Apple's iPad Pro Delivers New Features Needed to Spur Tablet Sales

NEWS ANALYSIS: New iPhones and a big-screen iPad took center stage at Apple's annual product introductions, but the new iPad model was the star for a number of reasons.

iPad Pro Debut 2

Imagine that Apple instead of Microsoft designed the Surface Pro and you'll have a good idea of what to expect with the iPad Pro. Both tablets are about the same size and thickness and both have an optional magnetic keyboard.

Both devices have an active stylus, but Microsoft is a standard feature, while Apple's is an option. Both are designed for work more than they are for recreation.

Of course, there are differences. For one, Apple does include more recreational options and may be designed more for creative expression, but in reality the differences are smaller than they may seem. Both, it would seem, are tablets aimed at what has been called the Ultrabook market.

For the iPad Pro, this is a very good thing. The iPad has always been a sort of stepchild for Apple. It started out life as little more than an iPod with a larger screen, but with each generational update it grew in capability and began being accepted for business use.

In the past few years, the iPad tablet reached a point at which it became good enough to run business applications effectively, leaving little reason for anyone to upgrade.

For example, if a pilot bought a third-generation iPad with a retina display for to work with flight documentation, the new iPad Air offered little extra. The charts and checklists looked the same, navigation worked the same way and performance was good enough. Likewise, if an iPad was used for developing presentations or showing real estate photos, little changed with each model update.

This meant that no matter how nice the new iPad Air 2 might be it didn't offer enough new features or performance to convince many businesses to spend the money to upgrade. Thus, sales declined quarter over quarter. Worse, other companies, notably Microsoft, offered tablets that did more.

The iPad Pro finally gives iPad users something that's worth the price of an upgrade. In this case, that something is a very high resolution 12.9 inch-screen. The width of the new screen happens to exactly equal the height of the screen on the iPad Air 2. That means that you could open two apps side by side on the 12.9-inch screen and they'd be the same size as a single app on the iPad Air 2.

The ability to open two apps on the same screen at the same time implies that the new iPad Pro will handle multitasking, something users have wanted for a long time. And in fact, the iPad Pro does support multitasking as Apple presenters demonstrated in the Sept. 9 briefing. Whether the multitasking is limited to two applications or whether the iPad Pro can run several apps at the same time (as the Surface Pro can) remains unclear.

But being able to open two apps and switch between them as they continue to run is far more than twice as good. Even limited multitasking is a significant productivity boost over the iPads of yore.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...