Since the iPad Pro was announced, I’ve been quietly sitting on my hands avoiding this very article. Personally, I’m sort of over the iPad as a productivity device. I’ve downgraded in size to the iPad Mini, and I basically use it to play Pinball Arcade and do some other occasional gaming or web browsing.
Don’t get me wrong–I’ve tried to use them as a productivity device over the years. I’ve had a number of keyboards, and one of them combined with the Citrix X1 Mouse certainly makes for the most useable setup, but when I have to lug around three things just to do my job it sort of takes away from the extreme portability, low weight, and overall thickness that serve as the primary marketing points.
Every time I tried, I found that my laptop was simply the better option. And why shouldn’t it be? My current laptop weighs in at 3.5 lbs, and it does everything I could ever need. It has all the apps (ok, all the apps except iOS apps), all the OSes, all the storage, and all the power I need, plus a keyboard and a trackpad, in one device with a larger screen.
So when the iPad Pro was announced, it was met (by me at least) with a hearty “meh.” There was no clamoring to get my hands on one as there was with prior versions. I just don’t see the point of lugging around a device even larger than the iPad Air, while still having to bring along a keyboard and mouse to do anything with the current apps that I need to use.
Still, I keep hearing the same exact song we’ve been hearing since the first iPad was announced. I hear about how it’s a laptop killer because you can buy a keyboard case, or because you can run iOS apps side by side, or because you can buy a stylus pencil. But how exactly is it a laptop killer when in order to use it you have to effectively make it a laptop?
From an enterprise perspective, I can hear the arguments now. Let’s dig into some of them:
While it may be thinner, the unladen iPad Pro’s length and width (12” by 8.68”) are surprisingly similar to the MacBook Pro that I use today (12.35” by 8.62”). Since you need a keyboard to make it a “laptop killer,” though, you have to factor in the keyboard case dimensions, too. The Apple-branded keyboard is slim and doesn’t add too much to the .27” thickness of the iPad Pro, but the Logitech CREATE backlit keyboard that most closely resembles a laptop keyboard makes the iPad Pro .78” thick, which is actually thicker than the MacBook Pro’s .71”!
The iPad Pro 1.57 lbs, which is pretty light considering its size. But remember, we have to make it a “laptop killer” by adding in the weight of the Logitech keyboard. That bumps up the weight of the total package to 3.17 lbs, making it weigh only slightly less than the 3.5 lb MacBook Pro, more than 2.9lb 13” MacBook Air, and significantly more than a 2 lb MacBook.
I don’t want to make a cost model comparing overall platform costs here, so I’ll stick to the basics. The most basic 32GB WiFi-only iPad Pro runs $799, and in order to get the keyboard case you’ll have to shell out another $149, so you’re already at $948. Add in the stylus (we’re replacing a laptop, but still probably using desktop-oriented apps) and your price goes up another $99 to $1047 for the base model, $1197 for the 128GB + WiFi model, or $1327 for the high-end 128GB + cellular model.
Since I’ve only been comparing to Apple laptops so far, let’s look at the costs of the MacBook line. The base model 13” MacBook Pro and MacBook cost $1299, so yeah, everything but the highest-end iPad Pro is cheaper. But, the base model 13” MacBook Air is only $999. Keep in mind, the 13” MacBook Air has a larger screen, a backlit keyboard, is lighter, and thinner (smaller in all dimensions, actually) than a fully-loaded iPad Pro with the Logitech keyboard case.
I suspect if you compare the pricing to Dell and HP, you’ll find even more favorable differences between their product lines and the cost of an iPad Pro.
You can manage it as a mobile device
This statement is certainly true, but it’s not a unique feature these days. Both OS X and Windows 10 are manageable with MDM platforms, so I wouldn’t call this anything other than an expected aspect of a modern device. You can manage any new laptop that you buy today with the exact same management tool that you manage your mobile devices with. Enough said.
Enterprise computing is dead
Bah! Sure, the world is moving away from traditional enterprise computing with IT at the center of the universe, but realistically speaking that isn’t happening quickly. If you were deploying all web and iOS-based apps, then go ahead and deploy whatever device you want to your users. But you’re probably not, and like most companies you have a mix of apps that you have to deliver that will remain well into the future.
There are two big takeaways for me from this little exercise. First is that in order to make the iPad Pro into a “laptop killer,” you basically have to make it a laptop, otherwise it’s just a large tablet. Laptop users that simply consume content are one thing, but laptop users that are creating content require more than just a tablet, no matter how large the tablet is. One of the other features I hear about is being able to run iOS apps side by side, which to me seems like a less flexible version of having your applications in regular old windows. Again, though, it inches the tablet closer to the laptop in terms of functionality. (Add a trackpad to the keyboard case and some sort of ARM-based hypervisor that can run Windows and voila! Surface Tablet!)
The second takeaway is that with iOS the things that you can do are still limited. Yeah, I have Office and stuff now, but is that experience really better (or even the same) than on a laptop? What about those other apps that I need for my business. There’s certainly a large contingent of them that aren’t web or native iOS yet, so you need to build some other delivery mechanism (like RDSH or VDI) to get them to the users. Is it really worth the hundred bucks you might save by not buying a laptop?
I understand there are a lot of factors involved in the decision that go beyond the raw numbers, and I’d love to hear what yours are. It just seems to me that the advances in technology that have enabled powerful tablets have also affected laptops, so at the end I’m going to choose the device that lets me do more with less stuff to keep track of.