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Apple’s newest iPads are so good, but so confusing.

Apple’s newest iPads are so good, but so confusing.
By Jason Aten • Issue #59 • View online
A version of this newsletter was published in my column at Inc.com
I have long thought that the 11-inch iPad Pro, first introduced in 2018, is one of the best devices Apple has ever made. It’s small enough to comfortably hold in your hand for reading or watching video, while also being just large enough that you can attach a keyboard and use it as your primary computer. More importantly, it was more powerful than most of the laptops you could buy at the same price point. 

Last year, Apple updated the 11-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pro lineup with the M1. At the time, I wrote that it was so good that it was just showing off. As tablets go, it was so far beyond the competition that it was hard to compare it to anything except a Mac. Now, Apple has updated the iPad Pro again, along with the entry-level iPad. 
After spending a few days with both, I have some thoughts. The first of which is that the two updates couldn’t be more different. One iPad is completely new, and the other is almost entirely the same. Not only that, but the changes to the regular non-Pro iPad make things very confusing. 
We’ll get to that in a minute because it’s an interesting lesson in the decisions you make when designing a product for millions of different customers with different uses. First, let’s start with the iPad that most people are probably going to buy.
iPad (10th generation)
The new iPad looks very familiar, even though just about everything has changed. It no longer has a home button, tapered sides, or even a lightning port. Instead, it just looks like an iPad Air, which was updated last year to look basically like an iPad Pro. Yes, all of Apple’s iPads now have essentially the same design language. They all have what Apple calls “all-screen” displays, flat sides, and USB-C-shaped charging ports. 
Photo Credit: Jason Aten
Photo Credit: Jason Aten
In that sense, the new iPad is familiar but confusing. In fact, the A14 Bionic processor makes this iPad more powerful than any other tablet that isn’t an iPad Air or iPad Pro. It’s so good that it becomes hard to make a case for the iPad Air unless you need something just a bit thinner or lighter. Or, if you need to do M1 things like the new Stage Manager feature in iPad OS 16. That’s what I mean by confusing. 
Also confusing is that the new iPad uses the old Apple Pencil. And by old, I mean the original version-the one with the lighting connector on the end. The problem is that the new iPad has a USB-C port, meaning you need a very strange adapter and a USB-C charging cable to connect your five-year-old Apple Pencil to your brand new iPad. 
The best thing about the 10th-generation iPad, however, is that Apple finally did what it should have done when it became clear that the thing we all spend a lot of our time doing is sitting in front of computers on video calls. Yes, Apple finally moved the front-facing camera to the long side, putting it in the correct location when you use your iPad in landscape mode. In fact, Apple calls it a “landscape ultra-wide camera.”
Photo Credit: Jason Aten
Photo Credit: Jason Aten
We’re going to come back to that decision in a minute. Overall, the iPad (10th-generation) is the very best non-Pro, non-Air iPad that Apple has ever made. It even has the best keyboard case. The Magic Keyboard Folio is the keyboard I wish Apple made for all of its iPads. It’s the same keyboard and trackpad of the Magic Keyboard, but that keyboard is now detachable. Oh, and it has a very surface-like kickstand. It’s very good. 
For most people, this is the iPad they should buy, without question. Even though it’s more expensive than the 9th-generation, it’s still probably the best overall value Apple has ever offered in an iPad. 
iPad Pro
The only thing you really have to know about the new iPad Pro is that almost nothing has changed. With one exception, that’s actually a very good thing. It’s still an iPad Pro. It looks and behaves almost identically to the M1 iPad Pro, except it has the M2 which means it’s faster. Not by some monumental leap, but it’s faster. If that matters for the things you do on an iPad, you’ll notice it and be very happy.
I really wanted to write that ‘of course nothing has changed, that’s the way things should be.’ You don’t get revolutionary changes every year, and Apple shouldn’t be redesigning its products just for the sake of redesigning its products. The iPad Pro is almost the perfect iPad. Almost. 
Photo Credit: Jason Aten
Photo Credit: Jason Aten
The most glaring problem–and the one Apple should have changed but didn’t–is the camera. It’s in the same place as the camera on the old iPad Pro, along the left side when you have it in a case. That is not where the front-facing camera should be. Do you want to know how I know that’s not where it should be? Because Apple moved the camera on the non-pro iPad. 
For the majority of use cases, the iPad is a device that is better in landscape orientation. If you use it with a keyboard, you use it in landscape. If you watch a movie, it’s in landscape. If you’re reading your email, it’s probably in landscape. And, if you are doing a FaceTime call or video meeting, you have it in landscape, which means the front-facing camera is in a terrible location. 
Photo Credit: Jason Aten
Photo Credit: Jason Aten
Apple has tried to solve this problem with Center Stage, which uses the Ultra Wide camera to keep you centered in the frame even if you move around. What it doesn’t do is change the fact that you’re probably looking at the other person’s face, which is on display, not off to the left where the camera is. 
Look, the reason Apple did this seems obvious. Moving the camera would have required redesigning the way the Apple Pencil charges and pairs with the iPad Pro. Currently, it sticks to the side via magnets that are in the same spot that you would logically put the front-facing camera. That means that giving iPad Pro users the same camera placement as the non-pro iPad would have required redesigning two products–the iPad Pro and the Apple Pencil.
Every product design involves a series of trade-offs. You make choices about what to include, and what not to include, and those choices have consequences.
Sometimes, those consequences mean that you can’t do all the things you want. Sometimes, you make the right choices, and you deliver a product your customers will love. Other times, you find out later that you prioritized the wrong thing.
Overall, the M2 iPad Pro is a very good device–it’s the best iPad Apple has ever made. It’s probably not a great upgrade if you’re already using an M1 iPad Pro, or even an iPad Air, but if you’re using anything older and want the best iPad you can get, you’ll love this iPad. I just think there is one obvious change could have made it even better. 
Other Articles You Might like
New 10.9-inch iPad and M2 iPad Pro review with Jason Aten | AppleInsider
Apple could release a 16-inch iPad next year - The Verge
iPad Pro 2022 Review: For Apple Pencil Power Users - CNET
My Massive iPad Pro 2022 Unboxing!
NEW iPad Review (2022) - Don't Make a Mistake...
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