Apple Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro Review

Apple’s iPad devices are feeling more and more like laptop alternatives, for better or for worse they are now overloaded with features that let them multitask and confuse people who just want to use them without learning about hidden functionality that allows that multitasking.

All of the multi-tasking functionality is hidden behind swipes and gestures that are so obtuse Apple has to explain in a series of videos:

If only they had just had some kind of interface around apps that let you handle these things, like, I don’t know, window borders…

Still, it must be hard to go from an approachable app-based interface to one that adds multitasking when your apps didn’t really have room for multitasking functionality to start.

Which brings us to Apple’s addition of mouse functionality to the iPad last year.

Mouse support was hit or miss for a little while, but newer bluetooth mice work well, and the mouse cursor even adjusts to take over certain UI elements, a genuinely nifty trick that hasn’t been done before and improves the experience of mousing. Especially when so many apps end up using standard interface controls. The only downside is that many apps do not really support the new mousing modes, this is especially apparent if you use remote desktop software like VNC Viewer which expects a touch and so you have to click on the trackpad while you move the cursor or the mouse cursor won’t move at all. There is probably some VNC software that works better, but that’s just how some apps are setup. There is no “hover” state with touch like there is with a mouse cursor, so apps won’t work right away and this keyboard accessory has been out for almost an entire year.

The first iPad shipped eleven years ago alongside an optional keyboard dock, an odd device that made ergonomic sense for a workstation but couldn’t really be picked up and carried around. It also had a portrait layout instead of the wider landscape view that people have come to expect. Portrait mode can be preferable for writing since you can see more of your document, but it might not work as well if you’re going to watch a show or movie or something else you’re writing about in a picture-in-picture window.

Since 2015 Apple has sold a series of Smart Keyboards and Smart Keyboard Folio devices for the iPad line that just included a keyboard but also were handy and wrapped around the iPad to provide some protection and could be positioned with the keyboard tucked away behind the iPad while still holding the tablet upright or below it for typing. Handy, but also expensive keyboards. They’re still available, and bluetooth keyboards, including Apple’s own have worked for years, but Apple finally made a keyboard that includes one of their fantastic trackpads in the superfluously named Magic Keyboard for iPad.

The Magic Keyboard for iPad is an exceedingly silly name, but it’s nice to see Apple being a little bit whimsical when they’ve altogether attempted to eliminate the easter egg and other nice things under the watchful gaze of Jony Ive before he disappeared into the white void. Sadly there is only one color available, and it is black.

All that to say, the new keyboard is pretty good. For a company that fucked up their laptop keyboards for a great deal of time, the Magic Keyboard for iPad seems great.

Typing on the blessedly-not-butterfly switch mechanisms is pleasant and makes a cute thocky noise that might sound a little bit like a cartoonish idea of popcorn popping. The arrow keys are spaced out well with enough distance from the rest of the modifiers and alpha cluster that your hands can find them easily. The keys are by default backlit and because this is Apple the illumination is very even behind the legends. Only on the larger keycaps (return, caps lock) show any variance in the backlight.

The keyboard attaches to the iPad through a series of magnets on the back, it feels very secure in that sense but because the iPad is heavier than the keyboard the whole contraption can feel a little unstable on a lap when you’re sitting on the couch.

Despite not being coated in some kind of fabric like the Smart Keyboard was, the Magic Keyboard for iPad still has a very odd, very prominent, seam that extends over every edge. Someone I know has used that Smart Keyboard for years and the fabric has peeled off and it looks terrible at this point. The seam presumably indicates that is what is holding the soft-touch plastic part on, but it isn’t exactly reassuring in terms of longevity for a keyboard that you would hope you could keep using even when there is a newer iPad.

Since I have switched my desktop usage to mechanical keyboards I haven’t used a thin keyboard switch like this in a while, and even a traditional layout is kind of unusual. I’m a pretty big person so having my hands typing so close together isn’t as comfortable as I would like without an ergonomic split. I should say that I’m trying the keyboard for the 12.9” iPad Pro, I imagine that the 11” iPad Pro or 4th generation iPad Air and its smaller Magic Keyboard for iPad would be less comfortable.

While the layout of this keyboard is pretty impressive for a small space, especially to fit the amazing trackpad, there are a few other quirks.

For one, just like the Smart Keyboards that came before, there is no function row on the Magic Keyboard for iPad. This means no media keys, so no control over the keyboard backlight or media playback that you’ve come to expect from decades of Apple keyboards that included media controls. The backlight can be manually configured in Settings as can the touchpad. No escape key, either. However the good news is that you can reconfigure the modifier keys to serve other functions:

You may also note the “Globe key” that is similar to the globe key on the software keyboard in iPadOS and iOS. This key lets you type emoji or in my case I use it to switch between different languages.

On my mechanical keyboards I usually program the caps-lock key to be a modifier that unlocks additional functionality. Caps-lock and the 1 key gives me F1 and you can do all kinds of other wild stuff Apple would never include but I truly miss.

Other reviewers have pointed out that this keyboard is a bit heavy, but I previously had a bulky protective case on this iPad so for me it is lighter than before.

The substantial hinge mechanism adds to that bulk, and also adds another USB-C port to the left side of the iPad which conveniently lets you charge the iPad from desk-level instead of having a cable hanging out mid-air. Very thoughtful, but I believe it charges a bit slower through that C port. (Update: an earlier version of this article said there was no metal-to-metal contact for charging, closer inspect revealed the following) The back of the Magic Keyboard’s folio portion connects to the iPad through three pins that make contact with three contacts on the back of the iPad. That USB-C port also can’t be used for data, so an external mouse or thumb drive can’t be used with the port at the hinge. That port must transmit just enough data for the keyboard signals and power for the backlight, so the good news is that you don’t have to charge the keyboard separately.

Sadly, the hinge also just isn’t as flexible as the Smart Keyboard. So you can’t leave the Magic Keyboard for iPad attached and use it like a stand but with the keyboard hidden behind the iPad.

There also just isn’t enough protection built into this case. While it is very easy to intentionally detach an iPad from the Magic Keyboard for iPad using the magnetic mechanism, you’re left with no protection at all but that is the only way I’ve found to keep using my iPad to watch a show while doing something messy like washing dishes. The Apple Store sells another case for the iPads that are compatible with the Magic Keyboard for iPad but with the MSRP for the keyboard case at an eye-watering $350 I’m not sure adding another $70 for that case on top is reasonable. You can even buy some iPads brand new for $300!

A basic M1 equipped MacBook Air is around a thousand dollars and is practically the most powerful computer you can buy right now, even more powerful than many of the “Pro” intel computers Apple still sells and it also has a keyboard built-in and runs macOS.

The iPad Pro 12.9” is the same thousand-dollar-ish price, but doesn’t include a keyboard or trackpad and is less flexible in some ways but more portable in others and has a processor that for all real purposes hasn’t been updated since 2018. Granted, the A12X still feels plenty fast but that is only because iPadOS is so aggressive about memory management and processing management. Applications on iPadOS just can’t hog resources like macOS programs can. Adding on the Magic Keyboard for iPad makes the iPad Pro Keyboard and Trackpad chimera about $1350.

The advantage the Magic Keyboard for iPad has is that it also works with iPad Pro devices from 2018 and the lesser-priced ($600) iPad Air. The iPad Air also has a newer processor (A14, non-X), but no FaceID and is only available in one size, 10.9 inches. The Magic Keyboard for the iPad Air and iPad Pro also starts cheaper, it’s $250. That is the iPad I’d probably recommend to someone who is desperate for one today unless you need the larger physical size (12.9”) and higher capacity of the 512 or 1TB storage on the iPad Pro. In which case the rumor sites are all imploring you to wait.

Wait for what? An updated iPad Pro. Ah, but will it work with the same Magic Keyboard for iPad? I have no idea, but you hope so.

Overall, I really enjoy the Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro more than I thought I would. I can be very productive with a bluetooth mouse and keyboard and the iPad, but bluetooth devices just aren’t as easy to set up and use as the Magic Keyboard for iPad.

However, in a desktop scenario the iPad can’t really be separated more from the Magic Keyboard which just isn’t as good ergonomically and that is disappointing, your display should be at or slightly below eye level but this is just how laptop-ish devices are. There are other quirks, the biggest of which is the ridiculous price, and that is why this amazing Magic Keyboard for iPad and trackpad only gets 3 out of 5 stars. It is magic, but wow do you pay for it.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Now, if I could dream, I’d have a real programmable mechanical keyboard attachment for the iPad, and could download an emulator or other software outside of Apple’s App Store without having to reauthorize the installation every few days.

It’s New (Old) iPad Day

New iPad air and iPad mini with Apple Pencil

If you don’t want to waste time at an upcoming event by talking about updates to old products that nobody will think about for too long, you do it in a press release.

As rumored, that’s what Apple has done with this press-release update to their iPad lineup. The iPad Mini has been updated for the first time in almost 4 years, and the iPad Air  has been revived as a higher-end alternative to the iPad Cheap. Both devices got Apple Pencil support… sort of.

The iPad Mini 5 is the 7.9 inch device that can fit into the pocket of your Jnco Jeans, as long as you can track a pair down. Unfortunately the Jnco Jeans business doesn’t appear to be going well and their website is offline.

The iPad Air was last updated almost 5 years ago, with the 2nd generation model and is suspiciously 10.5”. You might remember a 10.5” iPad Pro that was replaced with the 11” model last October. That’s where this 3rd generation iPad Air form-factor is from.

Both devices get the A12 system-on-a-chip (SOC) from the latest iPhones, but not the A12X from the latest iPad Pros. So they won’t be quite as powerful, and we won’t have any benchmarks or information about clockspeeds and amount of RAM until reviewers get their hands on these updated models.

Both devices also get support for Apple’s stylus, but not the cool new one from the 2018 iPad Pros.

Both new-old hybrid iPads have the classic big-bezel design, not the new iPad Pro/iPhone X design with minimal bezels around the edges that’s neccessary for 2nd-generation Apple Pencil stylus.

That new Apple Pencil charges and when it is magnetically held-in-place to one side of those new Pros. The new Apple Pencil also has one flat side, so it won’t roll off a table. The 1st generation Apple Pencil supported by these newly updated tablets with old form-factors still has all of those first-generation Apple Pencil issues and is ready and willing to roll off your table and get lost under the couch.

Not receiving any updates today is the 2018 iPad Cheapwhich still has an A10 SOC, older (pre-Air 2) display technology, and the same 1st generation Apple Pencil support.

This old Apple Pencil support is almost vindictive at this point. Why does Apple want to punish lower-end iPad users with a worse stylus experience? Why sell people a stylus that probably won’t work with the next iPad they buy?

If these iPads are the future of labor, entertainment, and creative expression, Apple needs to treat the people buying these devices better. All iPads should have a similar design, and flat sides so they can support the same stylus that won’t roll off the table.

Lets revisit our oldest friend, with an updated logo, the table of confusing iPad decisions:

The logo for The Table of Confusing iPad Decisions

  • 2018 iPad Cheap at 9.7″
    • non-laminated (thicker) display
    • A10 SOC
    • 2GB RAM
    • Supports the ($100) Apple Pencil.
    • Old-ass 1st generation Touch ID.
    • 32GB ($330) or 128 GB ($430) wifi only
    • 32GB ($460) and 128GB ($560) with cellular
  • iPad Mini 5 at 7.9″
    • laminated (thinner) display
    • Wide color gamut (for professional color accuracy and better looking photos and videos)
    • True tone (makes the screen match the color temperature of the environment like a sheet of paper would)
    • 1st-gen Apple Pencil Support
    • 2nd (presumably)-generation Touch ID
    • A12 SOC
    • ?GB RAM
    • 64GB ($400) for the WiFi-only model, 256GB ($550)
    • 64GB with Cellular ($530), 256GB with Cellular ($680)
  • iPad Air 3 at 10.5″
    • laminated (thinner) display
    • Wide color gamut (for professional color accuracy and better looking photos and videos)
    • True tone (makes the screen match the color temperature of the environment like a sheet of paper would)
    • 2017-era iPad Pro Smart Connector
    • 1st-gen Apple Pencil Support
    • 2nd (presumably)-generation Touch ID
    • A12 Processor
    • ?GB RAM
    • 64GB ($500) for the WiFi-only model, 256GB ($650)
    • 64GB with Cellular ($630), 256GB ($780)
  • iPad Pro at 12.9″
    • laminated (thinner) display
    • Wide color gamut (for professional color accuracy and better looking photos and videos)
    • True tone (makes the screen match the color temperature of the environment like a sheet of paper would)
    • ProMotion (variable frame rate)
    • Face ID
    • A12X processor
    • 4GB RAM
    • 2018 Smart connector
    • 2nd-gen Apple Pencil Support
    • WiFi Only: 64GB ($1000) 256GB ($1150) 512GB ($1350) 1TB ($1750)
    • Cellular: 64GB ($1150) 256GB ($1300) 512GB ($1500) 1TB ($1900)
  • iPad Pro at 11″
    • laminated (thinner) display
    • Wide color gamut (for professional color accuracy and better looking photos and videos)
    • True tone (makes the screen match the color temperature of the environment like a sheet of paper would)
    • ProMotion (variable frame rate)
    • Face ID
    • A12X processor
    • 4GB RAM
    • 2018 Smart connector
    • 2nd-gen Apple Pencil Support
    • WiFi Only: 64GB ($800) 256GB ($950) 512GB ($1150) 1TB ($1550)
    • With Cellular: 64GB ($950) 256GB ($1100) 512GB ($1300) 1TB ($1700)

All of the new models are available now in most countries.

It’s good that the iPad Mini form-factor has finally been updated, and there’s a mid-tier for people who want a 10-ish-inch iPad with better parts than the iPad Cheap, without spending the $800 for an 11” iPad Pro. This is a complicated line-up, but there are finally clear “best” iPads with the Pro devices which have the ProMotion variable frame-rate that make for an extremely smooth visual experience. Scrolling through app icons on the home screen is ridiculous on devices with that high framerate.

The year-old iPad Cheap with it’s A10 SOC is probably still fine for most people, but I would think twice before buying it for myself.

The cheapest option for an iPad will always be a refurbished or used model, but I would steer clear of the 5 and 4-year-old previous models of iPad Mini 4 and iPad Air 2. ProMotion is also on the older 2017 iPad Pro models.

Hopefully this year’s WWDC event will bring some announcements of changes in iOS 13 to properly support more advanced workflows beyond the simple Siri Shortcuts available to us today. These devices have never been more unbalanced in terms of how much functionality the hardware could support, and how little iOS is taking advantage of the hardware.

Apple Special Event October 2018 Notes

New ipad pros

Last month we had new iPhones, this time Apple has announced a new set of 11″ and 12.9″ iPad Pros, a new Mac Mini, and a new Retina-blessed MacBook Air. This event was held at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, in New York City.

Tim Cook started out the show by talking about what creative people do with the Mac. A montage played of various well-known folks starting at their Mac laptop screens, notably included were Lin Manuel-Miranda, Paul McCartney, Kermit the Frog, U2, teachers, photographers, and many other people.

The 2018 MacBook Air

Apple’s laptop situation isn’t great. Earlier this year they released new 2018 MacBook Pros that may have allieviated some of the issues with the reliability of 2016/2017 model keyboards. At the same time they also acknowledged the issue and offered extended repairs for three years for anyone who bought those devices.

Last week, the only laptop Apple sold with USB type-A ports was the MacBook Air. It was oddly placed in the product line, because it was actually heavier than some of the other laptop models and was their only device with a screen that wasn’t high-enough of a resolution to be deemed Retina.

Still, starting at $1000, the MacBook Air appeared to be something Apple wanted to keep around way past the due date. They’ve updated it over time with small updates, but Apple has never done a significant redesign of the Air’s body style since it shipped in 2009. This 2018 MacBook Air update is long overdue.

Cook introduced the new Air with this video before handing the device’s introduction off to Apple’s VP of Engineering, Laura Legros:

Finally, finally, the MacBook Air, 2018, has a Retina screen. It also has Touch ID authentication through a single dedicated spot on the keyboard (without the Pro’s Touch Bar,) two USB Type-C connectors with Thunderbolt 3, a new keyboard, Hey Siri hotword detection, and an entirely new body with much thinner bezels around the 13.3″ screen.

Legros said that this was the “greenest Mac Ever” with 100% recycled aluminum, and then introduced this video:

This Air is also more expensive, starting at $1,200 for the base model with 8GB of RAM, a paltry 128GB SSD, and a 1.6 GHz dual-core i5 that can boost to 3.6 Ghz.

If you want 16 gigs of RAM and a 512GB SSD you’re looking at an $1800 MacBook Air. There is even a 1.5TB SSD option that brings the price up to $2,600!

Yow. Legros called this “…the most affordable Retina Mac we’ve ever offered.”

My impression is that this is the laptop that Apple wants to compete with the new 2018 iPad Pro for the future of labor and entertainment.

The 2018 MacBook Air can be purchased online now, or it’ll be in stores on the 7th of November.

The 2017 Air is still for sale, if you want Type-A USB ports and a non-Retina screen at a lower $1000 price.

If I needed to replace my MacBook Pro and wasn’t onboard with the XCode-less iPad, I’d get this Air in a second.

The 2018 Mac Mini

Speaking of overdue updates, it has been four years since the Mac Mini was last updated.

Cook came back out to introduce the 2018 Mac Mini with this sci-fi trailer:

After the video Tom Boger, Apple’s head of Mac Marketing walked onstage to talk about this updated Mini.

Boger specified that the new Mini doesn’t use “mobile parts” but didn’t call the CPU a desktop processor. It’s a 3.6Ghz Quad-Core processor to start.

Spinning disk options are gone in favor of SSD’s, internally. The external design is extremely similar to the old Mac Mini except Apple in 2018 is attacking the the port situation differently. The 2018 Mac Mini has just two USB 3 type-A ports, one HDMI 2.0, four USB type-C (Thunderbolt 3) ports, one ethernet port, and one”3.5 mm headphone” jack that looks particularly awkward to access between and just below the USB Type-A ports as reader basscomm points out.

Just like the Air, you can order a Mini today and they’ll be generally available on the 7th. They start at $800, the configuration I’d go with is the 3.2GHz i7 with 16 GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD. That configuration is $1700.

The most expensive configuration you could do is the same CPU with 64GB of RAM, 2TB of SSD, 10 Gigabyte ethernet instead of Gigabit, and that is $4,200!

Yow.

The cheapest iMac Pro is $800 more at $5000, but it starts with a much more reasonable 32GB of RAM, and a 1TB SSD. That is a machine that could last ten years or more.

This mini is also supposed to be made of 100% recycled aluminum.

Retail Updates

Angela Ahrendts spoke about retail Apple Stores, and specifically the Today at Apple series of classes for people to learn how to create with Apple devices. Ahrendts introduced new classes, and talked about the renewable energy resources that power the stores.

The 2018 iPad Pro 11″ and 12.9″

Cook returned to talk about iPad sales, and showed this chart to demonstrate how Apple had sold more iPads in 2017 than “…the entire notebook lineup of all of the biggest notebook manufacturers.” Look at this chart, it has one notable exception missing from it:

More ipads than notebooks

Cook went on to boast that “…this makes iPad not only the most popular tablet, but the most popular computer in the world.”

Heavily rumored, and now proven to be correct, there is a new iPad Pro in two sizes: 11″ and 12.9″. They have no lightning ports, instead there is one USB Type-C port and a new “Smart Connector” that works with a new Apple keyboard case as well as a new Pencil stylus. Here’s the video that Cook used to introduce the new iPad:

The new iPad Pro tablets have a much smaller bezel, with Face ID that works in both landscape and portrait orientations. Just like the iPhone X, XS, and XS Max, the home button has been replaced with gestures. The new iPad Pro still has an LCD screen, but it also has curved edges like the iPhone XR. Apple’s John Ternus reintroduced this concept, again calling it Liquid Retina.

The 11″ iPad Pro has the same physical width and height as the old 10.5″ garbage iPad Pro that can now be safely disposed of in the nearest fire before you upgrade. The 12.9″ iPad Pro is a smaller package than the old 12.9″, because of the edge-to-edge-ish design of the new Pro’s. The new 12.9″ iPad Pro is also a full millimeter thinner than the older 12.9″ design.

Both new iPad Pros have a look on the sides that resembles my favorite iPhone design, the 4S’s solid edges. They also both have an A12X system-on-a-chip instead of the A10X that last year’s design had.

The AnnX chips are supposed to focus on graphics performance, Ternus compared the new iPad to the equivilent of a portable Xbox One S.

Dropping the lightning port for USB type-C allows the iPad Pro to connect to other USB devices and external displays. No support was expressed for USB peripherals like mice, keyboards, or external storage options. Instead, it was demonstrated almost solely as a camera connector and for charging your iPhone which still ships with a type-A cable that can’t plug into any of the current generation of Apple laptops.

The Pencil stylus is particularly interesting, it magnetically anchors to the side of the iPad Pro and it also has contact charging. The 2018 Pencil has a new action accessible by double-tapping its side. The new Apple Pencil stylus is $130.

I’m curious about the usability of Apple’s new folio keyboard for the iPad Pro. They specifically called out that it could switch between two angles. One for use at a desk, and one for use on your lap. That functionality is exactly what I’ve been looking at third-party keyboards for, replacing all laptop usage scenarios. The new iPad Pro Smart Keyboard Folio is $180 for the 11″ iPad Pro, and $200 for the 12.9″. That is a lot. To compare, the Brydge keyboard that turns the 2017 iPad Pro 12.9″ into a clamshell-style laptop while supportting way more angles of operation is $150.

Apple showed off a free-to-play game from Ubisoft called Assassin’s Creed Rebellion and said it was at 120 frames-per-second. Then they said that it was something that “no console could deliver.” That is sort of true in the sense that the game looks like Ubisoft’s take on Fallout Shelter and TV displays don’t really exist to take advantage of higher frame-rates from consoles as far as I know.

Greg Thomas from Take Two’s 2k Sports division talked about NBA 2k Mobile on the new iPad Pro while his underling demonstrated it. Thomas said it runs at 60 fps at the full retina resolution with no upscaling, it didn’t look that great to me.

Adobe’s VP of design Jamie Myrold and Chantelle (no last name or title given) demonstrated the new version of Photoshop, they repeatedly insisted that this was “the real Photoshop” on the new iPad. It isn’t available yet, but it was clearly frustrating to work with for an on-stage demonstration. Chantelle eventually swapped the same image she was working on to an augmented reality experience with depth between the layers in a separate program they’re calling “Project Arrow.” Both products are supposed to be available in 2019.

Phil Schiller narrated this other video introducing the new iPad Pro tablets:

If I were going to swap my laptop for an iPad I would get a Mac Mini to handle the desktop computing tasks that the iPad can’t.

The new iPad Pro’s are up for order today with general availability on the 7th.

 

Guess where all the recycled aluminum for the Macs comes from? The runoff from iPads and iPhones. As a Philadelphian I will now refer to these new Macs made with recycled aluminum as “Scrapple Macs.”

Overall

I’m disappointed that the Macs on display here have 128GB SSDs by default. I believe that many people will need more storage, and then they’ll have to use an external disk.

Apple’s folks talked up the capabilities of the new MacBook Air for expansion through devices like external GPU kits to bring actual graphics acceleration capabilities, those external enclosures are expensive as-heck and they oddly didn’t mention them for the Mini.

The iMac, MacBook, and Mac Pro are now the most out of date Macs according to the Mac Rumors Buyer’s Guide at 512 days since the last update for the iMac and MacBook, and a whopping 1777 days since the Mac Pro was updated in 2013.

The iPad Mini hasn’t really been updated since 2015! It was rumored to receive an update at this event, but didn’t end up getting one. That size is still interesting to me, although now I would be more likely to use a 12.9″ iPad Pro as a laptop replacement.

These custom ARM chips that Apple is developing really make me wish for a smaller Mac single-board-computer targeted towards the hobbyists that originally made the first Apple computers. I believe that Apple’s A-series would be perfect for these applications and would outclass the competition in build quality and ease-of-use, even though they would certainly not be cheaper.

I have felt the urge to switch to an iPad for all of my photography and writing needs for some time, I sold my iPad Mini earlier this year and regretted that decision because there hasn’t been a good device to replace it with. All of these devices are great, but they are also far out of reach of everyone. I hope that more of the new iPad Pro features make their way to a new iPad Cheap next year.

An iPad Cheap for 2018

Apple announced an updated iPad Cheap today.

IPad 9 7 inch Pencil Slider 32718

Apple announced a new iPad with a bunch of backslapping about how much they love education today at their event held at Lane Tech College Prep High School in Chicago. It’s an updated version of last year’s iPad Cheap with an A10 system-on-a-chip that also works with their stylus, the Pencil. The 2018 iPad Cheap is still missing a ton from the more expensive iPad Pro line, like more modern display technology with a variable framerate. The iPad Mini still hasn’t been updated in almost 3 years despite Apple charging $400 for the iPad Mini 4 versus $330 for this new iPad Cheap.

As usual, I round numbers up to the nearest whole dollar because I don’t care for deceptive pricing.

Here’s an updated rundown of their iPad lineup:

  • 2018 iPad Cheap at 9.7
    • non-laminated (thicker) display
    • A10 processor
    • 2GB RAM
    • Supports the ($100) Apple Pencil.
    • Old ass 1st generation Touch ID.
    • 32GB ($330) or 128 GB ($430) wifi only
    • 32GB ($460) and 128GB ($560) with cellular
  • iPad Mini 4 at 7.9
    • laminated (thinner) display
    • A8 processor
    • 2GB RAM
    • 128GB ($400) wifi only
    • 128GB ($530) with cellular
  • iPad Pro at 12.9
    • laminated (thinner) display
    • Wide color gamut (for professional color accuracy and better looking photos and videos)
    • True tone (makes the screen match the color temperature of the environment like a sheet of paper would)
    • ProMotion (variable frame rate)
    • A10X processor
    • 4GB RAM
    • Smart connector
    • 64GB ($800) 256GB ($950) wifi only 512GB ($1150)
    • 64GB ($930) 256GB ($1080) and 512GB ($1280) with cellular
  • iPad Pro at 10.5
    • laminated (thinner) display
    • Wide color gamut (for professional color accuracy and better looking photos and videos)
    • True tone (makes the screen match the color temperature of the environment like a sheet of paper would)
    • ProMotion (variable frame rate)
    • A10X processor
    • 4GB RAM
    • Smart connector
    • 64GB ($650) 256GB ($800) 512GB ($1000) wifi only
    • 64GB ($780) 256GB ($930) 512GB ($1130) with cellular

Since I last revisited the table of confusing iPad decisions, Apple bumped up the price of some storage tiers.

Apple also updated their free iWork office utilities today with new features like smart annotation. Additionally, they announced other software for educators, students, and developers who want to work with the new ClassKit API.

New hardware was announced from Logitech, including a cut-down $50 version of Apple’s Pencil, called the Crayon that lacks pressure sensitivity but has a better external design for normal human beings. It appears that this device will only be sold through educational sales channels.

One good thing that Apple announced is that students and teachers get 200GB of iCloud storage as long as the Apple ID they use is managed through their organization. Regular iCloud accounts have a tiny 5GB of storage for all their photos and other data. Apple typically charges $3 per month for 200GB of iCloud storage.

Apple’s extended warranty program with accidental damage insurance was dropped in price to $70 for this iPad Cheap as well as the Mini.

Overall, I don’t think that this new iPad Cheap is at all an approachable device for many educators who are still scrounging for basic materials like paper and pencils, while their students are dealing with hunger and homelessness. The $30 discount offered for schools who want to buy this new iPad Cheap is probably meaningful with large purchases, but it won’t mean anything for the poorest schools and students.

The education theme of the event is an extension of the ongoing co-option of public resources by private businesses. Just like NASA ceding their public work and research to private industries, using expensive closed platforms for public schools is not a good look. One Apple presenter even referenced JFK’s “We Choose to go to The Moon” speech.

Apple spend a large part of the presentation advocating for the iPad as a device for creation, but also for coding software. To treat the iPad as a replacement for the modern computer in creative endeavors, or a device for coding, is especially ridiculous when you realize that you can’t ship a game or app for Apple’s app store without using a Mac. iPads don’t have Xcode.

For anyone else who wants an iPad with support for Apple’s Pencil stylus, almost as much processing power as the current Pro models, but is OK giving up enhanced display technologies and half the RAM, the 2018 iPad Cheap is a fine choice and a decent upgrade to last year’s model. It’s available today and I would expect more updates to the iPad line later this year.

The Best iPad

Before this year’s WWDC, and especially before the iPad Cheap was revealed, Apple’s lineup of iPads was super confusing. Which was the “best” depending very much on which iPad features you valued more than others, but it wasn’t clear at all if you went down the lineup.

New readers may notice that I round the prices of each iPad up because they are deceptively priced a dollar lower than the actual pre-tax cost. Apple is nice enough to not do the penny-lower scam ($1.99) that almost everyone else does with their pricing, It would be good if Apple would also drop this bullshit that a $399 object is closer to $300 than $400, so I’ve gone ahead and fixed that for you.

Here were your options if you were trying to pick out an iPad in January:

  • iPad Air 2 at 9.7″
    • laminated (thinner) display
    • A8X processor
    • 2GB RAM
    • 32GB ($400) or 128 GB ($500) wifi only
    • 32GB ($530) and 128GB ($630) with cellular
  • iPad Mini 4 at 7.9″
    • laminated (thinner) display
    • A8 processor
    • 2GB RAM
    • 32GB ($400) or 128GB ($500) wifi only
    • 32GB ($530) and 128GB ($630) with cellular
  • iPad Mini 2 at 7.9″
    • non-laminated (thicker) display
    • A8 processor
    • 1GB RAM
    • 32GB ($270)  wifi only
    • 32GB ($400) with cellular
  • iPad Pro at 12.9″
    • laminated (thinner) display
    • A9X processor
    • 4GB RAM
    • Smart connector (for hardware accessories like Apple’s stylus, the Pencil)
    • 32GB ($800) 128GB ($900) 256GB ($1000) wifi only
    • 128GB ($1030) and 256GB ($1130) with cellular
  • iPad Pro at 9.7″
    • laminated (thinner) display
    • A9X processor
    • 2GB RAM
    • Smart connector (for hardware accessories like Apple’s stylus, the Pencil)
    • Wide color gamut (for professional color accuracy and better looking photos and videos)
    • True tone (makes the screen match the color temperature of the environment like a sheet of paper would)
    • 32GB ($600) 128GB ($700) 256GB ($800) wifi only
    • 32GB ($730) 128GB ($830) 256GB ($930) with cellular

There were other differences between the 9.7″ and 12.9 inch iPads that made the 12.9″ seem outdated as well. It was that true tone and wide color gamut that made the 9.7″ preferable in many respects to the 12.9. Except the 12.9″ also had twice as much memory as the 9.7″. Then, in March, Apple introduced the new iPad Cheap and eliminated the iPad Air 2, iPad Mini 2, and a few memory configurations, from the lineup. This made the situation a little less confusing for the non-Pro models but was the first to do away with the notion that a bigger screen is more expensive.

Here’s the iPad lineup on March 31st:

  • iPad Cheap at 9.7″
    • non-laminated (thicker) display
    • A9 processor
    • 2GB RAM
    • 32GB ($330) or 128 GB ($430) wifi only
    • 32GB ($460) and 128GB ($560) with cellular
  • iPad Mini 4 at 7.9″
    • laminated (thinner) display
    • A8 processor
    • 2GB RAM
    • 128GB ($400) wifi only
    • 128GB ($530) with cellular
  • iPad Pro at 12.9″
    • laminated (thinner) display
    • A9X processor
    • 4GB RAM
    • Smart connector (for hardware accessories like Apple’s stylus, the Pencil)
    • 32GB ($800) 128GB ($900) 256GB ($1000) wifi only
    • 128GB ($1030) and 256GB ($1130) with cellular
  • iPad Pro at 9.7″
    • laminated (thinner) display
    • Wide color gamut (for professional color accuracy and better looking photos and videos)
    • True tone (makes the screen match the color temperature of the environment like a sheet of paper would)
    • A9X processor
    • 2GB RAM
    • Smart connector (for hardware accessories like Apple’s stylus, the Pencil)
    • 32GB ($600) 128GB ($700) 256GB ($800) wifi only
    • 32GB ($730) 128GB ($830) 256GB ($930) with cellular

Anyone that bought a 12.9″ iPad Pro would have ended up with something missing features unless they waited until June for WWDC 2017 when the 9.7″ iPad Pro was discontinued in favor of an upgraded 10.5″ iPad Pro and the 12.9″ finally got display technology feature parity.

Here’s the roster of iPads today, post-WWDC:

  • iPad Cheap at 9.7″
    • non-laminated (thicker) display
    • A9 processor
    • 2GB RAM
    • 32GB ($330) or 128 GB ($430) wifi only
    • 32GB ($460) and 128GB ($560) with cellular
  • iPad Mini 4 at 7.9″
    • laminated (thinner) display
    • A8 processor
    • 2GB RAM
    • 128GB ($400) wifi only
    • 128GB ($530) with cellular
  • iPad Pro at 12.9″
    • laminated (thinner) display
    • Wide color gamut (for professional color accuracy and better looking photos and videos)
    • True tone (makes the screen match the color temperature of the environment like a sheet of paper would)
    • ProMotion (variable frame rate)
    • A10X processor
    • 4GB RAM
    • Smart connector (for hardware accessories like Apple’s stylus, the Pencil)
    • 64GB ($800) 256GB ($900) wifi only 512GB ($1100)
    • 64GB ($930) 256GB ($1030) and 512GB ($1230) with cellular
  • iPad Pro at 10.5″
    • laminated (thinner) display
    • Wide color gamut (for professional color accuracy and better looking photos and videos)
    • True tone (makes the screen match the color temperature of the environment like a sheet of paper would)
    • ProMotion (variable frame rate)
    • A10X processor
    • 4GB RAM
    • Smart connector (for hardware accessories like Apple’s stylus, the Pencil)
    • 64GB ($650) 256GB ($750) 512GB ($950) wifi only
    • 64GB ($780) 256GB ($880) 512GB ($1080) with cellular

All of the 32GB options were dismissed in the Pro line. Apple added 64GB and 512GB options to replace 32GB and 128GB, respectively. Prices were raised for the 10.5″ memory storage tiers versus the old 9.7″ iPad Pro. The final Pro storage tier jump goes from $100 to $200.

The 9.7″ iPad Pro also had half the RAM of the 10.5″ and 12.9″ models. The 12.9″ also had USB 3.0 transfer speeds over the lightning connector if you had the right adapter. The 10.5″ finally got that feature as well as the fast charging option from the 29 watt power adapter that is designed for USB-C MacBook laptops.

Both Pro’s also got upgraded A10X processors and that new ProMotion display technology that should be familiar to any gamer as Nvidia’s G-Sync or AMD’s Freesync variable framerate technologies to reduce tearing in games. Tearing is when you’re playing a game with fast motion and you see the image split with a horizontal line for a very brief period of time because the computer couldn’t render the game fast enough. In Apple’s case these variable framerates now mean that movies look better in motion, animations throughout the operating system and apps are smoother and clearer, and drawing with Apple’s Pencil stylus can now get the display up to 120Hz, which should be super responsive. Apple is typically not very interested in appealing to game players or developers, and it still isn’t clear to me yet if there is any benefit to games with Apple’s ProMotion variable framerate solution.

If a regular person had been trying to figure out which iPad to purchase, and was trying to follow along with the news, they might have been extremely confused until after WWDC.

At this point it should be clear that the Pro line is “the best” in terms of computing power and display technology, and if you’re interested in replacing a laptop then you know to get a Pro.

One final issue that might put someone over the edge to the Pro is that both models have four speakers instead of the two on the iPad Cheap and Mini. Otherwise, it’s not as confusing anymore to pick a model of iPad out unless you’re interested in the iPad Cheap or the Mini 4. The Mini hasn’t been updated with new technology since 2015.

The good news, for almost every iPad that can run it, is that iOS 11 is going to be a huge update with big multitasking features for anyone trying to get work done.

I’m increasingly curious about how those new features will translate to my old 2nd generation iPad Mini, I suspect the answer will be almost not at all since it didn’t receive many of the split-view features that newer iPads have.