Apple’s new iPad Pro is thin and fast, but the software needs an update

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Apple’s new iPad Pro comes in two sizes, and starts at $999. It also has a new add-on case called Smart Keyboard that makes it feel like a laptop.

Apple‘s new iPad Pro and iPad Air models launch Wednesday. I’ve been testing the new iPad Pro for several days, and what I found is that it’s a very nice iPad.

This is an important launch for Apple. Earlier this month, the company reported a 16% year-over-year drop in iPad revenue for its fiscal second quarter. Apple hasn’t rolled out a new iPad since October 2022.

The new iPad Pro is fast, with the latest M4 chip, and it has a new OLED display that’s more colorful than prior screens. It’s the thinnest product Apple has ever launched.

But it still runs the same iPad software, and that’s starting to feel dated. The fully loaded model I tested costs about $2,499. That’s before you add the $350 keyboard and $129 Apple Pencil Pro, which will help you get more out of the device.

It’s time Apple makes this more than just an iPad. The software, called iPadOS, needs to catch up to the hardware.

Here’s what you need to know about it.

What’s good

The new iPad Pro models at an Apple event. The new iPad Pro is the first Apple device with the M4 chip. The larger version with a 13-inch display is the thinnest Apple device to date, with a thickness of 5.1 millimeters.
Christoph Dernbach | Picture Alliance | Getty Images

The new iPad Pros cost $200 more than the models they replaced. I tested the larger 13-inch iPad Pro, which starts at $1,299 before storage and 5G upgrades. The 11-inch model starts at $999.

The first thing I noticed when I picked it up was its thinness. It’s noticeable compared with the M1 iPad Pro I’ve used for the past several years. And it’s lighter. That’s especially nice on the 13-inch model, which replaces the 12.9-inch version. I always thought it felt too heavy and clunky to use as a tablet. It still feels big, but it’s more manageable.

The new OLED screen is another highlight. It’s clear and super colorful. It’s similar to the OLED screen Apple has used on its iPhone Pros for years but not on iPads. The screen adapts, getting brighter in dark movies or showing scenes with explosions. And professional video and photo editors will appreciate its color accuracy. I loved using it for movies and while playing Diablo Immortal. The game will look better once Activision Blizzard releases an update enabling improved graphics for the M4 iPad Pro. The four stereo speakers sound nice and loud but not tinny.

The camera is finally in the right place. It’s along the landscape edge of the iPad so that, when it’s propped up, it’s dead center for FaceTime calls. It used to be on the top of the iPad, forcing that awkward glance to the side during video calls. The quality was nice and clear during my tests, and I like that the camera, using the Center Stage feature, followed me as I moved around the room.

2024 13-inch Apple iPad Pro
Todd Haselton | CNBC

The iPad has the latest and greatest M4 chip, which hasn’t launched on Macs yet. I ran a GeekBench multicore benchmark test that shows it scoring 48% higher than the prior M2 iPad Pro. Apple promises up to 4x faster rendering over the M2 and 1.5x faster processor performance, which means video editing in Final Cut Pro for iPad and rendering things like 3D models is quicker for professionals who need it. The M4 also has a special engine that helps power the “Tandem OLED” displays. Apple took a unique approach to the iPad by stacking two OLED screens on top of one another, which requires this special part of the M4 chip to work.

The iPad Pro felt quick when I ran two apps side by side, switching between Slack and the web browser, or loading into games. Apps switch in an instant. It wasn’t much different from my M1 iPad for everyday stuff, like browsing the web and opening apps, which seems to be how iPads are mostly used. More on that in the next section.

2024 13-inch Apple iPad Pro
Todd Haselton | CNBC

The new iPad Pros support Apple’s updated $350 Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro (the 11-inch version is $300). It’s awesome and is just like typing on a Mac with a full function row above the number keys to switch apps, adjust the volume or brightness and more. Apple added a much larger trackpad and an aluminum palm rest but kept the same soft outside and “floating” screen mechanism, which allows you to snap the iPad onto the case using its magnetic pins and tilt it back and forth.

2024 13-inch Apple iPad Pro
Todd Haselton | CNBC

The updated Apple Pencil Pro is also a lot of fun. I mostly use the Apple Pencil to sign documents. But folks who draw or paint on their iPads, or need more control in 3D or video apps, will like the new features. I liked squeezing it to change between the tool — pencil or brush or eraser and the color — and the haptic pulse to confirm you’ve squeezed it. Developers can add the squeeze function to their apps so you can access different tools in different apps. The added gyroscope also allows you to tilt and twirl the pencil to change your pencil or pen stroke. Double tap is convenient, too, allowing you to switch between a pencil and eraser tool, for example. The hover function previews where you’re going to touch the display.

Apple promises the same battery life as the last iPad Pros. So you get about 10 hours of web browsing or watching video, or nine hours if you’re browsing the web on a cellular connection. That lined up with what I received during my tests. Expect to get a full workday of use. Still, it’s impressive given this iPad is 1.3mm thinner and 103 grams lighter than the last 12.9-inch iPad Pro.

What’s bad

2024 13-inch Apple iPad Pro
Todd Haselton | CNBC

Here’s my biggest gripe about the Pro models: The software, iPadOS, is what you’ll get on any other iPad. And while I think it works great, it’s time for the Pro models to have a better operating system.

My guess is Apple has something big planned for next month’s Worldwide Developers Conference, and I hope it addresses this. I probably won’t get my wish, but I’d love to see the iPad Pro act just like a Mac. Plop it into the keyboard and it turns into a touchscreen MacBook. Lift it off and use it like a regular iPad. It has a newer processor than Apple’s MacBooks, so this should be possible if it’s something Apple wants. Regardless, we need better multitasking.

Stage Manager on the iPad Pro
Todd Haselton | CNBC

Apple’s “Stage Manager” feature was supposed to make it easier to run multiple apps and switch between them, but it’s still too confusing and clunky. Apps should open in separate windows and minimize just like on a Mac. And, since the M-series processors also power Macs, we should be able to run Mac apps, too.

Apple talked a lot about artificial intelligence when it announced the new iPads. But, most of the AI is what Apple has previously called machine learning. A lot of that stuff happens behind the scenes. The camera can take multiple pictures of a document and scan it more accurately, for example. AI can isolate backgrounds in Final Cut Pro or generate music in apps such as StaffPad. Apple CEO Tim Cook has said he’ll talk about generative AI during WWDC in June, so there are likely more features coming.

Last, I wish the iPad Pro supported an always-on display like Apple’s iPhone Pro. It would let me glance at the iPad to see notifications, music, widgets and more. However, the iPad’s screen refresh rate bottoms out at 10hz instead of 1hz, which means it would still refresh too often and drain more power.

Should you buy the 2024 iPad Pro?

2024 13-inch Apple iPad Pro
Todd Haselton | CNBC

It depends on what you need. It’s my favorite iPad to date, even though I don’t need the faster chip. I love how thin it is and that it’s lighter than the earlier iPads. The updated keyboard is great. The new Apple Pencil Pro works well, but creatives will use it more than I do.

I still think the 13-inch is a little too big and would steer most folks to the 11-inch model. If you don’t care about needing all the speed, you should consider the new iPad Air, which costs less and also comes with a bigger 13-inch screen. If you just need a tablet to browse the web, play games and check email, get the $350 iPad.

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