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Bill Bennett

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Apple’s iPad is still the most important tablet. Popular with business users and consumers. Now sells more than personal computers.

2020 iPad Pro 12.9-inch review part two: Camera, lidar

For the last four or five years camera upgrades have dominated new phone launches. Now Apple is doing the same with the 2020 12.9-inch iPad Pro which comes with added lidar.

The processor upgrade in the 2020 12.9-inch iPad Pro is incremental. Apple has done much more with the rear camera. Or, to be more accurate, cameras. The cluster includes two cameras and a lidar sensor.

For the last five years, phone upgrades have centred on beefed up cameras. This follows that path.

The iPad’s main wide angle camera is like the 28mm equivalent camera on the earlier 2018 12.9-inch iPad Pro. It has 12 megapixels. If there’s a performance difference, I can’t see it.

By tablet standards it’s still a great camera although it’s not as good as the camera on the iPhone 11. You wouldn’t expect that.

Apple 2020 12.9-inch iPad Pro ultra wide camera

 

 

Second rear camera

There’s also a 10 megapixel ultra-wide angle camera. It’s the first time the iPad has had a second camera. For the most part it helps the iPad Pro take better pictures in poor light conditions.

In practice the two cameras work together much of the time.

Taking pictures with a 12.9-inch iPad Pro is unwieldy compared with the iPhone. Using on screen controls also gets in the way. And it feels a bit odd standing there with a magazine-size device shooting images.

Wide-angle lens

The wide angle lens makes this even harder when focusing on near objects. That’s because a lever effect comes into play, so a small movement moves the camera target a fair distance.

No doubt there are enthusiasts who swear by the iPad Pro camera and do amazing things with it. For me, it is for opportunistic snapshots. I also use the iPad camera as a replacement for a scanner. It does a great job of capturing images sitting on my desk.

On the front of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro is a seven megapixel camera for selfies and video conferencing. It’s limited when compared to the rear cameras, but is great for FaceTime or Skype calls.

Video conference camera better than laptops

I’ve been using it while working from home. The picture quality is way better than you get on a MacBook or, for that matter, most Windows laptops.1

The only issue with the front camera is that sits at the top of the display when you hold the iPad in portrait mode. This is the same as the camera on an iPhone.

It makes sense when you are using the tablet as a tablet. Yet when it is sitting on your desk, perhaps with an attached keyboard, the camera is off the left hand side.

The software is clever enough to adjust the image so that when you look face on at the iPad in landscape mode, it centres your image. If you want to look people in the eye, you need to remember to stare at the lefthand edge of the display.

Measuring with lidar on a 2020 12.9-inch iPad Pro

Lidar

When Apple told me there was a lidar sensor, my first thought that it would gauge depth. This would help with photography. Although that’s possible and, in theory, could be a future software update, it’s not why Apple included the sensor.

For Apple, lidar is all about improving the augmented reality experience. You can use it to accurately measure the space around you.

The iPad has a new iPadOS measuring app that uses this. More often lidar is used in conjunction with augmented realty apps and games. You might, for example, have AR games characters running around your living room.

Lidar technology is used by autonomous and semi-autonomous cars to map the immediate world around them. The iPad version works up to 5 metres which is more than enough inside most homes, but is less useful out of doors.

There’s no question this technology is clever, but I consider it a nice-to-have feature. It is far from essential as things stand right now. That could all change with the arrival of new applications that make use of it. Nothing springs to mind, but if it did I’d be a wealthy software entrepreneur not a journalist.


  1. The iPad Pro video calling experience is vastly better than calling on any laptop. This alone could justify the expense of buying a 2020 iPad Pro. ↩︎

2020 iPad Pro 12.9-inch review part one: More processor power

Apple’s 2020 iPad Pro 12.9-inch brings a useful speed bump, overhauls the main camera, adds full mouse and trackpad support.

This is part one of a series of posts looking at the new iPad Pro. Part two looks at the camera and lidar. 

The 2018 iPad Pro reboot was a huge leap forward for tabletkind.

Apple created a laptop replacement that keeps the advantages of a tablet. The result was to deliver a productive computing experience. It has little in common with the Windows alternatives, yet is still capable of serious work1.

This year’s update builds on that. Most, but not all, of the hardware changes are incremental. We will look at the big changes in future posts. What has changed since 2018 is that iPadOS has come of age. The software is now far better suited to mobile computing.

All the best things about the 2018 iPad Pro remain. The design remains stunning.

The screen is still beautiful. In use it is nicer than any other tablet display I’ve seen. There is next to nothing in the way of bezel, that’s the thin strip surrounding the display. Apple’s designers squared off the edges and went for rounded corners. It feels so right that it’s hard to envisage what a better design could look like.

Apple 2020 iPad Pro

Bionic

While the A12Z Bionic system on a chip is faster than its ancestor, few will notice much improvement. The 2018 model used the A12X. Like its predecessor there are eight cores divided into two groups. It uses four cores for high performance, four for efficiency.

The A12Z is not a Great Leap Forward, more a pigeon step in the right direction. No-one is going to upgrade their iPad Pro for a better raw computing performance.

I noticed a little more power with graphics-oriented tasks like photo-editing. There was extra speed when working with audio applications. Other high performance tasks were also a tad faster than before. While the responsiveness was noticeable, it wasn’t enough to measure. It felt better, but I can’t put numbers on it.

When it comes to everyday tasks like browsing or writing on an iPad; I couldn’t see a difference.

That’s not to say the 2020 iPad Pro 12.9-inch isn’t fast by today’s computing standards.

The 2020 iPad Pro not as grunty as the new MacBook Pro. But that’s a high octane laptop for power users. It performs very well compared with the 2019 MacBook Air which uses the Intel Core i3 processor.

2020 iPad Pro 12.9-inch battery life

I’ve used the 2018 iPad Pro as my main portable device for over a year. When I’m not pushing it hard, the battery can last for as long as 12 hours continual use.

iPad battery life is dependent on the task in hand. Run high end software and you might only get six hours of intense computing.

With basic tablet tasks, the 2018 iPad Pro is good for a full day and then some. I could get 10 hours. When taking meal breaks into account there’s enough to get me from Auckland to Singapore2.

There is a fraction less battery life in the 2020 iPad Pro 12.9-inch. It can still cope with a full day’s everyday work with a little left over. I managed a little over nine hours. Thanks to the Covid–19 lockdown, I didn’t get to test this on the road.

You might get the impression from above that the performance is good, but not outstanding. After all, we’re talking about an incremental speed bump when compared to a two year old iPad.

This fails to take into account how far the 2018 iPad Pro was ahead of its time. When Apple launched the 2018 iPad Pro, it was, according to some benchmarks, the fastest portable computing in the market. The 2020 is still blistering fast by everyday laptop standards.


  1. It’s remarkable how unlike the two are considering most of the time they are used for similar tasks. ↩︎
  2. I doubt I’ll be doing that again any time soon. ↩︎

Apple iPad must be doing something right

IDC reports the world wide tablet market fell 1.5 percent in 2019. Total shipments fell to 144 million units. The Apple iPad strengthend its position as the top tablet brand.

The only winner in the sector was Apple, which saw a fourth quarter year-on-year growth of 22.7 percent in iPad sales. Much of that growth came in the last quarter of 2019 after the launch of new models and the arrival of iPadOS 13.

Apple’s growth for the full 2019 year was 15.2 percent. It sold a shade under 50 million units.

This undermines the negative arguments made by John Gruber and other prominent Apple bloggers about the iPad operating system. The geeks may not like Apple’s iPad direction but customers do.

Apple iPad clear tablet leader

Apple now has a 36.5 percent share of the tablet market when measured by units. It is bigger than the next three tablet brands combined. The company’s top tablet models tend to be more expensive than offerings from rivals, which means Apple would dominate tablet revenues and, by extension, tablet profits.

Samsung is the next best selling tablet brand with its Galaxy Tab range. The company sold 21.7 million units in 2019, that’s well under half Apple’s result. Samsung Tablet sales fell 7.2 percent during the year.

Android doesn’t translate well to the tablet format, but Samsung has the best implementation.  It’s tablets are a decent alternative to the iPad for customers who want to stay in the Android world or opt out of Apple’s orbit.

Huawei under pressure

Third place Huawei faces a challenge reaching customers in the US market and, no doubt, the security scare has affected sales in other markets. Even so, it dropped less than Samsung. Huawei has some solid, if unoriginal, offerings in this space. In 2019 Huawei’s tablet sales fell by 3.5 percent.

We don’t see much of fourth place Amazon in New Zealand. The company makes a range of low price tablets with an idiosyncratic version of Android. For the whole of 2019 Amazon’s sales climbed 10 percent, but there was a big 30 percent dropped in the last quarter.

Lenovo with an 8.5 percent market share also saw a small drop over 2019 for its low-cost tablets.

Top Five Tablet Companies, Worldwide Shipments, Market Share, and Growth, 2019 (Preliminary results, combined company view for the current quarter only, shipments in millions)
Vendor 2019 Unit Shipments 2019 Market Share 2018 Shipments 2018 Market Share Year-Over-Year Growth
1. Apple 49.9 34.6% 43.3 29.6% 15.2%
2. Samsung 21.7 15.1% 23.4 16.0% -7.2%
3. Huawei 14.1 9.8% 14.6 10.0% -3.5%
4. Amazon.com 13.0 9.0% 11.8 8.1% 9.9%
5. Lenovo 8.5 5.9% 8.8 6.0% -4.2%
Others 37.0 25.7% 44.3 30.3% -16.6%
Total 144.1 100.0% 146.2 100.0% -1.5%
Source: IDC Worldwide Quarterly PCD Tracker, January 30, 2020

Whatever the expert users say about the iPad, it strikes a chord with Apple’s customers. The move to sell an Apple-branded keyboard and the Apple Pencil, along with the, controversial in geek circles, upgrades to iPadOS have all propelled the iPad.

It gives owners of earlier models a solid reason to upgrade and pulls in some buyers who may have considered laptops. You can use the iPad for jobs, like writing, that were previously only practical on a traditional computer. The other strategy Apple has got right it pricing. There are low-cost models at the bottom along with more expensive pro models at the top.

After 10 years of iPad, Apple fans slam iPadOS

Last week was the iPad’s tenth birthday. An elite group of Apple fans celebrated the date with a barrage of criticisms centred  on the iPadOS operating system.

For many people and some tasks Apple’s tablet is the best computer ever made. It is more mobile than any laptop and, despite the high-powered whinging, for the most part is easy to use.

Yet a surprising number of high-profile Apple fans took to their blogs and news outlets to criticise the iPad.

In The iPad Awkwardly Turns 10 at Daring Fireball, John Gruber writes of his disappointment:

“…Ten years later, though, I don’t think the iPad has come close to living up to its potential.”

Gruber has a lot to say on the subject. His blog post runs to 1100 words.

He isn’t the only high profile Apple commentator to criticise the iPad. His piece is here because it was the trigger for others to join the pile-on. If anything Ben Thompson’s Stratechery post is more critical.

Apple Ipad showing iPadOS multitasking

Apple geeks dislike iPadOS

The nub of Gruber’s point is the iPad’s operating system. He explains here:

“Software is where the iPad has gotten lost. iPadOS’s multitasking model is far more capable than the iPhone’s, yes, but somehow Apple has painted it into a corner in which it is far less consistent and coherent than the Mac’s, while also being far less capable. iPad multitasking: more complex, less powerful. That’s quite a combination.”

The words, especially the last two sentences, are damning. Gruber may have focused on multitasking because his blog’s audience tends towards geeks and computing professional. For them multitasking is a big deal.

Of course iPads are not computers for the geek elite.

Until the last couple of years they were simple, lightweight, handy devices best suited to media consumption and basic tasks like dealing with email or writing.

That’s changed with the iPad Pro, they are now far better tools for media creation. In many cases they are now the best tool for media creation.

Multitasking

Multitasking is a nice thing to have on an iPad. It is not essential. It’s unlikely even half the people who own iPads ever use multitasking.

Moreover, iPads enjoyed their best sales in their early days long before anyone gave much thought to multitasking. It is something Apple has bolted on in recent times.

And that brings us to an oddity. It was the geeky, elite iPad users who constantly complained the iPad couldn’t do multitasking. When Apple delivered, they decided this was not the multitasking they had been calling for.

Few everyday users would choose or not choose an iPad because of multitasking. For that matter, few everyday users go for full multitasking on their laptops and desktops. It’ i a subject that matters most to a small segment of users who might be better off with other devices anyway.

Doing more than one thing at a time

That said, iPad multitasking is handy.

iPad multitasking is still relatively new. Apple added a basic form of multitasking in 2017. Then last year multitasking was bumped up to become more powerful and usable. This 2019 multitasking is what upset Gruber and the other Apple commentators.

That was in September. We’ve barely had time to come to terms with the new features.

If, like many iPad users, you often switch between a more conventional computer and Apple’s table, four months is not a lot of time to learn all the nuances of a major operating system update. It’s only a couple of days since I found a hitherto undiscovered multitasking feature. That is already paying off in terms of increased productivity.

There are some complexities to the multitasking user interface in some circumstances. But there are simpler ways to work with the functionality.

Where iPadOS scores

Some computing tasks still work better on a laptop or desktop computer. Few of them affect me in my daily work as a journalist. Many, many other iPad users have similar usage patterns. In my experience, I get through most of my work faster and with fewer roadblocks on an iPad compared to any laptop or desktop computer.

There is a clear productivity advantage.

The list of tasks iPad does not do well has now dwindled to the point where I could keep my MacBook in the cupboard and do most of my writing, website managing and other tasks with my iPad Pro.

For my needs, the iPad Pro is the productive choice.

Shortfalls

Where there are shortfalls, it is often because of poorly designed apps that have yet to adapt to the hardware. This is also true for touch-screen Microsoft Windows. There are iPadOS apps that are not as complete as their desktop equivalents, but a lot of desktop applications are bloated, over-featured and unnecessarily complex.

Gruber’s criticism is damning, but it’s not all negative. He finishes writing:

“I like my iPad very much, and use it almost every day. But if I could go back to the pre-split-screen, pre-drag-and-drop interface I would. Which is to say, now that iPadOS has its own name, I wish I could install the iPhone’s one-app-on-screen-at-a-time, no-drag-and-drop iOS on my iPad Pro. I’d do it in a heartbeat and be much happier for it.

“The iPad at 10 is, to me, a grave disappointment. Not because it’s “bad”, because it’s not bad — it’s great even — but because great though it is in so many ways, overall it has fallen so far short of the grand potential it showed on day one.

“To reach that potential, Apple needs to recognise they have made profound conceptual mistakes in the iPad user interface, mistakes that need to be scrapped and replaced, not polished and refined. I worry that iPadOS 13 suggests the opposite — that Apple is steering the iPad full speed ahead down a blind alley.”

In simple terms Gruber’s criticism boils down to the iPad not being a Mac. He takes us back to the computers versus tablet debate that went underground for a few years before coming back. In the Windows world this is answered by laptops that are also tablets.

Apple’s iPad is great. It is not perfect. There are questions to ask. After an initial burst of enthusiasm, sales have dropped away. Something needs fixing for sales to recover. It is unlikely that something  is the “profound conceptual mistakes in the iPad user interface”. After all, that update only happened four months ago, long after the sales decline started.

Ditching laptop for iPad Pro

https://brooksreview.net/2019/11/why-you-should-ditch-your-laptop-for-ipad-pro/

Ben Brooks argues that you should ditch your laptop for an iPad Pro. He says the iPad has shown it is a better tool than a laptop.

Up to a point I agree with Brooks. The iPad Pro can be a better work tool than a laptop in many circumstances. One day it may always outperform the more traditional computer format all the time.

The gap between what you can do on an iPad compared with what you can do on a laptop has almost closed. Every new version of iOS makes the gap smaller. That will accelerate now Apple has split iPadOS from iOS.

iPad Pro not there yet

But we’re still not all the way there yet. Some tasks are still better done on the laptop. Take, for example, troubleshooting a web page. Despite there being excellent iOS web inspection tools, my favourite is Inspect Browser, this still works better on a laptop with a desktop-style browser. Doing this work on an iPad is clumsy and feels wrong. 

Apart from anything else, some web pages still force the iPad to a mobile version. This makes troubleshoooting hard. Although you can now demand the desktop page.

On the other hand, there are tasks that are better on an iPad Pro than on a laptop. I’m a journalist, I write for a living, all day most days. Writing is arguably better on an iPad Pro than a laptop.

I was surprised to find the iPadOS version of Microsoft Word is a better user experience than the MacOS version. This could be in part because the iPad version is simpler.

I no longer use my MacBook as a portable. When I’m on the move the iPad is my preferred device. I fly with it, take it cafes and to meetings. Soon I will drop the MacBook, but not yet.