Apple's iPad Pro LANDS: A9X Chipset, Specs & Apple Pencil Detailed

News Richard Goodwin 15:47, 1 Dec 2015

The iPad Pro is now official. It's big and it comes with a stylus called the Apple Pencil

Personally, I can't say that whenever I've used a 9-10in tablet, the iPad included, I've thought to myself "you know what? this needs to be bigger." Seems to me there's a very good reason why the iPad started out at 9.7in and then received a smaller iteration in the form of the iPad Mini, but then shrank its own bodywork down with the iPad Air to the extent that the iPad Mini virtually became superfluous and dropped off in sales sharply (along with steadily declining tablet sales generally, of course, but that's a separate issue). That reason being - people want their portable devices to be just that; portable. To an extent, smaller is better, as long as a decently sized display can be maintained. 

However, clearly there are those who think differently, and they exist in sufficient numbers for Apple to go against its own grain and develop an even bigger iPad. Ever since the first iPad emerged way back when there have repeatedly been rumours of a larger iPad aimed at professional users. Apple repeatedly stated that the iPad's 9.7in form factor was perfect, and variants in size were not needed. Then the iPad Mini happened and rumours re-emerged with more gusto, but still nothing in the way of tangible evidence, and nothing else was launched. Most tech punters had all but given up on the idea of a bigger iPad, it had spent so long on the rumour mill churn year-in-year-out that everyone sort of got fed up of the crying wolf all the time. An iPad Pro was a myth, a fantasy. Nothing more.

Then something happened. A big upsurge in iPad Pro rumours occured after a long hiatus, and what's more, rather than coming from the usual spurious sources they started spilling from credible, big names in the media. They became repeated, and they became consistent - hallmarks of the rumours which generally turn into something solid. Things started to snowball.

And now, it's finally here; Apple, at long last, announced the iPad Pro at its September 2015 launch event, alongside the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus.

The iPad Pro is the biggest iPad Apple has ever produced. As predicted the iPad Pro has a 12.9in display and it will also benefit from iOS 9’s built-in split-screen mode. Interestingly, this feature was aired a few months back and everybody knew it was designed with the iPad Pro in mind.

Being a massive touchscreen device with some incredibly robust technology and specs for business use means the iPad Pro is also VERY expensive compared to the rest of Apple's iPad stable. It's more in-line with Mac pricing, meaning this is a tablet designed for professionals only -- those that want to work on the move, creating video and images. The HUGE iPad Pro will be powered by Apple’s brand new A9X chipset, which Phil Schiller claims is faster than 80% of the portable PCs shipped in the last 12 months.

The iPad Pro got its UK release date on November 11: 

“The early response to iPad Pro from app developers and our customers has been incredible, and we’re excited to get iPad Pro into the hands of customers around the world this week,” said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing. “iPad Pro is the most powerful iPad we’ve ever made, giving users the ability to be even more creative and more productive with the epic 12.9-inch Retina display, powerful 64-bit A9X chip and groundbreaking Apple Pencil and new Smart Keyboard. We can’t wait to see what they do with iPad Pro.”

iFixit has conducted its annual tear-down of Apple's new iPad Pro. But unlike previous episodes, the website found quite a few surprises:

"This isn’t quite what we’re used to! With the logic board situated in the center of the iPad," noted the report. "The display cables connect in the very middle, we can’t even lay the display down while we work… Instead we have to support the weight of the display while taking out a few screws securing the display cable bracket…. Here’s a first in iPad history. We have to remove the logic board EMI shielding to remove the logic board itself."

Here's a list of components iFixit found inside that aren’t publicly detailed by Apple:

  • 2 × Broadcom BCM15900B0
  • NXP Semiconductors 8416A1 Touch ID Sensor
  • Parade Technologies DP695 Timing Controller
  • This is likely an iteration of the DP665 LCD timing controller found in the iMac Retina 5K, modified to support the display’s variable refresh rate.
  • Texas Instruments TPS65144 (Likely an iteration of the TPS65143A LCD Bias found in the Air 2)

Apple says the iPad Pro will last 10 hours on battery with the ability to edit three streams of 4K video simultaneously. The iPad Pro also features four speakers for excellent sound fidelity. Let’s just hope your local chav doesn’t get one and start mixing up tunes on the bus. I guess the idea here is that DJs and producers can work on tracks without headphones… or something like that. No doubt it will enhance media experiences aboard the slate as well.

The day following Apple's big announcement (September 10) reports have emerged claiming the iPad Pro carries 4GB of RAM onboard - that's the most RAM Apple has ever put in a mobilie device. It does makes sense though considering this is a tablet aimed at enterprise customers and needs to be capable of 4K video editing, amongst other intensive tasks. The news comes via none other than Adobe, which disclosed the information in a post on its official blog regarding its purpose-built applications for the iPad Pro.

But is there demand for a larger iPad? Here's what John Lewis' Head of Tech had to say on the matter:

“We know our customers like to have access to their work and personal content wherever they are so the launch of the iPad Pro with larger screen size means access to content will be easier than ever.

Having a range of varied options to personalise technology is of prime importance to our customers, so the colour options of Silver, Gold and Space Grey will mean users can easily tailor their device to their tastes and preferences.

With 5.6 million pixels, the iPad Pro has a higher resolution than a 15 inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display – which is the first time customers can benefit from such clarity in a thin, light-weight form. The launch of the new Smart Keyboard, which connects to the iPad Pro via the new ‘Smart Connector’ in addition to the new Apple Pencil will give our customers a completely new dimension to the way they use an iPad - the productivity of a tablet but the power and precision of a laptop. This addition to the iPad range is ground breaking.”

Some iPad Pro Units Freeze When Charging

We don't want to get all alarmist over what will very likely be a small number of devices, but at the same time we feel we should warn readers of potential known issues too. With that in mind, reports have emerged on November 17 detailing issues some users are experiencing with their new iPad Pro tablets. According to posters on Reddit and Apple Support Communites, some units are prone to becoming unresponsive and freezing up while charging. Fortunately this doesn't brick the device, a hard reset seems to solve the problem, but that's still annoying in terms of having to go through setup multiple times, re-linking with the cloud, and so on, particularly bothersome for business users who will be after efficiency not tomfoolery.

Apple is reportedly aware of the issue and its tech support reps have begun advising users on how to deal with the problem, but we can likely expect further details from Apple soon, either if it can be fixed by a software patch, or if some units simply need to be replaced. It's worth mentioning that the problem has also been spotted on iPhone handsets, suggesting it may indeed be software issue, and therefore patchable.

As of November 23, Apple has officially acknowledged the freezing issue with charging iPad Pro devices. The firm has released an instruction document on its support website detailing how users can fix the issue when it occurs, but stated that it is investigating the problem and working on a proper solution. The workaround involves restarting the iPad Pro by holding both the power key and "wake" button for 10 seconds, but it's believed a software patch for iOS 9 will be needed to resolve things fully.

iPad Pro Release Date & UK Pricing

During the iPad Pro launch Apple mostly revealed info for people in the US eagerly awaiting the chance to get their hands on the massive slate. Things have been oddly quiet on the European and UK fronts. Now though, we have some new details regarding the iPad Pro's debut in the UK. Apple itself has confirmed that the iPad Pro will be available to pre-order in the UK from Wednesday November 11 and will land in retail stores shortly thereafter. The UK prices have also been unwrapped and, as we were expecting, it's not cheap!

The entry level model is the 32GB Wi-Fi only edition and this will cost you £679. Going up from there, a 128GB Wi-Fi only model will cost £799, while going for he 4G LTE capable variant bumps it up to £899. The Apple Pencil is an optional extra that costs another £79 on its own, while the Smart Keyboard will cost an extra £139. Essentially, if you want the big kahuna with all the extra gubbins you're looking at a hefty £1,120. Cha-ching!

According to November 16 reports the 128GB iPad Pro model is experiencing shipping delays. On some of Apple's online retail webstores users have discovered that when purchasing a 128GB iPad Pro (both Wi-Fi only and LTE capable) the shipping date is pushed back by up to three weeks - to the end of November or early December, meaning you won't get hold of the device until well into the festive season. This suggests either production issues at Apple's end, or simply that demand for the larger storage iPad Pro has exceeded Apple's stock and production. We're guessing the latter.

Things are still looking good for the 32GB model, which can be had within a week of ordering.

On top of the issues with the 128GB iPad Pro, Apple has similar four-to-five week delays listed for the tablet accessories - the keyboard and Apple Pencil, meaning access to key functionalities for end users may be significantly delayed.

A New Keyboard & Apple Pencil

Because the iPad Pro is SO BIG, a lot of punters will want to use it to replace their existing laptops and netbooks. But to do this they will need a keyboard -- and probably a mouse, too. Luckily, Apple has one to sell you, and according to Schiller, “it’s unlike any keyboard you’ve ever used before”...

Apple recently detailed some of what you will be able to do abaord the iPad Pro: 

“iPad Pro enables new forms of mobile creativity that will help transform how creatives work,” said Scott Belsky, vice president of Products at Adobe. “With the larger iPad Pro screen and lightning-fast performance, creatives will be able to take full advantage of Adobe’s family of Creative Cloud mobile apps. For example, the ability to manipulate a 50-megapixel image right on iPad Pro in Photoshop Fix and then send that image to Photoshop CC on a desktop, for further refinement, is the kind of industry-advancing collaboration that millions of Adobe and Apple customers will benefit from.”
“Creative thinkers worldwide use Paper as part of their workflow, designing everything from flow charts, to storyboards, to wireframes, to architectural sketches. iPad Pro is the ultimate platform for Paper, with a powerful 12.9-inch Retina display and A9X chip that deliver performance rivaling most portable PCs,” said Georg Petschnigg, CEO and co-founder of FiftyThree. "iPad Pro gives Paper users an even bigger and more dynamic canvas on which to rapidly capture ideas however they strike — as notes, photos, sketches or diagrams.”
“Procreate 3 is designed for iPad Pro to give artists a more immersive experience than ever before,” said James Cuda of Savage Interactive. “iPad Pro’s gorgeous 12.9-inch Retina display lets you create massive artworks: up to an incredible 16K in resolution. This new level of definition allows for large format printing and exceptionally detailed artworks. Procreate 3 is also built for Apple Pencil. Its remarkable accuracy, pressure sensitivity, tilt detection and palm rejection make Apple Pencil the tool we’ve been waiting for.”

The Apple Pencil is essentially a stylus in the vein of Samsung’s S-Pen, just shinier because, well, it’s made by Apple. Apple claims the Apple Pencil is as close to the real thing as you can currently get -- though we’ll be the judge of that claim Apple, if you don’t mind. Using Force Touch technology, the iPad Pro can detect varying degrees of pressure which in turn result in thicker, thinner or harsher lines.

The Apple Pencil will work with all of Apple’s core applications too. Charging is taken care of via a Lightning Connector and Schiller didn’t mention battery life, but we’d imagine it’d be pretty good.

The iPad Pro features Touch ID too, as well as an 8MP iSight camera on the rear for capturing images, not that anyone will use it for taking pictures with, but, hey, at least you have the option to be a douche on holiday with your iPad Pro.

As with all iPads there will be Wi-Fi and LTE models; the LTE versions will cost more, though. Apple says it plans on releasing the iPad Pro in November. A 32GB model starts at $799, while a 128GB version is priced at $949. If you want the LTE 128GB model, well, that comes in at a whopping $1079.

As per Apple, neither the Apple Pencil or keyboard will ship with the iPad Pro. Nope, you’ll have to shell out extra for those -- and the Apple Pencil ain’t cheap either ($99). Ditto for the keyboard ($169).

Over on the next page you can get a full rundown of all the specs as well as some very early reviews. 

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