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The Apple Inc. iPad Pro Lineup Is Kind of Awkward

By Ashraf Eassa – Mar 30, 2016 at 10:30AM

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Forced awkwardness in the iDevice maker's tablet lineup should be corrected in early 2017.

Apple's iPad lineup. Image source: Apple. 

In Nov. 2015, Apple (AAPL 0.56%) made available the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, the company's largest and -- at the time -- most advanced tablet computer. At its March 21 press event, Apple filled out its iPad Pro lineup with a cheaper, smaller version of the iPad Pro with a 9.7-inch display.

Having multiple sizes of its flagship iPad Pro lineup certainly makes sense. However, it's hard to ignore the fact that despite being significantly more expensive, the larger iPad Pro isn't in all respects better than the smaller one.

Where the larger model wins
Although both tablets use Apple's A9X processor, the A9X chip inside of the smaller iPad Pro runs both the CPU and graphics processor at lower speeds. This is likely due to the fact that the larger iPad Pro packs a larger battery (meaning the chip can consume more power while keeping battery in check), as well as the fact that the larger Pro is larger in all critical dimensions, allowing it to handle the additional heat output of the more powerful chip.

The larger iPad Pro also packs in four gigabytes of system memory, twice that of the smaller device.

I count two significant "wins" for the larger iPad Pro, although in day-to-day usage these differences are unlikely to matter for most users/use cases. 

Where the smaller model wins
Although the larger iPad Pro does get a few in on the smaller one, the smaller one does far more than that. For one thing, the smaller iPad Pro features a significantly better display than the larger one by way of being both far brighter and supporting a wider color gamut.

On top of that, the smaller Pro comes with what is called a "True Tone" display, which senses the color temperature of ambient light and adjusts the color temperature of the display to match.

Beyond that, the smaller Pro has a substantially better camera subsystem (the same one found in the iPhone 6s/6s Plus) and is significantly thinner (6.1 millimeters versus 6.9 millimeters).

That's three wins for the smaller iPad Pro, with each of them very difficult to miss. 

Apple is in a corner this time around; course correction should come with iPad Pro 2
Apple is placed in this position because the large iPad Pro that we ultimately got in late 2015 was apparently originally targeted for early 2015 (using an A8X chip). Had it come out then, rather than in late 2015, Apple would almost certainly have refreshed the larger Pro in early 2016 along with the introduction of the smaller model.

For now, though, I think that Apple is simply going to "ride it out" with the current large iPad Pro until early 2017. Apple could do a "mid-cycle" update to bring the larger Pro more in line with its smaller sibling, but without a new processor, such an update probably wouldn't be worthwhile.

In early 2017, I expect Apple to roll out new iPads with virtual feature parity using a new A10X processor. Apple seems pretty bent on saving the iPad, so don't be surprised if you see the iDevice maker being even more aggressive about delivering increasingly large year-over-year technology leaps with its iPad line. 

Ashraf Eassa has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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