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New iPad Pros Boast M1 Chips and Liquid Retina XDR Display

Back in September 2020, when Apple released a new version of the iPad Air with a look and feel nearly identical to the 11-inch iPad Pro, the latter suddenly seemed like a terrible purchase.

Apple has now unveiled upgraded versions of the 11-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pro with beefier specs that set them apart once again. The industrial design hasn’t changed, but these new iPad Pro models offer significant upgrades to the processor, camera technology, display, and more.

Most notably, the new iPad Pro models incorporate the M1 chip found in the latest updates to the MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and Mac mini, plus the just-announced 24-inch iMac. The 12.9-inch iPad Pro also borrows technology from Apple’s insanely expensive Pro Display XDR, for only a small price increase.

New M1 iPad Pro models

M1 Chip Comes to the iPad Pro

It seems fitting that the new iPad Pro models would gain the M1 chip, given that it was largely derived from the A-series chips powering earlier iPads. Apple poked fun at this in the event with a Mission Impossible-style video (starting at 37:26). The iPad and Mac lines have never been so tightly intertwined.

Compared to the A12Z Bionic chip powering the previous-generation iPad Pro models, the new models feature impressive specs, including an 8-core CPU with up to 50% faster CPU performance and an 8-core GPU with up to 40% faster GPU performance. This combo, Apple claims, widens the iPad Pro’s lead as the fastest device of its kind.

12.9-inch iPad Gets an XDR Display

The display on the 12.9-inch iPad Pro represents a significant upgrade derived from Apple’s Pro Display XDR. The 12.9-inch iPad Pro’s new Liquid Retina XDR display is notable for a vastly larger number of individual light-emitting diodes—more than 10,000 miniature LEDs, up from 72. Other specs include up to 1000 nits of full-screen brightness, 1600 nits of peak brightness, and a 1 million-to-1 contrast ratio. These, according to Apple, combine to offer true-to-life visuals with the brightest highlights and the most subtle details in even the darkest images.

It’s hard to know how much of a difference the Liquid Retina XDR display will make for most uses. If you think the display is the deciding factor between the 11-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pros, we encourage you to compare them with the same images or videos in person.

5G Wireless Data

The iPad has long offered cellular-data connectivity for those wanting online access on the go without needing to hunt down Wi-Fi hotspots. But, unlike the iPhone 12, even last year’s iPads lacked support for the speedy 5G service being offered in more places in the United States (see “The iPhone Gets 5G, but What’s It Like in Real-World Use?,” 19 November 2020).

That changes with the new iPad Pro models. They should be able to handle the various flavors of 5G being deployed by at least AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon. Apple was careful to note that the iPad Pro supports millimeter-wave 5G, the fastest variant available. That’s good news for those living in the growing number of US urban cores that enjoy such connectivity.

iPad Pros Switch to Thunderbolt

While it seemed forward-thinking when Apple switched the port on recent iPads from Lightning to USB-C, it was unclear why Apple didn’t go all the way to Thunderbolt 3. It now seems likely that the A-series chips lack a Thunderbolt controller, and thanks to the switch to the Thunderbolt-enabled M1 chip, Apple has finished the transition.

The new iPad Pro models now support Thunderbolt 3 and USB 4, giving them connectivity parity with Macs and other modern computers. Thunderbolt provides 40 Gbps of throughput—four times more wired bandwidth compared to previous iPad models.

Thunderbolt supports 10 Gbps Ethernet and opens up these iPad Pros to high-performance hardware, such as external storage devices and high-resolution external displays. They even support the Pro Display XDR at its full 6K resolution. How you’ll use all that bandwidth is another question, but at least the hardware is ready for iPadOS 15 to catch up.

Center Stage for Video Calls

Certain “smart displays” from the likes of Amazon, Facebook, and Google have lately provided camera-tracking technology for use during video calls. It helps keep participants in the field of view even if they move around.

Apple has no such product; it arguably doesn’t need one since the iPad fills that role reasonably well when paired with a stand. The new iPad Pro models significantly improve the videoconferencing story, thanks to a 12-megapixel Ultra Wide Camera that enables the new Center Stage feature.

According to Apple, the iPad Pro taps into the M1 chip’s machine-learning capabilities to recognize and keep participants centered. As people move around, Center Stage virtually pans and zooms to keep them in the shot. If others join in, the camera detects them as well and zooms out to fit everyone into the view.

Center Stage will work with Apple’s own FaceTime, of course, and the company says third-party videoconferencing services also will be supported.

The only question is why M1-based Macs don’t get Center Stage as well—perhaps that will happen in macOS 12.

iPad Pro Pricing, Availability

Pricing remains similar for the 11-inch iPad Pro, which starts at $799 with 128 GB of storage and goes up to $1899 with 2 TB. The Liquid Retina XDR screen increases the starting prices of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro by $100 to $1099 with 128 GB; it tops out at $2199 with 2 TB of storage.

Apple says that iPad Pro models with 128 GB, 256 GB, or 512 GB storage come with 8 GB of RAM, whereas models with 1 TB or 2 TB storage come with 16 GB of RAM. So that might be a reason to bump up the storage if you were debating between 512 GB and 1 TB.

The Wi-Fi + Cellular variants previously commanded a $150 premium; that has now risen to $200. However, if you activate with AT&T, T-Mobile, or Verizon, you can get $150 back from AT&T or $200 back from T-Mobile and Verizon.

Pre-orders for the new iPad Pro models open on 30 April 2021, and Apple says they’ll become available in the second half of May.

Apple’s Magic Keyboard is great for turning an iPad into a laptop-like device, though it’s pricey at $299. Tuesday’s event had a bit of news in this department: you can now get the Magic Keyboard in white. And if you already have a Magic Keyboard for a 12.9-inch iPad Pro, sorry, but you’ll need a new one since the new model is 0.5 mm thicker, just enough to mess up the zero-tolerance fit. The updated Magic Keyboard will work with older 12.9-inch iPad Pros, though.

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Comments About New iPad Pros Boast M1 Chips and Liquid Retina XDR Display

Notable Replies

  1. This is some serious upgrading. I think the only tablet competition will be relegated to the fringes of the market for some time to come.

  2. Maybe because of the iPad line overall, but I doubt because of these iPad Pros. There is a lot of tablet market well south of $799. There is also this weird MS Surface “tablet” market for notebook-like devices with desktop OS that want to also serve as a tablet. That all has little appeal to me, but many consumers seem to disagree. I think Apple at least currently believes it can safely ignore that and still make boatloads of money. I’d wager they’re right. At least for now.

  3. Ars Technica are reporting that the 256GB and 512GB models of the new iPad Pro will have 8GB RAM, and 1TB and 2TB models will have 16GB RAM. This seems to be confirmed by Apple specs.

    Does anyone have any strong impressions of how much difference the extra 8GB of RAM would make? Obviously it will be more important for some use cases (e.g. video editing) than for others, but in general, I’m wondering how important this will be. Because taking an iPad up to 1TB is quite a price hike.

  4. Since I use my MacBook Pro (ancient late-2013 model) as my main work computer, while I’m always tempted by the latest gadgets I guess, to be honest, this isn’t for me. The top price with maxed out RAM and storage is about $2,400! You can get a really nice, new MBP for that!

    Even the new 11-inch model with 512 GB of storage is $1,299.

    To me, I would like to have a nice tablet for (1) reading books and news, (2) doing things on-the-go, (3) and as an emergency backup for getting work done if I don’t have my computer with me.

    My current 2018 12.9-inch iPad Pro with a smart keyboard case works for (3) but is overkill in size and weight for (1) and (2). I wish it was the 11-inch model instead. But what to do? I could sell it and probably get more than the cost of a new iPad Air and “grade down.” But it feels like a waste of money knowing the relative costs of these devices.

    Yet the iPad Air is really what I would actually use more. The iPad Pro just sits here and is rarely used. It’s right next to my MBP, so why use it for regular work? And it’s too heavy and awkward to even hold on my lap as a tablet.

    If I were a student or somebody not needing to do development I could see it as a great substitute for an actual Mac. And I wish the Mac had a touchscreen.

    Anyway, waiting for the next MBP to come out before my current one dies I hope!

  5. I wonder now how Apple will price the upcoming MacBook Pro with the same features as the new 12.9-inch iPad Pro with a 16-inch Liquid Retina XDR display.

    Also, with such high price for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro with maxed out RAM and storage (around 2600€ in Europe depending on country VAT), why is Apple Care not extended to 3 years at least?

    Last, with the generalization of the Apple Mx SoCs across MacBook and iPad product lines, if iPadOS and macOS would converge or that macOS would offer the iPadOS user interface as an option, then I would consider using the new iPad Pro in replacement of my late-2013 MacBook Pro with an external 4K display.

  6. I’m totally with you. I recently bought a new iPad Air, together with a Logitech Folio Touch. I liked the keyboard (the trackpad not so much) but it made the iPad much too heavy to comfortably use as a tablet. For me, the combo made it a hybrid device that was neither a good laptop nor a good tablet.

    So I returned the Folio Touch and got myself an Apple Smart Folio instead. That made the iPad so much lighter and fun to use again!

    Because I did like the typing experience with a separate keyboard, I bought a Logitech Keys-to-Go. It’s a really small, thin and light keyboard you can easily take with you. I just slip it into a sleeve together with my iPad for my on-the-go computing needs. The Keys-to-Go doesn’t type as nicely as the Folio Touch keyboard (you do have to take some time to get used to it), but better than the on-screen keyboard (if only for the arrow keys).

    If you ask me, an iPad cannot replace a MacBook and probably never will. That’s not to say an iPad can’t be someone’s only computing device, but for me an iPad and a Mac cover two distinct usage scenarios, and for my tablet use, the iPad Air is the best suited.

  7. With the Keys-to-Go what do you do with the iPad Air? Lean it against something?

  8. The Apple Smart Folio allows you to set the iPad in an upright position along the long side (Smart Folio for iPad Air (5th generation) - Black - Apple). It sets the iPad at a nice angle for viewing when set on a table, which you do need to do when using the Keys-to-Go. I’ve tried using them on my lap, with the iPad the other way up, but that was really awkward.

  9. I think you have less clutter on your table than I do. :slight_smile:


  10. I don’t think you should avoid selling an iPad you’re not going to use to get one you will based on some vague feeling that you’re “grading down” Get the machine you’ll use.


  11. Wow. The new 11-inch is expensive! If I did trade in my 12.9-inch 3rd generation (2018) to Apple I’d get 54,000 yen. But with the same storage capacity 11-inch 5th generation (2021) iPad I’d have to shell out an extra 100,000 yen! And that doesn’t even include the smart keyboard case.

    It might be better to go for the iPad Air instead for my usage purposes. But I’d still have to pay 50,000 yen extra after trade-in. And that would be for just 256 GB storage instead of 512GB like I have now. And that also doesn’t include the smart keyboard case.

    Apple is clever in their marketing. They leave me thinking, hum, for just 50,000 yen more wouldn’t I be better off with the newer M1 iPad Pro 11-inch? :slight_smile:

  12. Does that hold true for the slimmer smart keyboard case?

  13. Yes. Buy the one you’ll use, not the expensive doorstop.

  14. I’m curious, in the comparison table it seems the new iPad Pros cannot be charged via USB-C to a computer or power adapter. See for example iPad - Compare Models - Apple and compare the new iPad Pro with the 2018 iPad Pro 12.9-inch in the Power and Battery section.

    (I’m currently thinking of getting the 11-inch and selling my 2018 12.9-inch because it’s too large to make use of.)

    If you can’t charge the new iPad Pro via the USB-C port how do you charge them?

  15. Must be an omission. The tech specs page for the 11” says that it can be charged with USB-C to power adapter to computer, and it comes with a USB-C charging cable and 20w USB-C charger.

  16. Which is why I’m disappointed there wasn’t an iPad Mini 6!

  17. Aaaaaaand my new 11-inch iPad Pro has just been delivered.

    I don’t know what it says about me, that my first stop is to report that here, rather than opening the box :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:

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