The iPad Nano Air Pro

Thoughts on Apple's "Let Loose" iPad Event
The iPad Nano Air Pro

As is so often the case, Mark Gurman spoiled what would have been the big surprise during Apple's "Let Loose" iPad event today: the M4 chip.

Of course, not everyone was convinced Apple would do this until it was done. But last week, I laid out why it might make sense. Basically, it gets ahead of would-be rivals on the AI narrative – which we're clearly going to hear much more about at WWDC – and it rectifies the "lesser" 3nm chip process Apple started with for the A17 chip (which evolved into the M3 chip on the MacBook side).

I think it's a good, if slightly awkward, sign that Apple is willing to push the envelope on the iPad Pro. But I suppose the device "earned" it, going quite a long time without any updates. Presumably now last year's MacBook Pros and iMacs, and this year's MacBook Airs will be the only M3 devices. M4 from now on.

It was also no surprise to hear Apple tout their "performance per watt" advantage multiple times. They've been doing this for a while, but I think it's about to come more into focus with Qualcomm about to go right after Apple Silicon with their new Snapdragon chips. More of a surprise was Apple VP (of Platform Architecture) Tim Millet touting the chips' neural processors as "more powerful than any neural processing unit in an 'AI PC' today". We'll see soon enough, I imagine! He also did a bit of a flex, while also perhaps revealing some of Apple's feelings about those saying they're behind in AI, saying that the company has been working on NPUs before anyone. We'll probably hear about that claim from others, I imagine!

As we will about the "4x faster than the last iPad Pro". I have the last iPad Pro. The last thing I would say about it is that it's slow. It's so fast that it's hard to find apps that can truly put it to the test. Then again, I'm clearly not the Final-Cut-Pro-on-the-iPad demo. Still 4x faster than the M2 iPad Pro would be something.

The other star of the show is probably just how thin and light the iPad Pro – not the iPad Air – is. 5.3mm for the 11-inch Pro with the 13-inch even thinner at 5.1mm. As Apple's SVP of hardware engineering, John Ternus, noted, this is the thinnest device Apple has ever created, besting the iPod nano. Yes, iPod. That's truly wild. It's so thin that Ternus clearly felt the need to note that the thing is just as strong as ever, so you're not going to snap it in half like a pencil. Which yes, is now far thicker than the iPad Pro.

Again, this creates a slightly awkward situation where the iPad Pro is thinner and lighter than the iPad Air. Not that Apple seems to care about this too much. We're a long way from the MacBook Air manila envelope reveal. 'Air' now just seems to mean "consumer" where as 'Pro' is "professional" or "premium". I'd personally like to see them just drop 'Air' in all these products, but there's brand cachet and loyalty there to think about, clearly.

The most interesting thing about the new iPad Air itself is that Ternus revealed it on a BART train in the San Francisco Bay Area. I don't think I would reveal a sandwich on a BART train, let alone a $1,000 device. Of course, Ternus' ride was by far the nicest and most well-behaved BART car I've ever seen. And the iPad Air is the first new thing introduced in one of these vehicles since whatever organisms have sprung to life in the old fabric seats over the years.1

Before word of the M4 leaked out, the main point everyone was talking about with regard to the new iPad Pro was OLED screens. They're here and they're... "Tandem OLED". Which is apparently technology that powers "Ultra Retina XDR". Do we really need to brand the technology that powers another branded technology? And wait, Apple didn't actually invent tandem OLED, as the presentation would have you believe.

Also, we're just a step away from Ultramega OK Retina XDR screens now.

I'm quite curious if the nano-texture for the higher-end (more on these in a minute) iPads Pro means they're better to read outdoors in sunlight. I would probably pay an extra $100 for that. But Apple simply touts them as upgrades for certain professional environments/settings.

One thing decidedly not touted by Apple today: the fact that the iPad Pro is actually losing the Ultra Wide angle camera and as such, its ability to do optical zoom. I honestly think this is fine. More reason not to be that person taking the picture with your iPad at the concert.

The front-facing camera shift to the landscape side is great and overdue (in the iPad Air as well), and seems to speak to Apple yielding to the desire and demand to use the iPad more like a computer rather than a "big iPhone".

Speaking of, the real star of the show, to me, was the new Magic Keyboard. It's thinner, lighter, and made of what is presumably an infinitely better material for such a device: aluminum. I'm mostly curious if the trackpad on the model for the 13-inch iPad Pro is better than the one for the 11-inch iPad Pro simply because it's larger. Ultimately, the size of the trackpad on the old Magic Keyboard (for the 11-inch iPad Pro) was an issue I kept running into in trying to use the device more like I would a MacBook. This all definitely sounds more MacBook-y. Function keys! "Feels just like using a MacBook," Ternus noted at one point. Wouldn't it be nice?

The Apple Pencil Pro also sounds great. I don't really use the Apple Pencil enough to get too excited here, but it is an awesome piece of technology seemingly now made better. And most impressively at the $129 price point. The feels like something Apple might sell for $299. Not to worry, the Magic Keyboard has us covered at that price point.

Speaking of price, as was the case with the previous iPads Pro, the more expensive variety actually have what would seem to be quite a significant upgrade over the lower storage models. Last go around, they had double the RAM – 16GB vs. 8GB – that remains the case here. But the more expensive 1TB and 2TB variety also now have more powerful M4 processors this time around. Specifically, they have one more performance core. Is that worth an extra $400? Honestly for the RAM, it might be, depending just how AI Apple is going to go here...

Me? I ordered a 1TB 11" Space Black iPad Pro. As noted, I quite intrigued by the 13" simply because of the larger trackpad on the Magic Keyboard, but I'll try my old standard 11" first. I did not opt for the nano-texture display upgrade, but again, I am curious about it, as noted.

One more thing: Tim Cook wrapped things up by giving a special shout out to the "small but mighty iPad mini" which I take as a sign that it's not going away anytime soon, despite no upgrades today. Always good to hear.2

Update May 8, 2024: Some additional thoughts for members of The Inner Ring on the new iPads Pro and what they mean for Apple...

Apple Invents a Laptop with a Touchscreen
The new iPad Pro is awesome. And a bit silly.

1 I'm shitting on BART, but probably less than people shit in BART. Okay, okay, I will say that I did find BART far more reliable than MUNI in my couple decades in the region. Which is saying basically nothing. Sorry, not sorry.

2 The iPad mini got almost as much air time as the Vision Pro, which continues to be touted quite publicly by Apple for its enterprise use cases...