Switch to iPad: Issue 47

Why iPad Pro 2021?


As you might’ve noticed, Very Important People (which usually means YouTubers these days) have gotten review units of the 2021 iPad Pro. Most of them have gotten the 12.9” model with 1-2 TB storage, and — of course — the new white Magic Keyboard. Now, I’m not important enough to get one of those from Apple, nor have I asked for it, so I’ll save my thoughts for later. If you can’t wait for a one-week review, do a search, or just hit up Chris Lawley’s excellent overview.

And yes, I’ve ordered the 2 TB 12.9” iPad Pro, slated for delivery on May 21, the official release date. Will DHL find me? That’s a different matter altogether.

This is a 🆓 issue of Switch to iPad, I hope you’ll enjoy it. If you do, please consider subscribing. It’s $5/month or $50/year, and you get full access to the complete archives. That’s a novel-length of iPad letters, just for you. Thank you!

But why, and what, do I need a new iPad Pro for? I’m writing this on the 2020 1 TB equivalent, and it’s never asked to be upgraded. In fact, it’s really snappy, and I have to push it with truly specific tasks to get it to break. Things like copying tons of files without keeping the Files app open, for example, that can be a bit of a hit or miss. The videos I do, while shot in 4K, doesn’t feature as much A or B roll as, say, a YouTuber’s would, so LumaFusion doesn’t care that my iPad Pro is from last year. In fact, it thoroughly smashed my old 16” MacBook Pro with 32 GB RAM and a top-tier Intel chip when comparing rendering times. Of course, the M1 Mac minis I use for development work make short work of the 2020 iPad Pro with the same tasks, running the faster M1 chip. Just like the 2021 iPad Pro, as I’m sure you remember.

This brings us to a potential why get the 2021 iPad Pro: Power parity with M1 Macs (Mac mini, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and the new iMac). And it’s not just the processors that are the same, you even get Mac-amounts of RAM — 8 or 16 GB — in the new iPad Pros. That’s quite a step-up from the 6 GB that the 2020 iPad Pro offers. 

The thing is, I don’t think that Mac power parity is a good enough reason. Take the video rendering thing, where you definitely see a difference between 2020 iPad Pros and the M1 in the 2021 version (which I don’t have, so I’ll just rely on the M1 in my Mac minis). The M1 is faster, it’s noticeable, when rendering video, but how much faster? Someone with larger videos to play with (hi Chris!) is more than welcome to do a live comparison, it would be interesting, but to me, this is something that’s truly noticeable if you put the devices side by side. We’re talking anything from seconds to minutes, but if something takes, say, 8 minutes, and it goes down to 6 minutes, then that’s a radical improvement, but it’s still such a break that I’d argue it matters less.

Video rendering aside, I don’t see my 2020 iPad Pro breaking a sweat when working with RAW photos in Darkroom. I’m sure the 2021 version will load these images fast, but it’s so fast already, it’s just not an issue.

So, why get a 2021 M1 iPad Pro?

Scratch that, why make such an overpowered device in the first place? Apple isn’t exactly know for cranking up the juice like this, going from 6 GB RAM to 16 GB on the top tier is, for them and their iPads, unheard of. They barely make spec-bumps like that on their Macs. Are they doing this because they can? Or to avoid background memory crashes for crazy file-copying actions? Is it perhaps a matter of having the M1 geared up with the memory already, due to the Macs?

WWDC will tell because the only reason for this radical spec bump in the iPad Pro line-up, is software that can take advantage of it.

Don’t get me wrong, there are already apps that do. By all accounts, everything is fast and snappy, but — and I’ll say this again — it already was. Lack of speed hasn’t been an iPad Pro issue since the 2018 model came out, and barely before that. It’s been (Intel) Mac class, and just downright impressive.

The iPad first crowd has been begging for pro-level apps from Apple for a long time. It’s not the iPad, it’s the apps and the operating system, that’s the consensus, and they’re not wrong. They do forget that there already are pro-level apps for the iPad, like the Affinity apps which I’ve written about before, LumaFusion of course, the truly solid git client Working Copy, and of course Procreate used by professional illustrators, to name a few.

The problem is in the messaging. There is no Xcode, you can’t develop apps for your iPad, on your iPad, which bothers people. It bothers me too, but not as much as the sandbox limitations, which means I can’t easily run local dev servers for web development. The problem there is neither the lack of VS Code nor git, it’s that I have to do everything online, which slows things down. And don’t get me started on browser testing, something you just can’t do on an iPad because everything’s Webkit.

Technically, any app built for the M1 Macs is iPadOS compatible. It’s not, obviously, but looking at just the architecture, it kind of is.

WWDC is mere weeks away. Every year, want to believers hold their breath for Final Cut, Xcode, or Logic for iPadOS, thus paving the way for the truly professional apps. And every year, we get something, like Adobe making promises (and delivering on them, albeit slowly), and that’s good. It’s just not the boom, the big statement, the announcement that yes, now you can make apps on your iPad because here’s Xcode, baby!

It’s not the vindication you’re clamoring for, that you’re not a nut for going iPad only. Something you could easily argue before, but even more so now, with the current slew of M1 Macs.

My 2020 iPad Pro feels just as fast today as it did when I got it. The fact that I have snappy M1 Macs doesn’t change that. And having an M1 Mac doesn’t mean that the Mac can be used as an iPad, I can’t pick it up and do a quick sketch with the Pencil. Pros and cons, most of them have less to do with power parity and more with ways to interact.

Why did I order the 2021 iPad Pro, in its top tier no less? Well, I love my iPads, I’m looking forward to that screen, and I’ve never been disappointed by an Apple upgrade in a product line I’ve enjoyed. This is a huge spec bump, don’t get me wrong, but do I need it? Probably not.

Do you?

Maybe neither of us will truly know until after WWDC. If there ever was a reason to hope for the big pro-bump on iPadOS, this is the year. The year iPad Pros and Macs walk side by side, at least for a little while.

I can’t wait.

Thord D. Hedengren ⚡️

In the wild…