Apple just revealed new versions of its 11-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pro today, and as expected, they’re shaping up to be the most powerful pair of tablets you can find.
If you were looking for sweeping design changes, sorry — the new models look basically identical to the redesigned Pro models we first saw in 2018, just with a few tweaks here and there. Of note, the bump around back that houses the iPad Pro’s cameras and LiDAR array appears to be a little flatter than before. Earlier reports also suggested some minor changes in thickness, particularly in Apple’s larger Pro model, but we haven’t been able to confirm that yet.
Apple iPad Pro with M1 chip and Liquid Retina XDR display
Press images for the new Apple iPad Pro with M1 chip and Liquid Retina XDR display.
One of the biggest changes on display this year is... Apple’s choice of display. This year, the company went with what it calls a Liquid Retina XDR panel, complete with a new mini-LED backlighting system. Because each lighting element is much smaller than what you’d find in a typical LCD panel, Apple could pack more of them behind each square inch of the display — think about 10,000 LEDs total. That means (among other things) more tightly controlled lighting for specific parts of the screen for much-improved contrast and significantly higher brightness overall. (For the curious, maximum full-screen brightness is 1,000 nits, compared to just 600 nits in last year's model.) Unfortunately, the rumors were true: this new screen tech seems to be exclusive to Apple’s biggest iPad, at least for now.
With all of that said, if there's one standout addition to this year's iPad Pros, it's the Apple Silicon M1 chipset. Both new models pack the very same processor found in the company’s more recent MacBook Air and Pro models, along with the newly announced iMac, ending nearly a decade-long streak of Apple exclusively using redesigned smartphone chips in its tablets. Honestly, we can't say we saw that one coming: early reports suggested Apple would use an improved version of its A14 chipset based on the M1's design, but the company apparently decided to just transplant its desktop-grade chip entirely.
The company’s pro-level iPads have always been the most powerful tablets in its stable, but the release of the 2020 iPad Air — which packs the same A14 chipset found in Apple’s popular iPhone 12 series — gave that more affordable slate a slight edge in single-core performance. With the addition of this new (and unexpected) silicon, the iPad Pro should sit comfortably atop Apple’s lineup once more.
Apple found other ways to make the iPad Pro feel, well, more professional beyond just ramping up performance. In a nod to its most demanding users, the new iPad Pro's USB-C port doubles as a Thunderbolt port with USB 4.0 support. Apple says that with these improvements in place, the bandwidth for wired connections peaks at around 40Gbps, and that people will be able to use "high performance" accessories like super-fast external storage and high-resolution displays like the pricey Pro Display XDR at its full, 6K resolution.
The 2021 iPad Pros will also be the first Apple tablets to ship with support for 5G networks. We expect cellular models of these iPads to play nice with easy-to-find sub-6 deployments, and to our surprise, it seems as though all cellular versions of the iPad Pro in the US will support mmWave 5G networks out of the box. (Unfortunately, it's not yet clear if mmWave models will eventually go on sale overseas.)
The list of improvements doesn't end there, either. A new 12-megapixel ultra-wide front camera should make your recurring video calls look a little better, and a feature called Center Stage will use that wider field of view to make sure you're always smack in the center of your call window. Meanwhile, the ceiling for onboard storage here has been raised to a whopping 2TB, which is nice when you consider the rear camera should take much nicer photos than you'd expect from a tablet. (That's because it benefits from the same Smart HDR 3 processing you'll have seen if you shoot photos with an iPhone 12.)
Apple's no stranger to hyperbole, but it isn't kidding when it calls these the "most powerful and advanced" iPad ever. We'll have to spend some time chewing on these announcements and what they mean for the company's strategy — along with the future of the personal computer — but you'll be able to order one soon if you're already convinced.
Both models will go up for pre-order on April 30th, and should start hitting doorsteps in the "second half of May." Here's what you can expect as far as pricing:
11-inch iPad Pro (Wi-Fi)
11-inch iPad Pro (Wi-Fi + Cellular)
12.9-inch iPad Pro (Wi-Fi)
12.9-inch iPad Pro (Wi-Fi + Cellular)