbps, when peripherals support it, which might not speed up your SD card transfers (unless you got a wicked fast adapter and card), but will do wonders for Thunderbolt hard-drives for example. And you can connect the Pro Display XDR with full 6K resolution, which is fun, but not exactly reasonable given the state of external display support in iPadOS.

It’s a serious upgrade, as we’re used to by now. The 12.9” Liquid Retina XDR display is the killer though, which makes it a shame that we’re not getting it on the 11” model.

Should you upgrade to a 2021 iPad Pro?

This is always the tricky question, but it’s easier than ever to answer.

  • First of all, are you using an iPad Pro model today? If not, but you want to, then yes, of course you should upgrade.

  • Second, assuming you are using an iPad Pro model today, is it the size, as in screen and storage, that you need? If not, of course you should upgrade.

It gets a little muddier after that.

  • Is your iPad Pro model from 2018? Then yeah, maybe it’s time to upgrade, but honestly, unless you use your iPad Pro for seriously intense things, the 2018 more than holds its own. Older models aren’t getting any worse just because there are better ones available, and these new iPad Pros feels ridiculously overpowered for so many things people are using these devices for.

  • Is your iPad Pro model of the 2020 variety? Then you better be pretty flush with cash, or use it for very demanding things where the new M1 chip and added RAM gets put to the test because the 2020 iPad Pro is crazy fast.

  • Are you an iPad nerd that really wants that new Liquid Retina HDR screen on your iPad? Yeah, upgrade if you can afford it.

  • Are you, for whatever reason, upgrading to future-proof yourself? This I don’t understand because unless you need more power, or is disappointed in the current screen, then why buy something for needs you might not ever have?

How expensive did it get?

Both the 11” and the 12.9” start at 128 GB storage, and goes up to 2 TB each in increments. The base models, Wi-Fi only, start $799 and $1099 respectively ($999 and $1299 if you want cellular too). If you want that additional RAM you need to get at least the 1 TB model, which is $1499 and $1799 respectively ($1699 and $1999 for cellular). Maxing it out with 2 TB is $1899 and $2199, or $2099 and $2399 if you need cellular.

$2399 is a lot of money for a maxed-out 12.9” iPad Pro. The $300 premium for cellular is perhaps worth less than ever thanks to the pandemic, so there’s money to save there, but personally I like the safety net it gives me. 4G speeds are more than decent where I live, many of my friends rely on cellular broadband rather than wired to save money, and 5G is spreading too. Then again, chances are your phone can act as a hotspot, and $300 is a lot of money, so choose wisely.

But why put all this power in an iPad?

Let’s be clear here: The 2020 iPad Pro models are crazy fast and powerful. They constantly outperformed my old Intel MacBook Pro in overall snappiness, battery-life, but also things like 4K rendering. With M1 Macs, the MacBook Air now does these things just as well, if not better, and it doesn’t feel like I’m on the superior device anymore. The more versatile platform, sure, but power-wise, M1 put the Macs in front again.

M1 iPad Pros levels the playing field. Now you pick your device based on the platform and interaction models, and for me, personally that further underlines the iPad as the more enjoyable computing device. After all, it’s what Switch to iPad is all about, so I applaud this move. That said, I’m not saying everyone should nor need to buy an M1 iPad Pro because chances are you don’t need that sort of power. It’s good that it exists, don’t get it until you need to upgrade, for whatever reason.

The case for more power in the iPad is obviously pro apps, and professional use overall. There are a few stand-out pro apps available already, like LumaFusion for video, Affinity’s suite for designing and photos, and even Adobe with their recently released iPadOS versions of Photoshop and Illustrator. Apple clearly wants more of this, but they’re not exactly leading by example. WWDC might change that, alongside announcing more power-user updates to iPadOS. Right now, the hardware is the least of Apple’s problem, they need to get the apps and the software to keep up with it.

Bits and pieces

There’s a new Magic Keyboard too, although don’t get too excited. It’s the same model, but in white. I can see people wanting this, but how will that age? We’ll see.

Speaking of keyboards, Logitech announced a new one too. The new Combo Touch is already available in the US for the 11” model, and coming soon for the 12.9” one. It features a fully capable trackpad, and a kickstand, so this might be an option if you don’t like the look and feel of the Magic Keyboard. It’s very Surface-like, if that’s something you think is a good thing.

Logitech isn’t the only ones getting ready to release new keyboards in the wake of Apple’s event. Brydge has a new one with a snap-fit (called SnapFit case) rather than the hooks they’ve used before. Brydge 12.9 MAX+ is available for pre-order, no news on an 11” version, though.

Apple sure likes that look though because the new M1 iMac models sure shares a lot with an iPad Pro in the Magic Keyboard.

The M1 iMac comes with new color-coded keyboards too. They’re not available stand-alone yet, but are confirmed to be working with other Macs, so they’ll likely work with iPadOS as well. Except some changes to the layout, the added Touch ID sensor is a nice touch (pun intended). It’s unlikely that’ll work when connected to an iPad though, as it’s an M1 Mac feature, but perhaps it could. I’m intrigued by these keyboards, not all of us think the Magic Keyboard accessory is the best thing since sliced bread for our iPad Pros. More on this soon, I’d wager.

Other than the AirTag, Apple also announced a new version of the Apple TV 4K, running the A12 Bionic chip. It supports Bluetooth 5 and Wi-Fi 6, but perhaps the biggest news is a new Siri Remote. More buttons, less nonsense, or so it seems at least. Don’t expect to find it, or your spanking new 2021 iPad Pro for that matter, using the U1 feature like the AirTags though — that chip is in neither of these devices. That’s not a big deal for iPad Pros, you can use Find My since they’re network enabled devices, but the Siri Remote could technically go astray. To be fair, that usually involves somewhere in the couch, so it matters less.

Apple Card and the TV+ service both got mentions too. The sooner isn’t available in my region, and the latter was just trailers, but if you’re interested, hit the links.

You can watch the whole event in the TV app, or here if you prefer YouTube.

Apple events are different these days, pre-recorded and all. I like them better, they’re a lot more slick than before, and get the story across in a much reasonable 60 minutes. There’s room for a little bit of tomfoolery, but overall, it’s a sharp format. As for the announcements, I think iPad Pro users should be mostly pleased, although the 11” version is now the lesser one in more than size, and Mac people will love the new M1 iMacs. Personally, I’d hope to see a new iPad mini, but wasn’t really expecting one. It’s more likely to be an incremental update later on, or, if Apple decides it’s a key device, it’ll join the iPad Air with the new form factor at a consumer event.

What I’m getting? Well, I have to see that new iPad Pro screen, and I’m taking quite a bit of photos, so I’ll likely max out the 12.9” iPad Pro when pre-orders begin on April 30th. And new Apple TV 4Ks because I like better connectivity and speed, but could honestly just as well pick up new Siri Remotes instead. Nobody loves those old Remotes, get me the new one post-haste! If you disagree, feel free to tweet to @tdh with your arguments.

Until next time, stay safe!

— Thord D. Hedengren ⚡️

Switch to iPad: Issue 41

Is Apple Arcade worth it?


Fancy playing a game? If you’re an Apple Arcade subscriber, you have over 180 titles to choose from now, a whopping amount of content for $5/month to be sure, but is it worth the money? After all, the App Store is jam-packed with games, some truly great titles, and then there’s always the chance you have a game-capable PC or games console that begs for your attention. Apple sure is pushing for it, it’s on the front page on apple.com as I’m writing this, and the landing page makes a compelling case.

Let’s examine Apple Arcade, and if it’s worth the monthly fiver, from a few different points of view.

This issue of Switch to iPad is free thanks to my paying subscribers. I’m so grateful for their support. I hope you’ll consider becoming one of them, it’s just as cheap as Apple Arcade ($5/month, or $50/year if you prefer). Do consider it, thank you! 🙏🏻

What is Apple Arcade?

Apple Arcade launched back in 2019, and is a subscription service for games. The titles made available on Apple Arcade are playable on iPhone, iPads, Macs, and Apple TVs, at least overall, we’ll get to that in a bit. All games are free of ads, privacy-friendly, and there are no additional subscriptions or in-app purchases. You can install and play one game, or as many as you like. The games are, as of now, only available through the Arcade subscription if you want to play them on an Apple device, but you can get some them on other platforms (Yaga is available on Switch and PC too, for example).

Now, all of that used to be true, but then Apple started adding what they call App Store Greats and Timeless Classics, which are re-issues (if you like) of previous games. That means that the likes of Threes! and Really Bad Chess are now available in Arcade versions through the subscription, while still being offered in the regular App Store. It muddies the water a bit, but I think it’s a great idea, bringing the best from the App Store, to the Arcade offering. After all, Threes! might be an old game, but knowing it’ll be updated to work on modern devices, and getting sucked into it again, is great for me as an Arcade subscriber. These releases muddy the water even further though because they’re not necessarily playable on Apple TV or the Mac, which is true for the original Arcade releases, so there’s a slight divide in the offering there. I think it’s understandable though, the games were made years before Apple Arcade existed. The point will be moot in the future anyway, when all Macs have Apple Silicon and thus be able to run the games just like any other App Store app.

So, Apple Arcade consists of three types of releases: Arcade Originals, App Store Greats, and Timeless Classics. New games are coming on a weekly basis, sometimes in chunks like this last release, with the addition of the latter two categories, and they’re all included in the subscription. And yes, you can get Apple Arcade with the Apple One or Family offerings.

🎮 Which controllers work?
Controller support for iPadOS is pretty good. Xbox One (including Elite Series 2, but not the Series X version yet) and Dual Shock 4 controllers can be paired, as can a bunch of third-party compatibles. Future updates will add support for the Xbox Elite controller, as well as the Dual Sense controller that Sony introduced with PlayStation 5. There are also Made for iOS controllers that’ll work, but not necessarily all of them and unless you own one you like, I advise against them — they’re just not as good as Microsoft’s and Sony’s offerings.

Apple Arcade for the family

It’s no surprise that Apple Arcade is fairly family oriented, it’s Apple after all. You won’t find any Gears of War-likes here, even the zombie games are family-friendly. It’s a safe place for kids and adults alike, which makes Arcade a pretty solid addition to a Family subscription. While there’s nothing for the smallest family members, you can certainly find games suitable to either play with your kids, or for themselves to enjoy.

Three games to try:

  • Cut the Rope Remastered is a 3D version of the classic with the same name.

  • Spyder is a 3D adventure game featuring a robot spider, what could possibly go wrong?

  • LEGO Brawls is mini-figs duking it out in a typical online platform brawler, for the slightly older kids.

⁉️ Is Apple Arcade worth it for a family? That would depend on the family, I’m painting broad strokes here, but assuming there are some screen-loving kids in the lower ages, then yes, then it’s a safe space with tons of content. The fact that there’s no risk of kids being tricked into making in-app purchases for thousands of dollars in these games could be worth it alone.

Casual gamers

Apple Arcade was a pretty good choice for casual gamers to begin with, but with the addition of App Store Greats and Timeless Classics, it became something of a no-brainer. There are plenty of games for the casual gamer to while away the time while waiting for the bus, roast, or lunch break to be over. If you find yourself looking for something to kill the time, while not wanting to invest a lot of effort into, Arcade is a great option for you. Granted, the App Store is full of games targeting casual gamers, but most of them are free to play, meaning they’ll try to trick you into buying gems and whatnot through in-app purchases. It’s not a great feeling, knowing you’re paying to win or progress, and since there’s absolutely none of that on Apple Arcade, I’d say it’s a tantalizing option.

Three games to try:

  • Roundguard is a shoot the wizard ball through levels kind of game.

  • What the Golf? is a silly golf game where you (usually) shoot the players towards the pin, and not the other way around.

  • Threes!+ is the Arcade version of the classic puzzle game Threes!, and it’s utterly brilliant.

⁉️ Is Apple Arcade worth it for casual gamers? For sure, just getting rid of those pesky pay to win titles, and spending time with games with an honest attitude, makes it worthwhile. Getting App Store Greats and Timeless Classics is just gravy, as they say.

Hardcore gamers

Ah, we’re getting to the heart of it now. Look, if you care about the latest and greatest graphics, this isn’t for you. Even if you’ve got an iPad Pro, the games on Arcade or the App Store won’t measure up to a gaming PC, a somewhat modern PlayStation or Xbox. They’re more in line with the Switch, or an Xbox 360. On the other hand, Nintendo’s Switch is the best-selling gaming console, so maybe that doesn’t matter to you?

Apple Arcade is a touch sell to hardcore gamers. While a growing number of games have more than adequate controller support, and you can use great controllers such Xbox One and PlayStation ones, it’s still not universally great. What’s worse, the actual game offering is lacking because there are no Call of DutyCivilization, or Legend of Zelda. That’s not to say there aren’t games that hold up for the typical hardcore gamer, they’re just in a minority on the platform. A part of this is because Apple is keeping things PG13, but it’s just not the whole story.

Three games to try:

  • World of Demons from PlatinumGames features a beautiful graphics style, and a lot of slashing.

  • NBA 2K21 Arcade Edition lets you hit the courts on your own, or with a friend.

  • Fantasian is a JRPG from Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, and it’s absolutely beautiful. First part is out now, second to come later.

⁉️ Is Apple Arcade worth it for hardcore gamers? Well, no, I don’t think so, not if we’re using the same criteria as we do for the other types of gamers mentioned. But let’s put it this way: There are games on Arcade that could pique your interest, and $5/month is $60/year. Can you find 3-4 games you really want to dig into? Yeah, I bet you could, which makes those games pretty cheap on the whole. It’s not as clean-cut as for other types of gamers though, maybe that’s why Apple Arcade becomes a better bargain as part of the One and Family subscriptions.

I’ve been subscribing to Apple Arcade from the start, and while the initial offer was a bit thin, albeit growing, you can’t say the same today. There are so many games I haven’t had time to play yet, they’re just sitting there on a screen on my iPad waiting for attention. Over 180 titles for $5/month is a great deal objectively, but it has to add value as well. Apple has a long way to go with Arcade, and for many it just might not make sense on its own. That’s why they’re bundling it with its other services, and that’s why it’s an obvious add-on for most families.

I hope we’ll get more hardcore games though, and that Apple continues to woo the indies. Card of Darkness alone makes Apple Arcade a good deal for fans of Adventure Time and/or card battlers. Games like that can thrive on a platform like this.

Do you think Apple Arcade is worth it? Tell me, either by hitting reply if you’re reading this in your inbox, or by tweeting to @tdh.

Until next time, happy gaming!

— Thord D. Hedengren ⚡️

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