Apple iPad Pro is just a companion device

By Ray Shaw

iPad Pro is just a companion device iPad Pro is just a companion device

Apple introduced a 12.9” iPad Pro with optional Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard – it’s a lovely, well made iOS tablet. Microsoft introduced the updated 12” Surface Pro 4 and the 13.5” Surface Book – again lovely, well, made Windows hybrid 2-in-1 tablets.
But the gloves are finally off. Microsoft’s Senior communications manager Dan Laycock said at CES the iPad is little more than a ‘companion device’. “Microsoft really wants you to only carry one device for tablet and PC use, whereas the iPad Pro is always going to be a companion device. The strategies are very different.”

“At one point in time, Apple declared that if there’s a stylus, that’s failure. We’re a huge believer in the pen; we know our customers love it. So to see Apple do something that feels a little bit similar [to the Surface], that is clearly skewed for a bigger screen, and more productivity built in, and the ability to use a pen – we don’t see it as a one-to-one comparison, because this [Surface] is a full PC, you’re running full apps,” he added.

That has sparked a raft of comparisons between the iPad Pro and the Surface Pro 4 and to a lesser degree the Surface Book. I don’t intend to slag either device – as Shakespeare’s Mark Antony said: I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.’ Well perhaps this is about praising both, not burying one.

But perhaps the most telling and frequent comment comes from Mac users, “We want a Macbook touch tablet running OS X and not an oversized iPad Pro with limitations. The only semi-useful thing about the iPod Pro is as a Cintiq wannabe [Wacom] connected to Macbook but you have to deal with the latency, quirks and carrying two devices instead of one.

On with the debate – and frankly it is lopsided as it is not about the fabulous hardware but about iOS (a true mobile operating system running on ARM processors) and Windows 10 (a full-fat x86 based operating system). A fairer comparison would be with a touch version of OS X that does not exist.
The iPad Pro and Surface Pro/Book are aimed at those who want portability, productivity, and reasonable battery life.

All have optional (or included) keyboard and pen/stylus as any serious content creation a.k.a. productivity needs ‘desktop’ type tools. The Surface supports a mouse/trackpad and Bluetooth devices including keyboard, trackpad and mice.

All have larger screens – 12.9” iPad Pro, 12” Surface Pro 4, and 13.5” Surface Book are better for content creation and productivity. The smaller 9.7” iPad Air and to a lesser degree 10.8” Surface 3 are more useful as content consumption devices.

The iPad Pro has a single Lightning connector for charging and data. The Surface Pro/Book has a full size USB 3.0 for data, micro-DisplayPort, and a Microsoft proprietary port to both charge and connect to a Surface Dock allowing use with dual monitors, four USB ports, and audio in/out port.

The iOS ecosystem is optimised for mobility and most current apps don’t take advantage of the iPad Pro multi-tasking and split screen ability. The Windows ecosystem is optimised for connectivity and Windows programs are fully resizable and multi-tasking.

While both have Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, Windows has USB, Bluetooth, Docks, Ethernet, and access to the full Windows ecosystem of devices and software.

Both have similar specified front and rear cameras, inbuilt microphone and speakers.

The iPad Pro uses the Apple A/M9 ARM based system on a chip (SOC). The Surface/Book uses x86 Intel Skylake 6th generation Core i5 or i7 – plus a lower cost and performance option of the Core m3 on the Surface Pro 4.

I could keep going on hardware and all it would prove is that they are ‘similar’ devices at similar prices.

So the contentious part really comes down to is iOS or Windows 10 – which is right for you?

Again I go to the voluminous online ‘comments’ and these are essentially aligned with each camp.

The iPad Pro is used by Writers, Artists, Photographers and Musicians to for Creation. Those who say it is a toy are commenting on their own lack of talent rather than any shortcomings of the iPad Pro.

The Surface Pro is used by Writers, Artists, Photographers, Musicians, Architects, Engineers, Programmers, Designers, and a hundred other professions – and it provides every one of them with a far more powerful and productive toolset than is available on an iPad. In the end, the iPad Pro is limited with a Mobile OS and processor that does not share the same Applications as x86 devices. When Adobe announces full Photoshop (not the mobile version) on the iPad Pro, then we can really set benchmarks.

Again we could go on and on – there is raging controversy about Apple’s superb iPad Pro and Microsoft’s superb Surface Pro/Book. The following comments struck me as a most relevant way to finish this article.

The iPad has an extensive apps store and that has a significant level of content consumption and entertainment amenity that Windows lacks.

If productivity – actually getting real work done – is the decider and Apple promote the iPad Pro as a productivity tool, buyers should know its limitations. I’ve tried to use it like a computer, attaching the keyboard cover to prop it up but then stopped fooling myself and got a Surface Pro 4 instead.

As a professional application developer and a lifelong gamer I’ve tried using mobile tablets like the iPad Pro for serious work and serious play but quickly discovered it to be an exercise in frustration. A single Surface Pro 4 has now replaced three devices – my Macbook, and both Android and iOS tablets.

Between my iPhone and the Surface Pro 4 there is really no other computing need. Apple has delivered on the best smartphone and Microsoft has delivered on their promise for the best productivity device. I’ve heard it time and time again – and I would buy it – we need touch enabled OS X, NOT iOS in hybrid tablet form. Until Apple gets it right and developers an OS X tablet they will not be able to challenge the Surface.

Strategy Analytics reports on Microsoft’s relative success in the tablet market. Sales of Windows tablets are up 58% year-on-year, and are projected to reach 22 million for calendar year 2015. Cult of Mac says, “iPad Pro sales are off to a somewhat disappointing start — with just 49,000 units selling in the first month in Apple’s emphasised China region.”

I will leave the decision to you – in essence it is will iOS do what you want, or is Windows more suitable?