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Apple’s New iPad Pro – Laptop Killer or Just a Bigger iPad?

Apple took the lid off their long-anticipated large-format iPad this week and as people line up for and against the new tablet I sat down with Jeff Carlson to discuss what the new technology means to photographers. Carlson is the author of the book, The iPad for Photographers, which is currently in its third edition with Peachpit Press.

Key Features of the iPad Pro

The iPad Pro is due to arrive in November, but at Wednesdays event, Apple gave us a long look at the new member of the incredibly popular iPad line. With its 12.9-inch screen boasting 264 pixels per inch and a total resolution of 2,732 x 2,048, the big iPad eclipses the iPad Air 2s resolution of 2,048 x 1,536 and even the 13-inch Retina Macbook Pros 2,560 x 1,600 screen.

The Retina screen is worth focusing on because it brings serious real estate to the mobile photography workflow game, and the guts of the iPad deliver some impressive moxie with a rumored 4GB of RAM (twice the RAM of the iPad Air and four times the RAM of the iPhone 6), a new A9X 64-bit CPU, and a beefy M9 motion coprocessor. Compared to other tablets, the thing is a beast, but as many people are pointing out online, the iPad Pro won’t be running full versions of fundamental photo apps like Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom.

So the question is, is the iPad Pro a bonafide photography workflow player or simply a big, pretty photo frame? Jeff and I drilled down on how we both use iPads in our current workflow and where the new machine impresses and disappoints. Lets talk workflow.
ipadpro2

Digital Workflow Off The Desktop

Any photographer working in the field has two options for digital workflow: bring a laptop and use full-scale applications to manage images, or work light and fast with a phone or tablet and use a JPEG-based workflow. The laptop option mimics very well the desktop workflow and with todays high-speed external hard drives paired with something like a Retina Macbook Pro, one can import, edit and export images just like at home.

The external HDs also serve as redundancy for your precious raw files. With the svelte tablet and phone solution, images stay on the capture cards and one pulls JPEGs directly from them to a handheld device where they can undergo quick processing using apps like Snapseed. The advantages of the laptop-based workflow are obvious, but so are the disadvantages. You are lugging a laptop, but you get full workflow and backups. With the iPad model you get a lighter more durable load, but you have severely hampered workflow options. In short, by their nature, iPads are a compromise between utility and convenience.

Raw Deal

At the core of the challenge facing mobile photographers is managing raw image files. With a desktop, laptop or Microsoft Surface hybrid tablet, full operating systems are in play and therefore full versions of Lightroom, Photoshop, or any other raw processor work very well given enough RAM and hard drive capacity. With a device running a mobile operating system like Apples iOS, raw file handling goes out the window. When Apple released the first iPad, photographers salivated at the thought of leaving the laptops at home and moving to a hand-held solution only to find that the iPad could only hold a raw file, not process it.

As the years have passed and weve watched Apple build faster and faster tablets, the hope for raw file integration has inched closer, but still seems out of reach. Carlson explains, I don’t see anything new about the iPad Pro that changes that, which is kind of the bigger software question of the iPad Pro in general. This is stunning hardware but it doesn’t seem like there are any additional professional hooks in the operating system that would dramatically change the workflow. There is still no raw support. Its still iOS. It has a baked-in consumer focus that has been the hallmark of iOS.

ipadpro1

Pro Means Maybe

When Apple pulled the plug on Aperture many professional and advanced amateur photographers cried foul. Apple doesn’t care about power users! is a common refrain in online comments. With the announcement of the iPad Pro, the hackles of those who have felt shunned by Apple raised once again. After watching the demos and reading the hands-on reviews of the new massive iPad, it does seem like the hardware is ready for serious professional-level use, but the software isn’t there yet to leverage the new tech.

Apples new Pencil promises precision stylus input utility, but for photographers who want to perform targeted adjustments and construct masks, there is nowhere to do that. Adobes upcoming Photoshop Fix seems to promise such pro-level control, but without raw support the promise feels shallow. Its interesting to see Adobe, with their demo of using the Pencil, being able to start to push into [more professional editing], but it all relies on the core capabilities of the iOS, said Carlson. This is a pro device, so I am sure, hardware wise, it is fully capable of doing that. But what is enabled to take advantage of it? Right now I don’t see a whole lot.”

Fanboys vs. Haters

While its entertaining to witness the melee between the Apple fanboys and those who jump at every opportunity to bash the company, in the end everyone will make a choice. Apple will undoubtedly sell millions of the new big iPads. It does seem the company could sell anything with the Apple logo on it, but there are alternatives.

As with cameras, one does not have to fully commit to any single system. I know many very productive and successful photographers who use Windows machines, Surface tablets and Android devices. I also know many who are entrenched in the Apple ecosystem and love it. Myself, I am writing this on my 5K iMac. On my wrist is an Apple Watch and in my pocket is an iPhone 6. I have an iPad Mini that I love, but my aging Macbook Pro is due for replacement. I am inclined to stick with Apple and buy another Macbook Pro, but I am looking at the iPad Pro AND the upcoming Surface Pro 4 with open eyes. I recently switched from Canon to Sony, so I am capable of jumping lines to find the best solutions.

Not Settled Yet

Carlson sums it up: Im eternally optimistic. I would love to see Apple hit hard on the software side of the pro equation. That can also extend to Pages and Numbers and stuff like that. Now that they have a big flagship top-of-the-line offering that is capable of doing that, some of these pro-level things that can be added to catch up to the hardware. Apple is so on top of their game in terms of hardware capabilities and bundling processors and coprocessors and all of the stuff that makes things shine, now I think we need to see more pro in the software side of it. To acknowledge that maybe the one size fits all consumer approach to iOS isn’t quite enough. While I may be a bit more skeptical than my friend Jeff, I too see a lot of potential in the iPad Pro. There is no question that the screen is the best non-desktop display out there and the hardware behind it promises to be dazzling. If Apple can play nicely with Adobe and allow the imaging giant to expand their mobile apps to include raw file support, I see the big iPad as a lightweight alternative to a laptop. If Apple continues to hobble pro-level features such as raw file processing, then the iPad Pro will be a wonderful way to consume images, but a disappointing compromise when it comes to creating content. Time will tell.

Learn more about Mason and see his work at masonmarsh.com.

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