Peak iPad Pro: The end of major advances?

This year's iPad Pro is a magnificent piece of technology. But it isn't everything we hoped for, and we may have hit peak advances with this year's model.
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer

So the new iPad Pro came out this week. And I subsequently spent over $1,200 for a new 12.9-inch 256GB WiFi model. Ouch.

I would have bought the 512GB version, but I've already spent enough money this year on the iPhone XS Max and the Apple Watch Series 4.

Look, I love Apple stuff, but I enjoy having a low credit card balance and a stress-free relationship with my wife. If I spend any more money on Apple this year she will almost certainly kick my ass.

I actually decided on the 256GB because I use the iPad primarily for apps and streaming at home as my main after-hours computing device; I don't travel with the thing or load it up with music and other content. My iPhone XS Max is the 512GB version because it has my entire music library on it. It's still probably overkill for my needs.

A number of the things I predicted about this crop of iPad Pros came true. But some important things did not.

For starters, I expected the CPU horsepower of the A12X SoC to be somewhat lower -- it's a 4X4 asymmetrical chip, rather than a 3X4 or a 3X6 in terms of core arrangement. It actually exceeded my lowest expectations in that respect; even the GPU is a 7-way versus a 6-way.

The actual real-world performance remains to be seen, and I am optimistic. With that much computing horsepower, you can absolutely drive a very high-resolution 4K or 5K display. It even can do it on an external monitor with the USB-C capability on this device and I can't wait to test that out.

But on the 12.9-inch model, we didn't get a built-in 4K display in the new iPad Pro, we got the same display resolution we got last year, and the year before that... and the year before that.

Look, 2,732 x 2,048-pixel resolution is nothing to scoff at; that's a lot higher resolution than virtually all broadcast and subscription TV content, which is at 1080p or 720p in many cases. But it's not 4K, which is 3840x2160.

I expected better for this year's price bump. Sure, it's an edge-to-edge display with the reduced form factor, and it has the FaceID stuff from the new iPhones. But I am not exactly a huge fan of FaceID because in real-world use, it's less reliable and nowhere near as fast as the TouchID it's replacing.

Granted, the new Apple Pencil is a huge improvement for creatives with the induction charging and magnetic connector to the iPad. But I don't use an Apple Pencil -- mine from 2015 is still sitting in the box, unopened. And apparently, I can't use it on the new iPad Pro, so I guess I need to sell it or give it away.


The USB-C, however, I did not expect, given that the iPhones this year did not migrate to USB-C. So while I am overjoyed the iPad Pro has now joined the rest of the Apple MacBook family and the rest of the personal computing and mobile world, I am annoyed that we have to go through yet another year of charging cable insanity because my iPhone XS Max doesn't match charge connectors now.

It means I need to have a dedicated charging area for my iPad Pro versus using the same ones I use for my iPhones. It was an ideal setup having the same USB-C to Lightning USB PD cables for my 2017 iPad Pro and my iPhone X. When one was done charging, I charged the other. With USB PD, it's very fast, so it's rare that one of the devices completely dies out while the other is charging up.

For my Android devices, I use a separate USB PD charging station, or I use USB-A to USB-C cables on the spare ports. It isn't particularly fast, but it gets the job done.

Sure, I could just yank the USB PD to Lightning cable I use for my iPhones and switch out with a USB-C to USB-C cable when it needs to happen, but I absolutely hate pulling cables constantly. I buy cables and connect them to chargers and leave them there.

And forget the legacy ports on those chargers -- you really don't want to charge an iPad Pro with a USB-A to USB-C cable. It's so ungodly slow at 2W. It takes forever.

Okay, I admit that is a minor nitpick. I have my (arguably much slower) Qi charging pads I can use with my iPhones and Androids too when the iPad Pro is using up USB-C PD cords. I got multi-port wall chargers plugged into receptacles all over the house. I can make this work, right?

Ultimately, what disappoints me is the realization that -- like the current crop of iPhones -- iPad may have hit its "peak".

We have reached a point in the development of these products where there are very few new features that can actually be improved upon without significant advances in the telecommunications infrastructure they actually run on.

The lack of a 4K display reflects a barrier that won't be broken until we have ubiquitous 5G, gigabit-plus broadband and next-generation WiFi capabilities in the average residence.

I am probably one of the very few people that can actually reliably consume streamed 4K content because I have gigabit fiber to the home (FTTH) broadband and an 802.11ac 5Ghz WiFi network that an iPad Pro with its MIMO baseband transceiver can talk to in excess of 400Mbps. Most people do not have extreme connectivity setups like this, not even in the most connected areas of the country.

4K media files in high-quality -- even when compressed in lossless formats -- use up a lot of data and chew up a lot of bandwidth. With the rate caps and throttling that are likely going to come in place under the current FCC rules, few people are going to want to download that and wait that long to get it on their device before watching it.

And while I am hopeful that we will have nationwide 5G deployments in the next few years, the reality is very different from what is being promised to us.

Honestly, this may be one of the last new iPads I buy over the next few years. Even for someone who writes about technology and wants to keep up with things, it's too expensive to do it each year along with all the other stuff that's on an upgrade cycle, given the ever smaller incremental advances that are possible.

And that makes me sad.

Was the 2018 iPad Pro everything you thought it would be or hoped for? Or have we hit "Peak iPad?" Talk Back and Let Me Know.

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