On March 21, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) unveiled its next generation 9.7-inch iPad, marketing as a smaller addition to the iPad Pro family. In my mind, the new iPad Pro is an excellent product that represents the iPad at its best.
Let's take a closer look at what the iDevice maker delivered with its latest iPad.
Significant leap in camera performance/quality
Apple's iPad lines have tended to use front and rear-facing cameras that pale significantly to the camera subsystems found in the latest iPhones. This was true of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro that launched late last year, but it no longer holds for the 9.7-inch iPad Pro.
The new tablet comes packed with the same 5 megapixel front-facing camera as well as the 12-megapixel rear-facing camera that Apple included in the iPhone 6s. The new Pro does not appear to feature the optical image stabilization feature that's included in the rear camera of iPhone 6s Plus, however.
For users upgrading from older generation iPads, even the iPad Air 2, the improvement in camera capability should be quite significant.
Innovative new display
Apple also revealed that the new iPad Pro features an all-new display. The display, Apple claims, is made from the same Metal Oxide TFT material that the display of the iPad Pro is made of, but with several enhancements.
The first is that the new display is able to cover a wider color gamut -- the DCI-P3 gamut -- than the large iPad Pro's display can. According to Apple, this means that the new iPad can deliver 25% greater color saturation than prior generation iPad displays.
Next, Apple says that the new display reflects even less light than the prior generation iPad Air 2 -- around 40% less. It's worth noting that Apple first introduced its anti-reflective coating with the iPad Air 2, so Apple is taking something that was already best in class and making it meaningfully better.
Finally, the display is a "True Tone display." The idea here is that, using input from a couple of four-channel ambient light sensors, the new iPad can dynamically adjust the color temperature of the display to make it seem as though the display is reflecting the light around it.
A cut down A9X chip, only two gigabytes of RAM
Although the new iPad includes the same A9X chip that's found in the larger iPad, the chip's performance is actually dialed back. Modestly in terms of CPU performance but significantly in terms of graphics performance.
Additionally, from the Geekbench 3 performance scores that have hit the Web, it's clear that memory performance is way down. In the large iPad Pro, Apple uses a quad-channel memory configuration. I suspect that in dropping down from 4 gigabytes of memory to just 2 gigabytes in the new iPad Pro, Apple also moved from using four memory channels to just two, halving theoretical peak memory bandwidth.
Graphics performance is also substantially down. It's not clear if the reduction in memory bandwidth was to accommodate a much slower graphics engine or if that reduction was a significant cause of the graphics performance degradation. I suspect this is a case of a little column A and a little column B.
That said, the new iPad's graphics performance is still substantially ahead of the iPad Air 2, according to tests performed by Ars Technica.
Great device, looking forward to buying one
After giving the 12.9-inch iPad Pro a shot and subsequently returning it, I wrote that if Apple put out an iPad Air 3 with the A9X, iPad Pro-like quad speakers, and an improved display, I'd be "excited to buy one -- and keep it."
The iPad Pro 9.7-inch meets and/or exceeds my expectations in just about every category, and as such I plan to put in an order for one as soon as Apple makes them available on its online store.