Apple's 9.7-inch iPad Pro launched on March 31, 2016. The new model joins the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, which launched in November of 2015.
At A Glance
- The 12.9-inch iPad Pro is Apple's largest iPad yet, with a 12.9-inch 2732 x 2048 resolution display, a powerful A9X processor, a super slim design, and a four-speaker audio system. On March 31, Apple's 9.7-inch iPad joined the iPad Pro family and adopted many of the same features from its larger sibling.
- 12.9-inch 2732 x 2048 or 9.7-inch 2048 x 1536 display
- A9X processor
- Four-speaker audio system
- Optional Smart Keyboard
- Optional Apple Pencil
- Available in Silver, Gold, and Space Gray, with 9.7-inch model also available in Rose Gold
The iPad Pro Lineup
Like Apple's MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, the iPad Pro, a powerful flagship tablet designed to be a PC replacement, is available in two screen sizes under the same "iPad Pro" branding. The 12.9-inch iPad Pro debuted in November of 2015 and was joined by the 9.7-inch iPad Pro in March of 2016.
Externally, both models of the iPad Pro continue to look like previous-generation Apple iPads, with rounded edges, slim side bezels, thin aluminum bodies, and impressive Retina displays. Size wise, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro is identical to the iPad Air 2, while the 12.9-inch iPad Pro is similar in size to a 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro, offering 78 percent more screen real estate than the smaller device.
The 12.9-inch iPad Pro measures in at 6.9mm thick and it weighs 1.57 pounds, which is just a half-pound heavier than the 6.1mm 9.7-inch iPad Pro. Both models are available in Gold, Silver, and Space Gray, with the 9.7-inch iPad Pro also available in Rose Gold.
Both the 9.7-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pro feature internal hardware that puts them on on par with desktop-class machines, able to run software that was previously limited to non-mobile devices. With its portability and power, Apple's iPad Pro lineup melds the convenience of a touchscreen mobile device with the performance of a traditional PC or Mac.
Apple describes the iPad Pro as the "most capable and powerful" iPad it has designed yet, replete with advanced technologies and innovations. The iPad Pro is powered by a 64-bit A9X chip with a built-in M9 motion coprocessor. The A9X in the 12.9-inch iPad Pro runs faster than the A9X in the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, but both are much more powerful than previous-generation iPads. When it comes to RAM, the 12.9-inch model has 4GB RAM and the 9.7-inch model has 2GB.
The 12.9-inch iPad Pro's display has a resolution of 2732 x 2048 at 226 pixels per inch, for a total of 5.6 million pixels, more than any other iOS device, while the 9.7-inch iPad Pro has a resolution of 2048 x 1536. To drive all those pixels, the two iPad Pro models use technology from the 5K Retina iMac, plus new display elements designed to give them the best possible contrast ratio, uniform color, and brightness.
For the first time in an Apple display, the iPad Pro uses a variable refresh rate to preserve power when static images are on the screen. In the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, there's also a unique True Tone display feature that changes the color of the screen to match ambient lighting, and improved DCI-P3 color gamut for more vivid, true to life colors.
Despite the impressive A9X processor and the revamped displays used in the two iPads, both continue to feature "all day" 10-hour battery life. New to both iPad Pro models is a four speaker audio system that automatically balances left and right depending on how the iPad is held for the best possible sound.
In the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, there's an 8-megapixel rear camera for taking photos, and a 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera for FaceTime and selfies, while the newer 9.7-inch iPad Pro features the upgraded 12-megapixel rear camera and the 5-megapixel front-facing camera originally used in the iPhone 6s. With the updated camera, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro can capture Live Photos and 4K video at 30 fps. It is also the first iPad to feature a rear flash.
Like Apple's other mobile devices, its iPad Pro models include 802.11ac Wi-Fi, an LTE option, and Apple's fingerprint recognition system, Touch ID, along with an NFC chip for making Apple Pay purchases in apps.
To expand the flexibility of the iPad Pro and increase its usefulness for both creative and productivity based tasks, Apple designed two accessories to go with it: the Apple Pencil and the Smart Keyboard. The accessories and the iPad Pro were built together, so they work together in incredible ways.
The Apple Pencil is a pressure-sensitive stylus with multiple sensors that are able to detect position, force, and tilt. Combined with the iPad Pro's 9.7 or 12.9-inch display, it's accurate enough to touch a single pixel on the screen, making it perfect for artists.
Apple's Smart Keyboard is essentially a Smart Cover with a built-in keyboard, but it's designed without a battery because it can connect to the iPad Pro through the tablet's new Smart Connector, a port that's able to provide both data and power. The Smart Connector is available on both iPad Pro models and there are separate Smart Keyboards for each size.
These accessories are entirely optional. The iPad Pro works like any other iPad, but the Smart Keyboard and the Apple Pencil add an additional layer of flexibility and enhance what's possible to achieve with a tablet device.
Customers planning to purchase an iPad Pro should be aware of the major differences between the two models, aside from the variation in screen size. In a nutshell, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro has a faster processor speed and more RAM, while the 9.7-inch iPad Pro has a more advanced display and a better camera.
How to Buy
First wave launch countries included Australia, Canada, China (Wi-Fi models only), France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, Singapore, the UK, US Virgin Islands and the US, with Apple expanding availability in early April.
Pricing on the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, which is available in Silver, Gold, Space Gray, and Rose Gold, starts at $599 for 32GB of storage, with 128GB and 256GB of storage available for $749 and $899, respectively. Cellular models are also available in 32GB ($729), 128GB ($879), and 256GB ($1,029) configurations.
The 12.9-inch iPad Pro is also available from Apple's online store, in Apple retail stores, and from third-party retailers. Pricing for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro starts at $799 for the entry-level 32GB Wi-Fi only model, with 128GB and 256GB storage options available for $949 and $1,099, respectively. Cellular models are available in 128GB ($1,079) and 256GB ($1,229) configurations.
iPad Pro accessories, the Apple Pencil and the Smart Keyboard, are sold separately. The Apple Pencil is priced at $99, while the Smart Keyboard for the 9.7-inch iPad Pro retails for $149 and the Smart Keyboard for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro retails for $169.
Apple is also continuing to sell the 9.7-inch iPad Air 2, dropping the price to $399.
9.7-Inch iPad Pro Reviews
Shortly after the March 21 announcement of the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, several in-depth reviews from a variety of sites that received review units surfaced, offering a closer look at the new tablet. The reviews are worth reading for those who are considering purchasing the newest iPad Pro.
The general consensus among reviewers is that the smaller iPad Pro has powerful hardware, but like its 12.9-inch sibling, opinions were mixed about whether the tablet can truly replace your laptop. From $599, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro is certainly a more affordable Mac or PC alternative over the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, which starts at $799.
Andrew Cunningham for Ars Technica:
When I reviewed the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, I said that I was having trouble envisioning the type of user who would choose it over a "real" computer like a MacBook Air or Pro. I still feel the same way today. The full-size Pro is large enough and expensive enough that you could buy any number of high-end Macs or Windows PCs for the same price, and you wouldn't have to put up with the potentially frustrating limitations of iOS. [...]
The equation is a little different for the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, which is both smaller and cheaper. [...] At $599 (plus the cost of accessories), this tablet is competing more against midrange Windows PCs, and it's substantially cheaper than any MacBook that Apple offers. For many active but less-demanding users, the strength of the hardware and the relative simplicity of the software could be enough to recommend it, though for the time being there are things that regular old Windows PCs are just better at than iOS is (including running legacy apps and connecting to just about anything that needs a standard USB port). It really depends on how you work and what you need to do.
Lance Ulanoff for Mashable:
The best flagship iPad you can buy is now the 9.7-inch iPad Pro. [...] It's kind of mind-blowing how much power there is in this lightweight tablet.
Benchmark numbers are just as good as the ones I saw on the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, despite the fact that the 9.7-inch iPad Pro has half as much RAM (2GB versus 4 GB on the 12.9-inch iPad Pro). [...]
Did Apple just raise the price of the best iPad? Yes, it did. Is it worth it? When you consider the components and storage in the $599, 9.7-inch iPad Pro, absolutely.
David Phelan for The Independent:
The new Pro also has a keyboard to go with it, attached by the Smart Connector buttons on the tablet's edge. [...]
And it turns the iPad Pro into an extremely effective laptop alternative, complete with touchscreen, unlike Apple's own laptops. In fact, the touchscreen works so well with the iPad Pro and keyboard, it's hard to think Apple isn't considering making a MacBook with touch-sensitive display. We'll see. [...]
But the real reason this is the best iPad yet built is because it combines a stunning display, stonking audio and relentless processing power into a tablet that's supremely portable.
Rene Ritchie for iMore:
This can still be your everyday iPad, and better so than ever, but it can also be your ultra-mobile productivity machine, with little in the way of compromises. Sure, you lose some display and keyboard real estate, but you gain portability and an excellent camera system.
For people who've had a 9.7-inch iPad for a while but haven't seen a need to upgrade, and for those with aging Windows system looking for a modern alternative, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro will be compelling.
Our forum members have also shared some thoughts and opinions on the new 9.7-inch iPad Pro, highlighting its performance compared to the iPad Air 2 and its impressive display with more vivid colors and the useful True Tone adjustment feature.
9.7-inch iPad Pro owners have been experiencing sporadic crashing and frequent soft rebooting, a problem that has not yet been solved through iOS updates. Some 9.7-inch iPad Pro owners have also had their devices bricked after installing iOS 9.3.2, an update that should be avoided be avoided until a fix is available. Apple has temporarily pulled the iOS 9.3.2 update for the 9.7-inch iPad Pro as it works on solving the issue.
The 9.7 and 12.9-inch iPad Pro models will look immediately familiar to anyone who has used an iPad Air 2, as both take design cues from Apple's 2014 tablet. The 9.7-inch iPad Pro looks almost identical to the iPad Air 2 while the 12.9-inch iPad Pro looks like a larger version of the iPad Air 2.
The iPad Pro has smooth, rounded edges and a thin bezel around the display, which is thicker at the top and the bottom where the front-facing camera and the home button are located. At the top, there's a sleep/wake button and a headphone jack, and there's a Lightning port for charging at the bottom. On the right side, there are volume control buttons and a microphone hole. For cellular models, the 9.7-inch iPad has thinner outline-style antenna bands similar to the bands on the iPhone 6s.
Design variations include a new Smart Connector on the left side of the device, which is used to connect to accessories, and built-in speakers at both the top and the bottom of the body for improved audio. A rear camera is located on the back of the iPad Pro. On the 12.9-inch model, the camera is flush, but on the 9.7-inch model, which uses the same camera module found in the iPhone 6s Plus, the camera protrudes from the shell of the device. There's also a round True Tone flash below the camera on the 9.7-inch model. While it might seem like the protruding camera would be a nuisance that prevents the iPad Pro from laying flat on a table, reviews have said that's not the case.
Like the iPad Air 2, both models of the iPad Pro are available in Silver, Gold, and Space Gray, and the 9.7-inch version also comes in a new Rose Gold color.
Apple's larger iPad Pro measures in at 12.9 inches diagonally, 12 inches tall, and 8.68 inches wide. It's 6.9mm thick, which is the same thickness as the iPhone 6. The Wi-Fi only model weighs 1.57 pounds, while the Wi-Fi + Cellular model weighs 1.59 pounds.
The smaller iPad Pro measures in at 9.7-inches diagonally, 9.4 inches tall, and 6.6 inches wide. It's 6.1mm thick, the same thickness as the iPad Air 2, and quite a bit thinner than the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. It weighs in at 0.96 pounds for Wi-Fi only models and 0.98 pounds for Wi-Fi + Cellular models, almost a half pound lighter than its larger sibling.
Previous iPads have used a dual-speaker system, but the iPad Pro has an entirely new four-speaker system to create a stereo soundstage for louder, more immersive audio.
The speaker housings are machined directly into the iPad's unibody enclosure and sealed with a carbon fiber cap. This technique results in speakers that offer three times more output than the speakers of the iPad Air 2, and a wider frequency range. According to Apple, the new architecture gives the speakers 61 percent more back volume when compared to previous-generation audio designs.
An iFixit teardown of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro revealed the speakers take up quite a bit of space inside of the iPad Pro's enclosure, with four speakers in each of the four corners of the device.
All four of the speakers produce bass frequencies, but the two speakers at the top of the iPad are dedicated to higher frequencies. These speakers recognize whether the iPad is in landscape or portrait mode and adjust accordingly for well-balanced sound regardless of position.
The iPad Pro's Smart Connector is a new interface method that allows the it to communicate with and power accessories that have been designed for it. The interface can transfer both power and data, so accessories do not need to include batteries.
The first accessory to work with the Smart Connector is Apple's Smart Keyboard. In addition to being powered by the Smart Connector, the Smart Keyboard also uses the connection to relay keystrokes back to the iPad Pro. Other accessories that take advantage of the Smart Connector are able to transfer data in the same way, and Apple does allow third-party manufacturers to use the connector.
The 9.7-inch iPad Pro has the same 9.7-inch display that's been used in iPads since 2010, but the bigger iPad Pro has a 12.9-inch display that offers 78 percent more screen real estate.
Apple's aim with the larger display of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro was to make every task, from reading a webpage to playing a game, more immersive, engaging, and vivid. Apple made the iPad Pro 12.9 inches diagonally because the 9.7-inch height of the smaller iPad Pro is the same as the width of the larger iPad Pro, allowing it to have a display big enough to run full iPad apps with room at the side for multitasking options.
Both models feature LED-backlit Multi-Touch Retina displays, with the 9.7-inch model featuring a resolution of 2048 x 1536 with 264 pixels per inch and the larger 12.9-inch iPad Pro featuring a resolution of 2732 x 2048 with 264 pixels per inch. On the bigger iPad Pro, that resolution equates to 5.6 million pixels, higher than any existing iOS or Mac device, including the Retina MacBook Pro.
The fully laminated display in each tablet includes an antireflective coating to increase visibility when in the sunlight along with a fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating. The 9.7-inch iPad Pro does, however, have an improved coating with better reflectance.
After in-depth testing of the 9.7-inch iPad Pro display, DisplayMate declared it a the "best performing mobile LCD display" and said it's a "major upgrade" over the display of the iPad Air 2. It also outperformed the display of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro in nearly every category. According to DisplayMate, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro has a "very good display" but the 9.7-inch iPad Pro is "so much better than anything else."
The 9.7-inch iPad Pro has near perfect color gamut, it's brighter, and it has lower reflectance than any previous iPad displays, leading it to be rated as one of the best mobile displays DisplayMate has tested.
The display in the iPad Pro was specially engineered to work with both a finger and the Apple Pencil, Apple's stylus that allows for far more precise interactions. The Multi-Touch subsystem in the two iPad Pro models was designed from the ground up for the Apple Pencil, enabling the devices to recognize the Apple Pencil's position on the screen. When using the Apple Pencil, the iPad Pro's Multi-Touch system scans twice as often to allow it to capture more points in a single stroke.
For excellent contrast, the iPad Pro uses a photo alignment technique to shine a UV light on the thin film transistor and color filter to make sure each liquid crystal molecule is in its proper place. To ensure uniform color and brightness in the display, Apple borrowed from the Retina iMac with 5K display, using the same oxide thin film transistor for faster pixel charging.
A variable refresh rate preserves energy by cutting the refresh rate in half whenever there's static content on the screen. Apple also custom designed a Timing Controller with increased bandwidth for the iPad Pro to manage the 5.6 million pixels on the screen at "lightning fast speeds." In Apple's words, the Timing Controller "tells each pixel what to do and when to do it." Compared to the iPad Air 2, the iPad Pro's Retina display is 25 percent brighter and 40 percent less reflective.
The 9.7-inch iPad Pro has two unique display features that are not found in the 12.9-inch iPad Pro: True Tone and wide color. The True Tone display in the smaller iPad Pro features four-channel ambient light sensors to detect the white balance of the lighting in the room, adjusting the color and intensity of the iPad's display to match for a more natural, paper-like viewing experience. This feature can be turned off in the Settings app for those who prefer colors that stay consistent.
Wide color reproduces the DCI-P3 color gamut used in the Retina 5K iMac, introducing 25 percent higher color saturation for more vivid, true-to-life colors. DCI-P3 is the color gamut used for digital movie production, covering most of the naturally occurring colors. It is wider than the sRGB color gamut used in most other Apple devices.
The iPad Pro ships with a new third-generation 64-bit A9X chip that is exclusive to the tablet. It includes an M9 motion coprocessor built into the A9X chip, much like the M9 is built into the A9 of the iPhone's chip. On previous iPads, like the iPad Air 2, the motion coprocessor was a separate chip.
On the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, the A9X and the built-in motion coprocessor enable always-on "Hey Siri" functionality. Even when the iPad is not plugged in, saying "Hey Siri" will activate Siri and you can ask a question or give a command hands-free. This feature is available on other devices like the iPhone 6s, but it is not available on the 12.9-inch iPad Pro.
According to Apple, its A9X is the most advanced chip it's ever built for a mobile device. It's powerful enough to run desktop-class apps, but it's also energy efficient. The A9X chip in the 12.9-inch iPad Pro runs at 2.24GHz, but the 9.7-inch iPad Pro is underclocked and runs at 2.16GHz, making it slightly slower. This was likely done to keep the smaller iPad from overheating or to tweak the battery life.
Compared to the A7 chip in the original iPad Air and iPad mini 2, the A9X in the 12.9-inch iPad Pro enables offers 2.5x faster CPU performance and 5x faster graphics performance. The underclocked A9X in the 9.7-inch iPad Pro offers 2.4x faster CPU performance and 4.3x faster graphics performance.
According to Apple, the A9X in the iPad Pro is faster at CPU tasks than 80 percent of portable PCs shipped over the course of the last 12 months, and at graphics tasks, it's faster than 90 percent of portable PCs. In iMovie, for example, it's possible to edit three streams of 4K video simultaneously, and the iPad Pro's power enables new classes of applications, like a full 3D design AutoCAD app.
The speed at which the A9X can process data required Apple to design a new memory architecture with a revamped desktop-class storage controller that results in faster read and write speeds. With the new controller, 4K videos and large numbers of RAW photos can be opened quickly.
In a Geekbench benchmarking test, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro received a single-core score of 3022 and a multi-core score of 5107, while the 12.9-inch iPad Pro sees average scores of 3224 on the single-core test and 5466 on the multi-core test. Both iPad Pro models outperform Apple's other mobile devices and the Retina MacBook.
On the GFXBench OpenGL test, the A9X chip in the 12.9-inch iPad Pro performed better than the 2015 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro with integrated Intel Iris 5200 graphics, the 2015 MacBook Air, the 2015 13-inch Retina Macbook Pro, the Surface Pro 4, the 12-inch MacBook, and all other recent iPads.
In a SPECint2006 benchmark comparison that pitted the dual-core A9X chip in the iPad Pro against the low-end Core M chip in the Retina MacBook, the A9X was able to keep up with the Retina MacBook on some tasks, winning half of the benchmarks. The A9X lagged in overall performance compared to the Core M, but the test suggests Apple's ARM-based chips are gaining quickly on Intel's entry-level Core M chips when it comes to performance.
The 12.9-inch iPad Pro is equipped with 4GB of RAM, while the 9.7-inch iPad Pro is equipped with 2GB of RAM. That puts the 9.7-inch iPad Pro on par with the iPhone 6s, 6s Plus, iPhone SE, and iPad Air 2, but its performance doesn't quite measure up to the 12.9-inch iPad Pro when it comes to memory-intensive tasks like Split-Screen Multitasking.
All of Apple's iPads have the same "all day" battery life, and the iPad Pro is no exception. For the first time, the iPad Pro has a display with a variable refresh rate, a feature that cuts down on battery usage when elements on the screen aren't moving quickly.
The iPad Pro's battery (27.5 watt-hours (7,306 mAh) in 9.7-inch and 38.5 watt-hours (10,307 mAh) in 12.9-inch) lasts for 10 hours when surfing the web on Wi-Fi, watching videos, or listening to music. Over LTE, the iPad Pro's battery lasts for 9 hours when surfing the web.
The iPad Pro is charged through a Lightning cable connected to a power adapter or a computer's USB.
The 9.7-inch iPad Pro and the 12.9-inch iPad Pro are equipped with different rear and front-facing camera, with better equipment installed in the smaller tablet.
There's an 8-megapixel f/2.4 iSight camera at the back of the iPad, which is actually the same camera used in the iPad Air 2. Photo features like HDR, Panorama, Face detection, and Burst mode are all supported. The camera is able to record 1080p HD video, and all iOS video features are supported, such as Time-lapse and Slo-mo.
The 9.7-inch iPad Pro has an improved 12-megapixel camera, with Focus Pixels for faster focusing, a better image signal processor, advanced noise reduction, better stabilization and better face detection. It's the same camera used in the iPhone 6s Plus, with support for 4K video at 30 fps, 720p Slo-mo video at 240 fps (120 fps at 1080p), 63-megapixel panoramas, and Live Photos. There's also a rear-facing flash, the first flash included in an iPad.
The camera in the iPhone 6s Plus includes built-in Optical Image Stabilization, but Apple does not advertise the feature for the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, so while the camera module is the same, it is not clear if it has the same stabilization capabilities.
As for the front-facing cameras, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro has an 1.2-megapixel FaceTime HD camera, while the 9.7-inch iPad Pro has a much improved 5-megapixel FaceTime HD camera. With the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, there's a front-facing Retina Flash feature that causes the display of the iPhone to flash brightly just ahead of when a picture is snapped, improving selfies in low light. It is three times as bright as the standard display and it has been engineered to match ambient light.
The iPad Pro includes Touch ID, which allows the device to be unlocked with a fingerprint rather than a passcode. Touch ID is also used as a password replacement on the device, and it can be used to make purchases within apps that support Apple Pay.
All iPad Pro models feature a three-axis gyroscope, an accelerometer, an ambient light sensor, and a barometer for determining elevation. The same sensors are in the iPad Air 2 and the iPad mini 4.
Wi-Fi and LTE
All models of the iPad Pro support dual channel 2.4/5GHz 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi and MIMO for download speeds up to 866 MB/s.
The cellular 12.9-inch iPad Pro models support up to 20 LTE bands and feature speeds up to 150MB/s, while the cellular 9.7-inch iPad Pro models, with LTE Advanced, support up to 23 LTE bands and speeds of up to 300MB/s.
Both come with an Apple SIM, but the 9.7-inch iPad Pro has an embedded Apple SIM along with a second SIM slot to make it easy to switch between multiple carriers when traveling.
All iPad Pro models include Bluetooth 4.2 technology, much like the iPad Air 2.
The 12.9-inch iPad features an upgraded Lightning port capable of supporting USB 3.0 transfer speeds for the first time. Apple has released an updated Lightning to SD Camera adapter that is able to take advantage of the USB 3.0 speeds for transferring photos from an SD card to the iPad Pro.
The 9.7-inch iPad Pro does not have the same upgraded Lightning port and can only transfer data at USB 2 speeds.
At USB 2 speeds, iPads and iPhones can transfer data at around 25 to 35MB/s, while USB 3.0 transfer speeds are much faster -- up to 625MB/s.
With a Lightning to USB 3 cable, the iPad Pro can be charged using the 29W USB-C Power Adapter, taking advantage of a fast charging feature built into the tablet. With the USB-C Power Adapter, charging will take less time than with the standard 12W Power Adapter that ships with the iPad Pro.
The 9.7-inch iPad Pro does not feature the same fast charging option and will not benefit from the 29W USB-C Power Adapter and Lightning to USB 3 cable.
Steve Jobs once dismissed styluses as viable accessories for touchscreen devices, saying, "Nobody wants a stylus," but with the iPad Pro, a stylus is essential for the level of precision that Apple wanted to introduce for creative professionals. That's why Apple designed the Apple Pencil, just for its two iPad Pro models.
A finger is convenient, but it can't match the precision of the Apple Pencil, which is able to touch a single pixel on the screen. With the Apple Pencil, the iPad Pro rivals graphics tablets from companies like Wacom and is an invaluable tool for artists.
The Apple Pencil is designed to have a familiar and natural feel that mimics the sensation of using a paintbrush, pencil, or pen. According to Apple Design Chief Jony Ive, Apple put a lot of work into making the Apple Pencil feel as natural as possible, down to the slight weighting included that keeps it from rolling off a table.
The Apple Pencil was created with an "almost imperceptible" latency level, for a lag-free writing and drawing experience. The iPad Pro is able to determine the difference between a finger and the Apple Pencil on the screen, and when the Apple Pencil is used, the iPad Pro scans the signal coming from the device 240 times per second for double the data points collected from a finger.
Pressure and positioning sensors built into the Apple Pencil allow it to detect a range of forces, enabling pressure-sensitive drawing and writing. A light press results in a lighter line, while a thicker line can be drawn by pressing the Apple Pencil harder against the screen.
Two tilt sensors in the tip of the Apple Pencil are able to determine the orientation and angle of the hand holding it, so it's possible to add shading by tilting the Apple Pencil and using the side of the tip. It's a similar motion to using charcoal or a standard drawing pencil.
According to Apple, the Apple Pencil's unique tip signature allows it to be used simultaneously with a finger on the screen. The Apple Pencil is able to be used with a palm resting on the iPad Pro's screen, and the texture of the iPad Pro's display is said to be slightly different for a grippier feel when using the Pencil.
Inside the Apple Pencil a 0.329 Wh lithium-ion rechargeable non-replaceable battery, emitters to determine the angle and orientation of the tip relative to the iPad Pro display, and a tiny folded logic board that houses an ST Microelectronics low-power 32-bit ARM-based Cortex M3 microcontroller, a Qualcomm Bluetooth 4.1 chip, and more.
The Apple Pencil has a 12 hour battery life and charges through a built-in Lightning connector at the bottom of the device, which plugs into the iPad Pro. It is able to charge enough for a half hour of use in just 15 seconds, so it will never be non-functional in a pinch. Ahead of the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil's release, Apple also decided to include an adapter that lets the iPad Pro charge with a standard Lightning cable.
While the iPad Pro has an on-screen keyboard, Apple has also designed a standalone hardware keyboard that works with the tablet. The Smart Keyboard, available in sizes appropriate for both the 12.9-inch and 9.7-inch iPad Pro models, is essentially a MacBook keyboard built into a Smart Cover, with design innovations that are uniquely Apple.
When not in use, the Smart Keyboard serves as a Smart Cover for the iPad Pro, so it's always handy and easy to transport. When used as a keyboard, the Smart Keyboard has a portion that folds into a triangle like a traditional Smart Cover for the iPad to rest on. The keyboard can also fold up behind the iPad Pro to let Smart Keyboard serve as a stand for watching videos.
The Smart Keyboard's keys are covered in a woven fabric that's laser ablated to the shape of each key, so the keys have a soft feel. The fabric on the keys is what provides the tension, so Apple's able to keep the keyboard thin because there's less need for traditional hardware. The Smart Keyboard is 4mm thick.
Since Apple needed to keep the Smart Keyboard thin, it does not include wires or standard keyboard components. Instead, there's a thin sheet of nylon etched with metal inside of the two outer layers of the Smart Keyboard, which services as the base conductive material for a two-way flow of power and data provided by the Apple Smart Connector on the iPad Pro. Since it's powered by the iPad Pro, there is no battery and no need to charge the Smart Keyboard.
Underneath each key is the same dome switch that was used in the Retina MacBook keyboard, so typing on the Apple Smart Keyboard feels similar to using a Retina MacBook keyboard. The woven fabric of the keyboard is coated in a water and stain resistant material, and there are no gaps between keys because of the way the fabric is laid over them, so it's resistant to spills.
iOS 9 is able to detect when the Smart Keyboard attaches to an iPad Pro, so there's a seamless transition between the physical keyboard and the on-screen keyboard. It works alongside the QuickType keyboard feature in iOS 9, with quick access to on-screen shortcuts and autocorrect options.Through the Smart Connector, Apple is able to push firmware updates to the Smart Keyboard and other devices that use the port.
9.7-inch iPad Pro vs. 12.9-inch iPad Pro
The 9.7-inch iPad Pro and the 12.9-inch iPad Pro were released several months apart, so there are some differences between the two. The larger iPad Pro is more powerful with 4GB RAM and an A9X processor that isn't underclocked. The smaller iPad Pro has 2GB RAM and a processor that runs slightly slower.
While slower, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro has better display and a better camera. A True Tone feature uses light sensors to adjust the temperature of the display to match the ambient lighting in the room around it. The smaller iPad Pro also uses a wider DCI-P3 color gamut for more vivid, true-to-life colors. The camera in the 9.7-inch iPad Pro is the same 12-megapixel camera in the iPhone 6s, and it is accompanied by a rear flash.
The cellular version of the 9.7-inch iPad Pro has LTE Advanced with 23 bands and speeds of up to 300MB/s, while the cellular version of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro has a less advanced LTE modem that supports 20 bands and speeds of up to 150MB/s. The 12.9-inch iPad Pro includes a Lightning port that supports fast charging and USB 3.0 transfer speeds, while the 9.7-inch iPad Pro does not.
Otherwise the two iPads have many of the same features, including four speakers and support for the Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil accessories.
Both versions of Apple's iPad Pro ship with iOS 9, Apple's latest operating system. The iPad Pro and iOS 9 were designed hand in hand, so the iPad Pro supports all iOS 9 features, including Split-Screen multitasking.
With Split-Screen multitasking, it's possible to run two apps at once side-by-side on the iPad's display, which has major implications for improving productivity and interactivity between apps.
iOS 9 also includes a focus on intelligence and proactivity, letting iOS devices learn user habits and act on that information through app suggestions, notifications, and a customized "Siri Suggestions" interface populated with the user's favorite contacts and apps, along with nearby places and relevant news stories.
iOS 9 includes several revamped apps, and it also focuses heavily on under-the-hood improvements that increase battery life and decrease the amount of storage space apps and operating system updates take up on an iOS device.
As the iPad Pro is a new product line, it's not clear when it will be upgraded next. Apple's recent iPad upgrades suggest the company may be planning to do iPad refreshes on an every-other-year basis going forward.