In what certainly counts as the least surprising Apple keynote in recent years, the company teased two new products on Monday that shrink existing products: a new 4-inch iPhone and 9.7-inch iPad Pro. While the phone is aimed squarely at new customers, the iPad seems to answer many of the complaints existing Apple devotees had of their massive 12-inch iPad Pro which hit the streets six months ago. The new more svelte iPad Pro packs almost all of the processing punch of it’s bigger sibling into the more hand-friendly 9.7-inch form factor 200 million users already know and love. While the new high-end iPad seems to be just a shrinky-dink version of the larger tablet, it actually brings a few new features that should make photographers perk up and take notice.
The new 9.7-inch iPad Pro will be available for order on March 24th with units shipping and appearing in stores on the 31st. Prices will start at $599 US for the Wi-Fi only 32GB model and top out at $1,029 US for the Wi-Fi + Cellular unit with 256GB. Yes, you read that right; Apple has cracked the memory ceiling with maximum capacities now topping 256GB. That expanded headroom will please photo and videographers who will be able to leverage the A9X chip with 12 cores of graphics processing power. The new iPad Pro bests the older iPad Air 2 by bringing the processing and graphics pushing prowess of the larger iPad Pro. In fact, the smaller of the Pro tablets shares the same performance of the big iPad that has become a bonafide workhorse for graphics professionals. And that’s the overt hope Apple is hanging on the duo of “Pro” iPads: that the throngs of people laboring with aging desktop and laptop computers will toss aside their bulky technology and embrace the slender utility of a high-performance tablet. For business and graphic arts pros, the iPad Pros are certainly up to the task with multitasking split screens, functional keyboards and the covetous Pencil. Apple’s prolific iOS boasts over 1 million applications to grace the retina screens of the tablets, and with a pixel density of 264 pixels per inch, both pro iPads have the real estate to do real work. For photographers, however, the lack of RAW file support and full-scale versions of venerable applications like Photoshop and Lightroom love the iPads just out of contention for the high level image workflows many are looking for.
Microsoft has met those expectations for many photographers singing the praises of the Surface tablets and books, but for Mac loving digital imaging enthusiasts all of the shiny flash and bang of the new iPads fade when real work is left to be done on the desktop at home.
While Apple doesn’t seem to be moving toward RAW file support or full desktop versions of software for the iPad Pro line, they are adding some technology to the newest iPad that leans heavily toward visual creatives. It’s these new additions that make the iPad Pro line appealing to those who work with video, JPEG files and anyone who wants to travel fast and light. The new smaller iPad Pro’s display offers some interesting improvements that photographers will love. Let’s take a look at them:
Wide Color Gamut
In the rollout presentation on Monday, Apple’s Phil Schiller touted the new iPad Pro’s retina display with new wider color gamut. The 9.7-inch screen is LED-backlit just like the other 9.7-inch iPads, and it retains the 2048 by 1536 resolution of the iPad Air 2, but it uses the same DCI-P3 color space, which is used by the motion picture industry as the standard for digital projection systems. What does that mean for photographers? The DCI-P3 space yields about the same gamut as the sRGB we are all used to, but it favors reds over blues giving a warmer tone overall. It will be interesting to compare the new iPad’s screen to other tablets running a more traditional sRGB space. Apple claims the DCI-P3 color space brings 25% greater color saturation, but at this point that claim is hard to substantiate.
True Tone Automated Screen Calibration
On the heels of the DCI-P3 addition, Apple has dropped what they call True Tone onto the new iPad as well. This new software, which is only found on the new 9.7-inch iPad Pro, the tablet will take ambient light readings using 4-channel light sensors and calibrate the monitor to maintain a proper white balance for the screen given the ambient light temperature. It’s not clear if this feature will be something users can disable, but such automatic color shifting makes me wonder how photos will play in variable light.
On top of the innovative calibration features of the new screen, Apple is singing the praises of the new iPad’s low reflectivity glass which is claimed to be 40% less reflective than the iPad Air 2. The screen is also 25% brighter than the iPad Air 2. All of these figures add up to a clearer, sharper, brighter, and more colorful display than anything Apple has created so far, and that has to be good for those who use their iPads to consume images.
The Cameras Are Better Now Too
Apple has bumped up the specs of the new iPad Pro’s onboard cameras and now the main camera boasts 12 megapixels, a True Tone flash, the ability to generate panoramas up to 63 megapixels and 4K video. Most photographers cringe at the sight of people holding up iPads like giant cameras, but this iPad may finally make sense as a capture device. With the 4K video option combined with the iPad’s incredible screen, there are sure to be productions based on the tablet. The Face Time camera that points back at the user is also seeing a needed boost with 5 megapixels and the ability of the device to use the entire retina screen as a flash to make poorly-lit selfies a thing of the past. While the thought of flashing selfies with an iPad should illicit groans, those of us who are using our iPads to live stream on Facebook, Periscope, SnapChat and the like will find great use for the vastly improved Face Time camera.
But Can It Blend?
So the new iPad Pro isn’t really ready to replace a MacBook Pro or iMac for most photographers, but I am betting it will find its way into many camera bags. The smaller form factor combined with impressive screen, processing, audio, and application options will surely be useful for much of what photographers do. No, it won’t run full Photoshop and it won’t run full Lightroom, but those of us who have begun using Lightroom Mobile and Photoshop mix may very well find ourselves reaching for the iPad when serious pixel crushing isn’t needed. For traveling shooters, the ability of the iPads to quickly ingest JPEG files via Wi-Fi or through the SD card and USB dongles will undoubtedly find the ease of slipping the sub 1-pound iPad Pro into our bags much more appealing than cracking open a full-blown laptop. With the Apple pencil and smart keyboard cover, some real meaningful work can be done quickly and easily. After playing around with Photoshop Mix on the 12-inch iPad Pro I had visions of the future where complex editing of fine details would be as simple as drawing over them. For me the massive iPad Pro was just too cumbersome for my hands and camera bag. This new 9.7-inch unit however, is a whole new story.