Which iPad Should You Now Choose

The new iPad Pro alongside an iPad Air 2.
The new iPad Pro alongside an iPad Air 2.

Exactly as rumor had anticipated, Apple announced a new ‘iPad Pro’ on Wednesday – the larger screened iPad that has been expected for more than a year now.  They also slightly surprised by announcing a new iPad Mini, albeit one only very slightly changed from the previous model Mini.

After Steve Jobs declaimed, in April 2010, that iPads would be made in one size only – a 9.7″ diagonal screen that was the perfect size for everyone, we’ve seen other companies test his theory by offering tablets in every possible screen size, starting from ‘slightly bigger than a phone’ (very much a definitional moving target), clustering a lot of units around a 7″ diagonal screen, and then continuing into larger screens, including a few that are larger than the current iPad.

Apple released its iPad Mini barely a year after Jobs’ death (Oct 2011) in November 2012, contradicting his’ assertion that only one size was needed, and this contradiction was affirmed by it quickly becoming popular and selling well, at times outselling the regular sized iPad.

The Mini has a 7.9″ screen, and the same aspect ratio as the standard iPad (4:3, the same as an old-fashioned tv).  Most of the competing tablets have had aspect ratios more like widescreen tv’s.  Both the current iPad Air 2 and new iPad Mini 4 have 2048×1536 pixel displays, although their different screen sizes make for different pixel densities (264 and 326 ppi respectively – a ‘very good’ and an ‘excellent’ pixel density).

And now Apple is again marginalizing Jobs’ contention, by coming out with a larger as well as a smaller iPad.  The new 12.9″ diagonal screened iPad Pro has the same pixel density as the iPad Air 2, but more pixels due to its larger screen area.  It has as many pixels on its narrow edge as the iPad Air 2 has on its wide edge, but not quite twice as many pixels on its wide edge – that is a slight shame because it would have been lovely to be able to have two iPad applications on the screen simultaneously.

Apple is releasing split screen capabilities in its new iOS 9, but due to the slightly less than double pixel count it won’t be possible to exactly fit two regular iPad apps onto the iPad Pro’s split screen.

Of course the new iPad Pro is physically larger – it had to be to accommodate its larger screen.  But, disappointingly, all the extra space inside the unit hasn’t been used for a larger battery.  Our guess is that Apple decided that lighter weight was more desirable than extra battery, and with a 1.58 lb weight (60% more than an iPad Air 2) the unit reverts back to the weight of the original iPad (1.55 lbs), but due to the larger size and thinner body, it actually sort of feels lighter than the original iPad – there being an impression of ‘gosh, that should weigh more than it does’.

Talking about size, the iPad Pro is very close to what we consider to be a magical ‘sweet spot’ in size.  We suggest one such size sweetspot is to have its external dimensions the same as either a regular sheet of paper, or perhaps the same as a pad of paper (which is slightly longer due to the bit at the top which the sheets tear off from).  A sheet of standard US paper measures 8.5″ x 11″ and the ‘bit at the top’ adds about another 0.75″ to the length, so the sweet spot would be in the order of 8.5″ x 11 – 11.75″.  The iPad Pro is 8.7″ x 12″, so it would stand out just a little bit in a pile of paperwork.

Here is a table comparing the three current iPad models :

iPad Mini 4iPad Air 2iPad Pro
Screen size (diagonal)7.9″9.7″12.9″
Pixels2048 x 15362048 x 15362732 x 2048
External dimensions5.3″x 8.0″6.6″ x 9.4″8.7″ x 12″
Weight with Wireless0.65 lb0.98 lb1.57 lbs
Battery10 hours10 hrs10 hrs
Storage Options16/64/128 GB16/64/128 GB32/128 GB
Wi-Fi Only Pricing$399  $499  $599$499  $599  $699$799  $949
Wi-Fi & Wireless Data Pricing     $529  $629  $729$629  $729  $829  –    $1079

So, which is the best for you?

Size Considerations

We should start off by pointing out that bigger is not necessarily better when it comes to choosing tablets.  We know many people who have migrated from the standard 9.7″ screen sized iPad to the smaller 7.9″ screen of the Mini and have been happy with their choice, considering the smaller screen to be matched by much greater convenience and portability, and seldom feeling the need for a larger screen.

However, if you want to give your eyes as much of a helping hand as possible, the larger screen on the iPad Air 2 definitely improves readability of just about everything.  And the new split screen mode coming out with the iOS 9 release next week really calls out for as much screen area as possible.

Our feeling and personal preference, until now, has been that the screen size benefits of the larger iPad outweigh the convenience and $100 cost saving of the iPad Mini.

But the new consideration – regular iPad Air or new larger iPad Pro – calls for further thought.  If 9.7″ is bigger and better than 7.9″, does that also mean that 12.9″ is better than 9.7″?

If you are in any sort of job that would benefit from being able to make presentations to colleagues, customers, students, or anyone at all, the larger iPad Pro would definitely be the way to go (as all good presenters know, there’s no such thing as ‘too big’ when it comes to presentations).

Talking about ‘too big’, the iPad Pro may require a difficult rethink of how you carry your iPad.  In my case, I typically carry my iPad either in one of several different backpacks, all with a special tablet carry space that would be too small to fit the iPad Pro, or in an ‘over the shoulder’ satchel bag – my preferred carry method due to its greater convenience – but which would also be too small for the iPad Pro.  Some new type of Messenger bag is now required, but the Messenger bags I do have are ‘too big’ to carry ‘only’ an iPad Pro and a few other essentials such as presentation folder, calculator, chargers, a book, etc.  A regular type of briefcase would probably have no problem accepting the iPad Pro, but it is years since I’ve needed or wanted a regular briefcase in addition to my backpack and shoulder bag.

Hopefully we’ll see a range of carry bags optimized for the larger iPad Pro appear over the next few months, the same as happened when iPad tablets first appeared, but for now, a suitable carrying method is a possible problem.

Other Issues

There’s also a larger-than-you-might-think pricing differential.  Instead of only $100 separating each of the six versions of iPad Mini and the equivalent versions of the iPad Air, Apple is – at least to start – only offering three versions of the iPad Pro and with larger pricing gaps.

The cheapest version has 32 GB of storage, which is a struggle to be viewed as adequate.  On my 32 GB iPad Air, and with no video loaded, just apps and some stored photos, I already drop to only 3.2 GB of remaining available storage, and my daughter struggles to stay within her own 32 GB limit.  Most people would therefore be well advised, with regular iPads, to choose the 64 GB rather than 16 GB model.  But with the iPad Pro, Apple skips this ‘sweet spot’ 64GB step, forcing you to vault all the way up to 128 GB and its larger incremental cost.

The other variable is whether you get an iPad with only Wi-Fi connectivity or if you get one with wireless data as well.  The extraordinary value service plans offered by T-Mobile have changed my earlier view that there’s no sense in paying for a wireless plan, and now I recommend you should have a wirelessly connected tablet.  Apple make this all the more essential by only including their GPS function on the wireless model.  So that means, for most people, if they are getting an iPad Pro, they have no choice but to get the $1079 version, whereas a $729 iPad Air 2 or $629 iPad Mini 4 would probably suffice, if the larger screen area wasn’t needed.

Inexplicably, Apple isn’t offering the wireless/GPS option on the smaller 32 GB version.

So, there is a $350 extra cost as between the ‘sweet spot’ configuration for an iPad Air 2 or an iPad Pro.  If you don’t have a clear need for the larger screen, and/or don’t see ways you can benefit from the split screen (and the two still-large halves after splitting it), the cost issue may cause you to return back to the iPad Air 2 rather than go all the way in size up to the iPad Pro.

iPad Accessories Too

Apple also announced two new accessories to go with their new iPad Pro.

The Apple Pencil – an accessory stylus for the iPad Pro (and presumably other iPads too – not too sure about iPhones) was a surprise, but not an innovation (there are plenty of digitizing styli already available, often paired with a specific digitizing pad).  The biggest part of the surprise is that this is a device that, in the past, was regularly lambasted by Steve Jobs as being unnecessary and vulgar.  When first introducing the original iPhone, he said nobody wants a stylus, and that the best pointing device is our finger.  He repeated that from time to time, and as recently as 2010, a year before his death, he was calling a stylus a sign of failed interface design rather than a positive feature addition.

The general comment from professional designers seems to be that the Pencil might be good, but it lacks the ‘professional’ grade software to make it truly a useful tool, as opposed to a fun toy for ‘ordinary people’.

The Pencil will sell for $99 and be available in November.

Also announced was a ‘full size’ keyboard.  That will also be available in November, and will sell for $169.  Other companies were very quick to announce similar products under development, such as, for example, Logitech.  We expect that third party keyboards will be appreciably less expensive.

Apple iPad Pro vs Microsoft Surface Pro

If you want/need a large screened device, and particularly if you’re wanting to use the device for some ‘work’ related functions as well as for recreation, then the iPad Pro needs to be considered alongside Microsoft’s Surface Pro.

The current Microsoft Surface Pro 3 is a good unit in most respects, and has the very very strong appeal that it runs the same identical Windows 10 interface and software as any laptops and desktop PCs you might have.  This is a huge convenience, and unmatched by Apple and its iOS based tablets, which are incompatible with its Mac laptops and desktops.

However, we suggest you do not compare the iPad Pro to the Surface Pro 3.  It seems that Microsoft will be announcing a successor device, the Surface Pro 4, in October, and it might be shipping at the same time (or sooner) than the iPad Pro (which is due out in November).

What this means is you can wait until after Microsoft’s release of their Surface Pro 4 and then choose the unit that best meets your needs.  Although Microsoft’s first version Surface and Surface Pro tablets in 2012/2013 were disappointments, the adage ‘At Microsoft, Quality is Job 2.0’ is holding true, and the newer Surface Pro units have become quite appealing, and the rumors for the new Surface Pro 4 suggest it will (of course) be even better.

Apple has copied a lot of the Surface Pro features for their iPad Pro (even the name!) and so it will be interesting to see Microsoft’s latest release, because what it offers now will probably become what Apple offers next year in a future iPad Pro 2.


Our feeling is that for most people, and most ‘normal’/ordinary requirements, the mid sized iPad Air 2 is probably going to be the best choice.  Perhaps Steve Jobs was correct when he claimed that 9.7″ was the ideal/perfect size for a tablet!

We also recommend, for most people, the 64MB version.  The entry level 16 GB would get filled up very quickly indeed; on the other hand, unless you’re loading a lot of video, you’re unlikely to need more than 64 GB.

If you think you’d like to add a keyboard, you should wait and see what third party keyboards are released before choosing the expensive Apple one.

Thirdly, unless you know for sure you’ll never take your tablet away from your home, we suggest you pay the $130 extra for the GPS and wireless data option, and then sign up for a data plan with T-Mobile (sometimes T-Mobile even has totally completely free data plans for tablets).  The convenience of having fast and reasonably secure wireless data pretty much wherever you are becomes very habit-forming.

Lastly, if you want a primarily work-focused large screen tablet, wait until Microsoft’s October release of their Surface Pro 4.  It might be a better choice than the iPad Pro.

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