Chuck Joiner recently invited me to talk about Apple’s newly introduced Mac mini and MacBook Air, and the refreshed iPad Pro. Given the current circumstances in the world, is now the right time for these products to come out? I suggest it is, and I give my reasons. Here’s Part 1. I’ll link to Part 2 tomorrow.
On Monday Apple introduced a new version of the iPad Pro, smaller than before but equipped with the same technology as its big sibling: Smart Connector to attach an external keyboard, A9 processor inside, Apple Pencil support. One comment from Apple VP Phil Schiller caught my ear, though – he explained that the smaller iPad Pro has a low-reflectance screen. Apple says that it’s 40 percent less reflective than the iPad Air 2, which Schiller said professionals really love.
It’s an interesting comment, because all Apple laptops all come with glossy screens — much to the chagrin of many tech professionals who rely on Mac laptops to do their work.
Apple used to offer matte and glossy screens as an option on MacBook Pros, but did away with the option a number of years ago. Since then, numerous complaints have been lodged on discussion forums, there have even been online petition drives, and editorials written, but Apple hasn’t relented. All Mac laptops ship with glossy screens. You might be able to add a matte screen protector (Moshi makes a nice one called the iVisor AG), but that’s about it.
Color and sharpness on Apple laptops – especially Retina display equipped models – is marvelous, and continues to improve. But glare is a huge problem. If you are trying to use your laptop in a brightly-lit environment, or if the sun is over your shoulder, the glare makes it awful to try to get work done. I’ve even read comments from photographers who say that if they’re using their Macs for live editing, they’ve learned to wear dark clothing to avoid reflecting off the glossy screen.
As far as I can tell, Apple did away with the option to simplify its product line, lower production costs, and probably because, quite frankly, the matte option was a niche option that a relatively small number of Mac users really wanted. Mac laptops continue to sell in droves. But some customers still complain loudly that they’d like the option. The 9.7-inch iPad Pro gives us hope that one day, Apple might change its mind again.
Almost since the iPad debuted, people have been trying to use keyboards with it. Third-party keyboard case makers have been only too happy to oblige. Over the years, there’s been a landslide of cases and other contraptions designed to make it easier to do keyboard input on the iPad.
With a few exceptions, almost all the keyboard peripherals for the iPad have involved Bluetooth. There’s no actual physical tether between the iPad and the keyboard, just wireless radio transmission.
In practice, this can create a few problems for the unsophisticated user. Bluetooth isn’t perfectly reliable — devices occasionally unsync and need to be resynced, and that’s a process that’s surprisingly difficult unless you’re familiar with the Settings app and how it works. Also, wireless devices need to be recharged, which means keeping yet another charging cable handy and remembering to do so when the battery runs low.
Ultimately, Bluetooth is a maintenance hassle and a pain point for the average user.
When the iPad Pro debuts in November, it’ll be the first iOS device to feature a new peripheral interface called the Smart Connector. The Smart Connector fixes these issues.
The Smart Connector gives Apple’s new Smart Keyboard, another iPad Pro-specific creation, a place to attach. It’s a three-conductor interface on one side of the iPad Pro. So the new Smart Keyboard doesn’t use Bluetooth to communicate with the iPad. What’s more, it doesn’t need a separate battery for power — it will draw off the power of the iPad Pro itself.
Bluetooth remains a ubiquitous and important technology for the iPad. The Smart Connector is only on one iOS device to start, but Apple will distribute it to work on other future iPads as well.