Apple has come out with a new lineup of accessories for the iPad Pro, which isn’t surprising with the design changes they’ve made on the new model. All of the major first-part accessories have gotten an update for the iPad update.

Apple Pencil

The Apple Pencil has gotten a nice update for the latest incarnation. Gone is the silly Lightning port and cap on the end of the old Pencil for charging and syncing. The new Pencil simply magnetically attaches to the right side of the iPad (when in portrait layout) where it wirelessly charges and syncs with the iPad. There’s no other way to say this other than the new method to add a Pencil to the iPad is about as perfect as it can get. There is no buttons to hold, settings to go into, or waiting. You just attach it, and the display will show a Pencil is attached, and then you can start using it.

The Pencil now has a single flat side to allow it to connect to the iPad securely, which is a great way to store it. But as with any magnetic connection, be careful that the Pencil doesn’t get knocked off in a bag and lost, because it isn’t inexpensive to replace, especially with its $30 price increase over the old model.

This single flat side also includes a capacitive button which can be mapped to various functions depending on the app in use, which would let you do things like quickly erase, or change the pointer size, just by tapping on the side of the accessory.

In use the new Apple Pencil works just like the old one, and that isn’t a bad thing. The latency is low, and the thin display stack keeps the refraction to a minimum. Apple’s Pencil continues to offer a great writing and drawing experience. Comparing it to the Surface Pro, the Pencil feels slightly better in the hand, and the capacitive button is easier to use than the physical button on the Surface Pro. However Microsoft does offer interchangeable tips on their stylus, including a softer tip which gives a better feeling that you are actually drawing on the device, rather than sliding over the display like the Pencil does.

The Smart Folio Cover

The other accessory for the iPad is the normal cover, the Smart Folio, which offers the same origami folding experience that customers have likely become accustomed to on the iPad. There isn’t much to say here, other than the cover only lets you stand the iPad up in landscape mode, although you can also use it to prop up the top end to use it like an easel for drawing, which is nice. Compared to the integrated kickstand in the Surface Pro though, the stand is wobbly and takes more time to get set up.

Smart Folio Keyboard

Apple has changed the design of their keyboard cover to remove some of the complexity, and the new Smart Folio Keyboard is a fairly straightforward design. You simply open the cover, slide the iPad forward a bit, and lock it into one of the two notches of the cover to provide the desired iPad angle. It is a big improvement over the outgoing one in terms of ease of use, although it is still not the easiest accessory to deploy. Offering two different angles is also a 100% improvement, although it is still somewhat limiting, and having the keyboard in the more vertical arrangement leads to a very wobbly tablet. The keys themselves haven’t changed much from the old version, offering very little travel, but they still offer a good typing experience. If you are someone who wants to type a lot on the iPad Pro though, the smaller model is somewhat cramped.

Much like the Apple Pencil, the keyboard has also increased in price, up to $179. At this price, it still doesn’t offer any backlighting either, which is unfortunate since the competition does. If you opt for the larger iPad Pro, the 12.9-inch keyboard is $199. It seems like a high price to pay for a keyboard which is, at best, average.

iOS keyboard integration still leaves something to be desired as well. There are still very few keyboard shortcuts, and with no pointer support, you will find yourself reaching up to the screen quite often. Even things that have been sorted out years ago on the PC side are a new frustration on the iPad, such as opening a new tab in Safari. If you do open a new tab, the address field is not pre-selected, so you then have to tap into it to begin typing. This isn’t the case if you open a new tab with the keyboard shortcut, at least, but other apps like the App Store function similarly, where if you hit Search at the bottom, the search field then has to be tapped to actually type. The keyboard does give you the option to type with proper feedback, unlike the on-screen version, but it really does feel like an add-on to iOS still.

This entire section was written on the iPad using the Smart Folio Keyboard, and with the auto-correct functionality in iOS and Word, it worked quite well. It isn’t as easy to use for pounding out documents as a PC would be though, although you can always connect a real keyboard if needed over Bluetooth, or even USB.

Design Powering iPad Pro: A12X
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  • tipoo - Tuesday, December 4, 2018 - link

    16nm did substantially cut its power use, and 16nm was less of a node leap than 7 (iirc it was closer to 22nm, but one of the finfett rebrandings?)

    Xbox One S 35-90
    Xbox One 70-120
  • PeachNCream - Tuesday, December 4, 2018 - link

    Yup, that is an impressively quick bit of hardware hiding inside the new iPad. It doesn't speak well for a lot of hardware that soaks up a bunch more power and needs a lot more cooling to accomplish similar task. I'm hoping the A12X will be something of a kick in the proverbial pants for the rest of the chip industry to get off their behinds and deliver better performance at much lower TDP, that is both CPU and GPU companies that are inflating real TDP to comparably absurd levels while chasing incremental and insignificant increases in performance.
  • sing_electric - Tuesday, December 4, 2018 - link

    To be fair, the A12 is one of the first 7nm chips to ship. AMD's Ryzen 2700U, in theory, is at least as powerful, but is built on a 12nm process so it consumes more power.

    A year from now, its very likely that AMD will have a mobile Ryzen built on the 7nm same process at the same foundry (TSMC) as Apple, which has the possibility of being more powerful at the same power consumption depending on workload (again, AMD and Apple optimize for different things in their chips, and an.... Apple to oranges comparison is hard to make).

    Within a couple years, we'll see how Intel's new GPU unit does - they've committed to releasing dGPUs but you'd have to think that a side effect would be increased performance of their iGPUs as well. IF they're finally able to start mass-manufacturing on their 10nm (and future) process, they should be competitive as well.
  • Spunjji - Wednesday, December 5, 2018 - link

    +1 to this. Very interested in what Intel can do at low TDPs given their experience there. UHD620 is an old architecture now, so you have to wonder what all the intervening development will grant their first real next-gen GPU.

    AMD have been struggling of late but it sounds like, if they coalesce their development around Navi, they should see some serious benefits at low TDPs too.
  • GruenSein - Tuesday, December 4, 2018 - link

    I actually considered buying the new iPad Pro but as long as iOS and its and 3rd party apps keep working the way they are working, all that performance is wasted IMHO. For the device to be really productive, a real file browser and full access to files is required. Let me organize my files the way, I want. The share button and weird iCloud browser doesn't cut it. Professional workflows require multiple apps to work on the same files, so, as antiquated as Apple wants to make it feel, an "open with" and "save as"-Dialog is crucial. Same goes for file access and network integration. Why can't I access SMB-shares? Most iOS users I know still send files per eMail because that is still the most convenient way to do it. The 3rd party file browsers can help but it is still hardly possible to use these files in any other apps. Some actually start a streaming server if you want to play media with VLC because you cannot tell the app to simply open the file.
    From my point of view, the hardware is great and way ahead of the competition. But the software is keeping it at a toy level for the time being.
  • melgross - Tuesday, December 4, 2018 - link

    Well, far from a toy level, which you would know if you used one. But you’re right that some things are just not available, or not up to snuff. Apple was expected to make major changes to iOS this year for the iPad Pro, but held off until next year due to the rwoerking of the OS for efficiency so that older devices would work better, as well as more modularizing the OS and getting rid of some higher level bugs.

    I hope these expected changes to the Desktop next year not only involve the look and function of the Desktop, but also full use of the USB port for mass storage and hierarchical folders.

    Apple seems to be moving in the right direction, but more slowly than I would like.
  • sing_electric - Tuesday, December 4, 2018 - link

    At this point, I'll believe it when I see it. Adobe had to get very creative with handling files on iOS to bring real Photoshop to the iPad, and they've got the "benefit" of their own cloud platform that they've foist on all their current customers.

    And lack of pointer support is getting harder to stomach - its annoying for pro-users with a keyboard, and it ALSO really limits the ability of people who use assistive communication devices to use iOS AT ALL since a lot of them work via mouse drivers. You'd think adding decent mouse support would be like, a weekend project for a team of engineers.
  • melgross - Tuesday, December 4, 2018 - link

    Adobe ran that file at the presentation while it was residing on the iPad. You can’t do that from the cloud. That’s storage, not live functioning in the app. It doesn’t matter how they did it on the iPad. The fact is that they did, and it was very impressive indeed.

    Pointer support isn’t a matter of a team of engineers. It’s a matter of philosophy. Apple, at this time, still doesn’t believe in it. I don’t happen to agree with their stance. With the original 9.7” iPads, sure, but not for the bigger Pro models. So I agree there.

    But even without it, things work dine in most cases. Would I want to write a novel 9n it? No, but I can get away with several pages of writing.

    iOS is praised for its ability with assisted communications. Not as good as the Mac, but better than Android by a long shot.

    I’m happy to see what happens in the developers conference next June. We should have a good idea where their going then. If nothing much happens, I’d be surprised. I don’t expect everything I want, but some of it.
  • MonkeyPaw - Tuesday, December 4, 2018 - link

    Yeah, mouse support is probably a toggle away in their development process. Anyway, Affinity Photo for iOS is impressive, with both cloud and local storage options. Local photos much be handled through iOS Photos, and traditional file management must be through the files app/cloud service of your choosing. Not as many options as a desktop, but there are at least some options.
  • KPOM - Tuesday, December 4, 2018 - link

    Mouse support is a double-edged sword. It would make some things easier but also make other things harder, particularly if apps “expect” a cursor.

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