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4 Surprises From Apple's iPad Pro

By Daniel B. Kline - Sep 11, 2015 at 11:00AM

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The new tablet was expected, but some of its features, add-ons, and the audience it was targeted at was not.

A new, larger iPad was one of the expected announcements at Apple's (AAPL 0.17%) September Event.

The company didn't disappoint, but just because people knew (or expected) it was coming didn't mean the introduction lacked surprises. Called the iPad Pro, the device includes two things Apple has never previously offered. It also raises questions about whom the product has been created for. 

The iPad Pro. Source: Apple screenshot.

Apple CEO Tim Cook said the new device was part of a push into enterprise uses for Apple's tablet.

"We've been amazed with the new and unexpected things people have done with the iPad," he said, "so we asked ourselves, How can we take the iPad even further?" The CEO then introduced the Pro, which he called "the biggest news in iPad since iPad."

That's a bold statement, and one that that seems true for only a relatively small subset of users and potential users for the new tablet.

It has a really big screen that's pretty impressive
Basically, the only thing media prognosticators agreed on about the new iPad was that it would have a larger screen than any previous version of the device. That prediction proved true, as Phil Schiller, Apple's senior VP of marketing, announced that the new iPad has a 12.9-inch screen.

"Why make a bigger display? It's a magical piece of glass that lets you touch the software," he said. "It can do things that a smartphone can't do, because it doesn't have to fit in your pocket, and it can do things a laptop can't do because you can hold it all day."

The screen also allows what Schiller described as a "full-size" virtual keyboard. In addition, the width of the Pro is the same as the length of the iPad Air. That allows for running apps designed for the earlier version of the tablet with room to spare to do other things. The screen also has 5.6 million pixels -- more than a Retina MacBook Pro.

"[It's] the most advanced display we've ever built," Schiller said.

It has a physical keyboard
One of the announcements of an accessory that was somewhat shocking was a physical keyboard. The add-on has a unique look, with "woven fabric" creating the structure for the keys.

It's connected to the iPad Pro with what Apple is calling the "Smart Connector," three circles on the side of the tablet that carry power and data to and from the keyboard.

The keyboard makes the new iPad look an awful lot like a Microsoft Surface. Source: Apple.

It also has a stylus
Apple isn't calling the new stylus-like device for iPad Pro a stylus, but that's what it is. The company has named the device Apple Pencil, which doesn't make it less surprising that apple has introduced a feature it was always reported Steve Jobs objected to.

Apple described its not-a-stylus on its website immediately after event ended.

With its pixel‑perfect precision, Apple Pencil expands the power of Multi‑Touch and opens up new creative possibilities. It's sensitive to both tilt and pressure, allowing you to create a range of artistic strokes and effects -- from the thinnest of lines to subtle shading. Beyond adding new capabilities to iPad Pro, Apple Pencil also feels completely natural and responsive from the moment you pick it up.

The Apple Pencil is meant to be used in conjunction with touch, which the company conceded during the event would remain the principal method of inputting to the new iPad. Still, big promises were made for how the stylus-ish add-on would work.

"When iPad Pro senses Apple Pencil, the subsystem scans its signal at an astounding 240 times per second, giving it twice the data points it normally collects with your finger," the company wrote. "This data, combined with Apple‑designed software, means that there's only milliseconds between the image you have in your mind and the one you see on the display."

It's a whole new market
Although the iPad Pro appears to be a competitor to its Surface Pro line, Microsoft was given stage time to show how Office will work on the new tablet. It was an appearance meant to surprise the the crowd, and it certainly showed the ever-blurring line between competitors and partners.

Apple also trotted out Adobe for a similar demo, which showed features it had built into some of its programs specifically designed for iPad Pro.

The new tablet was positioned using the word "enterprise," and it certainly seems like a rival for Surface Pro 3 and that entire Microsoft product line in general. Apple didn't try to pretend the Pro is for everyone, but it did push it to serve a niche. The unanswered question, of course, is who should buy the tablet/keyboard combo instead of a comparably priced MacBook Air.

Essentially, Apple is betting that improved specs, including a more powerful processor, and the addition of the keyboard and stylus, will unlock some new uses and a new audience for iPad. That's a big bet that has only been a modest success for Microsoft, but Apple has never hesitated to attempt to conquer a market where a competitor has struggled.

The Pencil costs $99, while the Smart Keyboard is $169. iPad Pro will start will start at $799 for 32GB with WiFi, or 128GB for $949.

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