At Apple event, the iPad delivers the strongest business value upgrade

The seventh generation of Apple's pioneering tablet brings its size and input options in line with its more expensive alternatives. Its optimized operating system makes it more competitive with both low-cost Windows laptops and Microsoft's Surface Go.
Written by Ross Rubin, Contributor

It's tough to overstate the value of the Apple Watch, especially when it can save one's life, as it has for the people Apple highlighted in a video, or of the iPhone, if it's a product that one relies on as a constant companion. But in an event that was light on new hardware introductions, small but important improvements that Apple made to its baseline iPad stand to further extend the slate's lead among its competitors and improve its value as a versatile laptop alternative.

Apple made two significant and related hardware changes to the original iPad's most direct and affordable successor, expanding its screen size slightly from 9.7 inches to 10.2 inches and adding a pogo connector to facilitate the same kind of keyboard folio it offers for more expensive iPads. The expanded screen size enables the iPad to better accommodate a keyboard, although no shortage of third-party Bluetooth keyboards targeted the older models. The seventh-generation iPad, though, has the same device height and width as the 10.5-inch iPad Air but has a slightly smaller display, so it uses the same Smart Keyboard as its more expensive cousin. Note to those excited about the iPad's tenuous support for cursors: The keyboard has no trackpad but, like all current iPad models, works with the Apple Pencil.

The latest iPad Pro may be the iPad that the team always wanted to build. But the standard iPad is the one that more consumers, including more iPad newcomers, buy. That's not surprising given the product's $329 price tag, about a third of the price of where MacBooks start out. Even with the price of Apple's Smart Keyboard at $159 -- nearly half that of the iPad itself -- it represents a great value for productivity. That's particularly true for a range of business tasks that include creative sketching, data collection via digital forms, and augmented reality visualization. Microsoft acknowledged the last when it showed iPads being used alongside the HoloLens 2 at the headset's introduction.

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Apple was not shy about comparing the new iPad against the top-selling Windows laptop, noting how the slate's display offered a higher-resolution experience. In terms of form factor competition, though, the new iPad seems to be more of a preemptive strike against a second-generation Surface Go expected to be announced next month by Microsoft. As I wrote last year, Microsoft's smaller, less expensive tablet is a satisfying device for computing on the go. A processor class update like the one my colleague Mary Jo Foley anticipates, would address one of its shortcomings. A decade after the war between netbooks and slates started for 10" devices, there is growing momentum for something that has landed in the middle. 

Fighting back against that, the new iPad will be the first new model to ship with iPadOS. The inaugural version brings improvements in terms of home screen real estate usage, file management, and other areas where desktop OSes have traditionally had an advantage. It also builds upon an iOS 12 upgrade that represents a significant leap toward narrowing the laptop gap. It will be a challenge for Apple to bring the iPad ever closer to the capabilities of a Mac, as it's vowed never to cross a line that Microsoft has with the Surface. Until that's resolved, those choosing the Surface Go can count on to a full desktop experience when using the 2-in-1 on a desktop. Apple, on the other hand, has a better story to tell for usage scenarios that demand the most flexibility in switching between slate apps and desktop usage.

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