Apple released a new iPad Pro recently. Of course, it came with a host of new features, including a better processor and a LiDAR scanner. But the most talked-about feature of the new iPad Pro was something that was actually not even a part of it. It was… wait for it:
Yes, for all the talk of better specs and the revolutionary LiDAR which would add a new dimension to AR, at the end of the day, most of the tech folks I talked to were enchanted by the Magic Keyboard accessory (which costs almost as much as a base iPad), which allowed the iPad to sort of float above the keys, looking downright magical.
And that fact somehow tells the story of where the iPad has arrived in its journey that began ten years ago in the hands of Steve Jobs. To take you back to that time, the iPad was a tablet. A third screen that was supposed to slot in between the small screen of your phone and the rather too large screen of your notebook. It had no real notebook aspirations. Jobs actually showed how comfortable it was to use while sitting down. It was supposed to be a device on which content was to be consumed rather than produced. One that you could carry easily with you, and handle basic tasks like emails, social networks and messaging. And it had one of iOS’s most underrated features – a brilliant touchscreen keyboard – but mostly, the iPad was about viewing. It was a large touchscreen that you could interact with, but Apple insisted that it was not competition for a notebook.
Of course, that did not stop many of us from using it as a makeshift notebook of sorts. The light form factor and the excellent battery life made it quite a handy proposition for media persons, who needed to read and write a fair bit throughout the day. Some of us paired it with Bluetooth keyboards, others simply got used to the onscreen one. But for quite a while, Apple kept the iPad stubbornly in the tablet zone. It was not a notebook.
That changed a bit with the arrival of the iPad Pro in 2016. Yes, it was a tablet but it came with a magnetic keyboard, which could be attached to it, making it a sort of a makeshift notebook. But then it was available only for the Pro range of the iPads, a bit like those Pro avatars of smartphones that used to come with physical keyboards at one time. The iPad itself remained a tablet. As the days passed, however, it was clear that it was a tablet that was inching towards being a notebook – multitasking was improved, floating and split windows came to the party, office applications improved, and well, as we came to the end of 2019, all the recent iPads, barring the tiny iPad mini, had an Apple keyboard folio cover that could work with them.
That said, however much one used keyboards with one’s iPad or iPad Pro, there always seemed to be something different about a notebook. The deeper keys, the better viewing angles and of course, the ability to use a trackpad and a mouse if needed. The new iPad Pro pretty much brings all of those to iPad lad. The Magic Keyboard has a trackpad, the OS has support for a cursor and a mouse and well, you can adjust viewing angles now. Yes, the software on the iPad OS is still not quite as notebook friendly as on a Mac or a Windows notebook, but going by what has been happening, I guess it is just a matter of time before apps become seamless between Mac OS and iOS/iPad OS. In fact, that new keyboard means that you can actually use an iPad for extended durations without even having to touch the screen.
Let it be remembered, though, that the keyboard is still an (expensive) accessory that has to be purchased separately, and that the OS running on the iPad is still closer to the touch interface on an iPhone than the cursor driven one on the MacBook. That said, it is increasingly becoming apparent that the iPad is en route to becoming a notebook of some sort. Is that a bad thing, some would ask? I mean, surely as long as one is able to work on it, what does it matter?
Do we really need a third screen?
As someone who has been spoilt by one, I think we do. I love the simple utility of taking out an iPad and flipping through the news on Flipboard or just watching some videos and films – it is way more satisfying than a phone and way more convenient than a notebook (mainly because I do not have to fold it out and switch it on and then be aware of where the keyboard is, or fiddle with a cursor to open a file). Somehow it feels nice to be able to reach out and TOUCH content – it feels a lot more intimate than sitting back and selecting icons with a mouse or a trackpad.
The keyword there is “intimate.” An iPad simply seems so much more at home wherever you use it. I have gone to sleep while reading on it. I have sat on stone benches in cities and watched films on it. And yes, I have sat in a metro making notes and sketching on it. All of this is of course possible on a notebook as well. But it is not remotely as comfortable. And well, we do consume more content than ever now – all that Netflix binge video watching, endless PUBG sessions (you can actually take out an iPad and start playing anywhere in seconds!), et al. I would say that there is still room for the classic tablet in our lives. One for which the keyboard is an accessory rather than a necessity.
It’s hard to deny that its “pure tablet” days might be coming to an end, but until the keyboard becomes an integral part of the iPad (I am wagering it will slide out from behind when it does), there will always be room for something that’s “more intimate than a laptop, and so much more capable than a smartphone.”
That’s how he described the iPad, remember? A chap called Steve Jobs.