What would make a new 2021 iPad Pro truly 'Pro'?

in iPad edited April 6
With new iPad Pros rumored to be unveiled soon, and "iPadOS 15" expected to follow closely behind at WWDC 2021, AppleInsider offers a wishlist of what substantial hardware and software refreshes might bring for pro users.

It's widely rumored that the fifth-generation iPad Pro -- in particular, the larger 12.9-inch model -- will be the first Apple product to upgrade to a mini LED display, allowing for localized dimming control and better color accuracy. The new hardware is also expected to run an iPad-exclusive variant of the same M1 chip that debuted in the MacBook Pro, MacBook Air and Mac mini last fall.

Beyond those upgrades, there hasn't been much else in the way of rumors. But here's a list of what we'd like to see.

Improved external monitor support

For the iPad to grow into a true PC replacement, it will need to allow users to dock and connect to larger external monitors. Now that iPadOS has gained robust mouse/trackpad and keyboard support, allowing native resolutions on external monitors is the logical next step.

To be clear, iPadOS currently offers support for external monitors, but it is displayed at the same 4:3 picture ratio as the iPad itself. Content on the iPad will expand to fill the screen when apps have support for it -- such as when a video is playing -- but otherwise the iPad experience on an external screen is limited to a reverse-letterbox view.

As far as we can tell, there is no technical limitation for this. It made sense when the iPad was a touch-only interface and users were required to interact with the tablet itself. But now that virtually any Bluetooth mouse or trackpad can be connected to the iPad, the need to use the iPad's display is diminished, and external displays should be able to expand to show the entire operating system natively.

Of course, this will require some work from developers, who will need to design their apps to scale to different screen sizes and dimensions (most notably 16:9 and 16:10 aspect ratios).

However, with iOS and iPadOS apps running natively on Macs with Apple Silicon, presumably developers will already be incentivized to code their apps for more display sizes. External monitor support for iPad Pro fits in nicely.

Better multitasking

We're not going to fantasy develop for you and create an imagined concept of how multitasking could work better on the iPad Pro. We'll just say that the current system isn't it.

Apple needs to go back to the drawing board once again and rethink the iPadOS multitasking system. At the moment it's clunky and not functional, and certainly not intuitive. It was also designed with touch in mind, making it less suited for mouse and keyboard input.

The process of opening and closing second apps -- particularly ones that may not be in the dock -- is an obvious candidate for improvement. And for those who prefer using their iPad Pro in portrait mode, it would be nice to have two apps displayed vertically.

Background app refresh also remains a bit of a mystery as to when iPadOS will close an app in the background. For pro users, it would be preferable to gain some control of what apps run in the background, perhaps turning the app switcher into less of a switcher and more of a display of what is actually running and using RAM.

The need for an extra gesture or movement to show the app dock is also unnecessary. Apple should add an option to always display the dock.

And pro users should also be given the ability to remove the "home bar" from the bottom of the screen. Yes, we know where to swipe to return home.

True pro apps

You'll notice that most of what we list here are software limitations. That's because the iPad hardware is pretty powerful and well designed. But on the software front, it feels like Apple hasn't taken the training wheels off yet.

One way of changing that is to bring true pro apps to the iPad Pro. Apple should have full, native and touch-friendly versions of Xcode, Final Cut Pro X, Logic Pro X, Motion, Compressor and MainStage.

Make them all cross-buy on the Mac App Store and iPadOS App Store, allowing pro users on the Mac to migrate over to the iPad Pro and try it out as their main computer.

Apple can't force third-party developers to make their iPadOS apps as feature-rich as their Mac counterparts, however the company can lead by example and showcase the iPad Pro as a destination for true professional-grade apps.

The switch to Apple Silicon, and the availability of iPad apps on macOS, has drawn criticism, with watered down apps designed for touchscreens migrating over to the Mac with minimal changes. That criticism is fair, but it's important to remember that the switch to Apple Silicon is not a one-way door -- it also allows for Mac apps to make their way to the iPad more easily.

A more robust file system and Files app

The Files app for iOS and iPadOS was a step in the right direction, but compared to Finder on the Mac, it's severely lacking.

For one, it's buggy. Sometimes seemingly basic actions, like copying files from one location and pasting them in another folder, will completely crash the system, particularly when managing a large number of files.

View options, tagging and file sorting are also short of what's available on the Mac. And why are media files -- photos and music -- not accessible through the file system?

Files was a great start -- when it launched with iPadOS 13 in 2019. Pro users need more features and reliability.

Expanded keyboard and shortcut support

Power users on Mac frequently rely on keyboard shortcuts to quickly access certain functions. Everyone's use case is different, however, which is why macOS has for years offered robust systemwide support for custom keyboard shortcuts, configurable for either a specific app or for all applications.

This is an area where iPadOS is significantly behind macOS, and would make a logical addition for pro users. Bonus points if these shortcuts could expand beyond native OS functions and allow third-party app capabilities.

Perhaps Apple could integrate this functionality into its Shortcuts app, which already has robust support for third-party apps. By adding the ability to create keyboard commands to invoke Shortcuts, Apple could greatly expand power user support in iPadOS.

Home screen widgets

This is something of a no-brainer, as Apple added support for widgets alongside app icons to the iPhone last year. Strangely, despite having more horsepower and a larger display, the iPad Pro has yet to gain this functionality.

This is and others listed here are more of an iPadOS upgrade than something that will be exclusive to a new iPad Pro, but regardless, it's on our wishlist.

Apple Watch integration

Aside from being capable of unlocking your Mac, Apple Watch integration is mostly tied to the iPhone. With all of Apple's hardware now running Apple Silicon and the same underlying code, it makes sense to start bringing down those walls, and to have Apple Watch interface with the iPad.

When your iPad Pro is in range, it would be nice to be able to receive notifications from it on your watch. Users may have different notifications set up on their iPhone and iPad, but receiving both when the iPad is in range would make sense.

We'd also like to be able to set up, customize and manage our Apple Watch from the iPad, so bringing the "Apple Watch" app over from iPhone is another logical addition.

What would you like to see?

Obviously we're just scratching the surface here of where the iPad could go next. We haven't even delved into longstanding Mac capabilities such as multi-user support, or rumors of a Thunderbolt port added to new iPad Pro models. We're curious what you think would make the iPad Pro an even more professional-grade computer replacement. Let us know in the comments or on Twitter at @appleinsider.


  • Reply 1 of 31
    I think all of these problems could be solved for me by one hardware change - give the MacBook a touch screen and I’ll just use that. Maybe in another 10 years there will be parity with an iPad, but all I’m missing on the MacBook is touch capability. 
  • Reply 2 of 31
    The Mac is a superior device for most of what you mentioned. The biggest mistake Apple could make with the iPad is to focus its energies on making it more like a laptop. There’s still so much they can to do to perfect the touch experience (multitasking is also high on my list) the iPad was made for. 

    FYI - “reverse-letterboxing” is called pillar-boxing. 
  • Reply 3 of 31
    Pressing and holding an app icon in the dock and then dragging/dropping it to create a second window for multitasking is "clunky"? 
  • Reply 4 of 31
    Not a "Pro" feature at all, but related to the "Apple Watch integration" theme: LET ME SEE MY HEALTH AND WORKOUT DATA ON MY iPAD!
  • Reply 5 of 31
    entropysentropys Posts: 2,823member
    Yeah I would call it very clunky. The multitasking definitely needs to be more intuitive, and easier to do.

    Definitely a more robust file management system that works seamlessly with MS servers on a network, even remotely. That makes it easy to open a file from whatever application I choose, and yes, that includes media files. And sharing between apps needs simplification.
    the print function needs to increase markedly in functionality.
    they are the biggest issues software wise for me, and it is software.

    on the hardware front I am pretty happy, a second port would be great I suppose.

  • Reply 6 of 31
    I’d like to see Xcode (maybe fully Swift Package Manager based), better multi-tasking, and better external display support that takes advantage of the cursor. The changes last year with real keyboard and cursor support make this compelling for mobile development with a real touch screen for testing. The iPad Pro is ready to take on more that was traditionally for a full computer. I hate having an iPad hanging off my computer when working with iOS development. I’d rather just do it all on the iPad.

    I don’t hate the multi-tasking on the iPad, but there should be some new multi-tasking features that are exclusively for iPads that have an attached keyboard and trackpad. Ideally somewhat Mac like for muscle memory.
    edited April 6 nhughesjeffzachariaswatto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 31
    yojimbo007yojimbo007 Posts: 1,123member
    Full Featured, Robust Pro Apps..not watered down snippets... and a comprehensive, consistent  file sys across the board. 
  • Reply 8 of 31
    charlesncharlesn Posts: 123member
    This has been the iPad story for years now--overachieving hardware matched to an underachieving OS. Does anyone really believe Cupertino is unable to write iPadOS code that would allow for the improvements noted in this article? Simply stated, Apple doesn't want its customers choosing between a laptop and an iPad--to the degree that customers can afford it, Apple wants them to buy both. And the lack of or kludgy implementation of some basic functionality that this article covers is evidence of that strategy. 
    I have no doubt that whenever the new iPad Pro is rolled out, we're in for more of the same: headlines devoted to the hardware revisions with a few footnotes about changes in iPadOS.  
    edited April 6 jeffreytgilbertmuthuk_vanalingamwatto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 31
    dewmedewme Posts: 3,399member
    This is a tough one because what constitutes "Pro" is as varied as the number of iPad users on Earth and what tasks these users perform on an iPad. The importance of product qualities like higher performance, better security, better manageability, better hardware, e.g., ECC memory, chips certified for higher loads or operating at greater thermal ceilings, better environmentals, better shock & vibration, more waterproof, etc., are all subjective based on how the user applies the iPad as a tool to their task. I would say that what is "Pro" for me are those things that make the iPad more suitable for the work I use it for.

    Things that would make an iPad more "Pro" for me include:

    - Multiple login support, e.g., multiple users
    - Multiple levels of user credentials, e.g., admin vs user accounts
    - Admin mode access that allows greater control over certain iPadOS features (which ones TBD)
    - User mode access that allows admin to restrict/limit access to certain iPadOS features (which ones TBD)
    - Operating system and app "rollback to previous version" support
    - On-device scripting/programming with access to key iOS services (which ones TBD)
    - Integrated phone support (full phone functionality, not relayed through iPhone, not WiFi calling)
    - Disk mode (make portion of iPad storage mountable on other iOS, iPadOS, and macOS machines

    edited April 6 jeffreytgilbertroundaboutnowpscooter63Vermelhowatto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 31
    lolliverlolliver Posts: 415member
    luxuriant said:
    Not a "Pro" feature at all, but related to the "Apple Watch integration" theme: LET ME SEE MY HEALTH AND WORKOUT DATA ON MY iPAD!
    I agree 100%. 
    The iPad should be able to function as the primary device the WATCH is connected to. 
    If I could set up an WATCH from an iPad I would buy WATCH SE models for my kids. They have had VTech watches for a couple of years but have outgrown them. They don’t need cellular watches yet so being able to set up an WATCH from their iPads would be ideal. 
  • Reply 11 of 31
    thttht Posts: 3,895member
    Here's my wishlist:

    1. More virtual keyboard options. The 4.5 row (I've turn off the half height row on mine) or 5 row software keyboard takes up about half the display. I'd like to see them offer 3 rows, and possibly even 2. They should add meta keys (Command, Option, Control). Offer an ortholinear option. It's an onscreen keyboard. They can do a lot of stuff with it. Like, let people custom configure the layout.

    2. Overlapping applications and windows/documents. Your basic overlapping window UI seen on PC operating systems. Not that useful at small displays sizes, but when connected to an external monitor, and the display is extended, not mirrored, basically mandatory.

    3. iPad as input device. Connect it to an external monitor, and the iPad can be used as a keyboard and trackpad.

    4. Terminal.app, including user-installs of various CLI packages.

    5. Background multitasking. Let apps run in background in perpetuity. This likely necessitates turning on the page file, but it is time.
  • Reply 12 of 31
    Just have it run macOS and give it an M1 level chip.

    it costs as much as or more than a macbook air, but the air has more ram and storage. The ipad has a better screen and cameras. Aside from that, what difference is there really? macOs is the better OS. 
  • Reply 13 of 31
    mattinozmattinoz Posts: 1,491member
    An iMac, IPadPro and Watch setup that just worked together like a seamless computing environment would be killer for me.
    Could drop phone use watch out and about.

    What would really make that combo sing would be to remake the case for the Airpods so in the event of a quick call you can use the case as phone handset instead of putting in one of the buds. Like a lip stick case sized item, twist and it extends the pod out and lets you put it in your ear oned handed.

    Software wise iPad has never lived up to the potential of the device. Yes dropping MacOS wouldn't be good move either but it should be a Laptop replacement for many users by now, especially those who do have a desktop for grunt. The compromise in terms of productivity should just be the natural one of screen size.
  • Reply 14 of 31
    Lots of good suggestions here.

    It sounds like what is being asked is growing iPadOS to be more like macOS. Or are we basically asking for a version of macOS that is designed for touch?
  • Reply 15 of 31
    mattinozmattinoz Posts: 1,491member
    Lots of good suggestions here.

    It sounds like what is being asked is growing iPadOS to be more like macOS. Or are we basically asking for a version of macOS that is designed for touch?

    I think so. I think Apple should be to the point in say 3 to 5 years serious people are asking if macOS should stay given how much iPadOS nips at it's heels.
    The answer should still be no but the question should be serious.
  • Reply 16 of 31
    bleepobleepo Posts: 1member
    Let’s not go overboard. If you need a Mac, buy one. Improvements for iPad that really matter:
    - scribble and handwriting recognition improvements
    - colors when composing mail
    - manage contact groups
    - multitask an app without it being in the dock
    - better compatibility of Safari with full-featured application websites, starting with this forum, which doesn’t post properly on iPad mini 5
    - add a new gesture or two so that you don’t need a mouse ever
    - get Microsoft to put an actual charting feature set in the currently hobbled Excel
    - video streaming apps to not go to sleep with device lock timeout
    - fix TV app so it stops complaining about external monitors that supposedly don’t have DRM rights
    edited April 7 georgie01
  • Reply 17 of 31
    Dual OS. When connecting the iPad to an external monitor, switch from iOS to macOS. 

    The hardware is capable of it, and Apple has already developed both operating systems. Why not make the hardware run both then? 

    Maybe even offer me a choice to switch to macOS, the moment I connect a mouse, for that’s the moment I start to use a pointer device made for macOS in the first place...

    (I posted this idea to Apple’s feedback web page too)
  • Reply 18 of 31
    16 core graphics chip. 2 thunderbolt controllers. 2 usb-c ports with thunderbolt 4/usb 4 capable of using hubs.
  • Reply 19 of 31
    mcdavemcdave Posts: 1,568member
    Apologies, for the repost but this is the biggest issue for me;

    Apple's cloud-first approach for iPadOS/iOS devices and low storage for affordable Macs keeps throwing up storage-related problems. It's hard to edit video/work with large amounts of data on iPads as there's no localisation control and re-downloading movie clips from iCloud libraries takes forever. Non-upgradable storage on Macs has us running for external drives (not great for portability). iCloud (or other cloud) Drive/Libraries logically solves both issues but performance is a problem and, as nobody would spend hundreds of dollars on a cloud caching box that does nothing else, the solution needs to be baked into something else, something static, like HomePod, AppleTV, a smart display or even a slightly re-tasked Time Capsule/Airport Extreme+HDD.  macOS has been content caching for some time;
    ...but a caching server (a multi-terabyte mac mini with fully localised libraries) is beyond the consumer mindset/budget. So the software is there - we just need the functionality added to other devices.

    Along with some localisation controls (file-pinning) this caching is essential for most Apple devices to do anything useful. Or am I just rambling?
  • Reply 20 of 31
    palegolaspalegolas Posts: 1,314member

    What would you like to see?

    When this generation launches, there’s probably gonna be absolutely zero technical barriers to pull up Mac OS on an iPad Pro when needed or preferred. Perhaps it’s a mess, and nobody wants it.. and it’s dumb.. but the “pro” camp might find it useful.

    I’m a musician, and I would certainly love the iPad Pro Form factor with full fledged music apps, and full fledged support for audio interfaces etc. After all... I “love” my iPad Pro, while my MacBook Pro, honestly, is just a tool for me. I don’t love it. I need it.

    If the home directory was shared between the operating systems, something worked on in a “Final Cut Touch” or “First Cut Pro” for iPad, could be finished in Mac OS full fledged Final Cut Pro. X-code could be running in Mac OS mode, and builds sent to iPad mode for testing.

    Also.. Like Mac OS has the “Catalyst” framework to help get iPad apps to Mac, a reversed “Catalyst” for getting Mac apps to iPad OS should also be in place.

    I wanna “love” my Mac again... Haven’t been feeling it since the Touchbar + flat keyboards to be honest. Big Sur and the newer less flat keyboards is onto something though. Slowly getting the love back, I hope.
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