The biggest news coming from Wednesday's Apple event wasn't the new iPhone. The company unveils the latest version of its smartphone every September, with a now-predictable cycle of brand new models debuting in even years, and iterative upgrades on odd years. So while the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus will have faster processors and better cameras than their predecessors when they arrive later this month, they are really just improved iPhones. Apple also showed off the revamped Apple TV, which CEO Tim Cook referred to as "the future of television," but that it's likely more of a stop-gap product, set to disappear once internet-connected smart TVs become the norm.
The most exciting — and novel — product was the iPad Pro. On paper, it's nothing more than a bigger iPad, with a 12.9-inch display. That's a significant expansion compared to the 10-inch screen on the full-size iPad Air 2, rivaling the dimensions of many laptop screens. We won't be able to test the Pro until November, but we've tried out plenty of tablets, including models with screens running as small as 6 inches, and as massive as 12. Apple has its take on who should buy the iPad Pro. Here's ours.
Buy It For: Streaming Video
The iPad, in all of its incarnations, has always excelled at putting content in front of your face. For all the high-minded talk of reading books and magazines on a tablet, the lure of Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon (not to mention Sling) is simply too strong. Whether you're sick in bed, sitting on a plane, or unwilling to negotiate with whoever's hogging the TV in the living room, the iPad is right there, waiting to stream endless seasons of past and current shows. For watching video, the iPad Pro's larger screen is an obvious step up from the iPad Air 2, adding size without sacrificing pixel density. 5.6 million total pixels is "more than a 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display," Apple's VP of worldwide marketing, Bill Schiller, said at the event. Streaming video already looks phenomenal on an iPad, and should look even more so on the Pro.
Just as important, though, is the iPad's long overdue upgrade to its sound. Apple has finally upped the ante to four speakers, located at each corner of the tablet. No more watching movies while tinny audio ejects from the right or left side of the screen, assuming it's not completely muffled by your hand.
Buy It For: Playing Games
A bigger screen also means less clutter during gaming. If developers optimize titles for the iPad Pro, that could mean buttons that are closer to the edge of the display, so your hands are less likely to block the action in the middle. Apple also worked its design and engineering magic to somehow significantly boost the size of the display, while adding essentially no weight. At 1.57 pounds, it's about 0.03 pounds heavier than the iPad Air 2. This is a larger gaming device, but not an ungainly one.
Buy It For: Browsing the Web, Reading
Reading blogs, poking through Pinterest, and otherwise dilly-dallying online will clearly be improved by a bigger screen and faster chipset. Magazine apps might finally reach their full potential on a device that more closely mirrors the dimensions of a print issue, and where images and design elements have a chance to breathe.
Buy It For: Creating Art
For a small set of iPad users who not only fancy themselves artists but have the talent and determination to produce something like art on a touchscreen, there's a promising accessory scheduled to show up alongside the iPad Pro. The Apple Pencil is a $99 stylus that seems to finally have the fine-tuned precision and minimal lag (the time between making a mark, and something showing up on screen) that's been missing from tablet styluses for years. It can detect the angle at which the pencil-shaped device, as well as the amount of force, allowing for quick transitions from thin, light lines to wider, darker strokes. It remains to be seen whether it will actually let you rest your hand on the tablet while drawing without sending applications into pinch and zoom convulsions, but if the pen works half as well as it did in Apple's demo, it will be a major selling point.
Don't Buy It For: Work
Before he unveiled the iPad Pro, Tim Cook said that, "In just five years, iPad has transformed the way we create, the way we learn, and the way we work." We're not so sure. The iPad might be a valuable tool for some artists, but as a work machine, it is second-rate. Touch-typing a long document is a nightmare, and even when you add accessories like physical keyboards, the operating system is still, at its core, built for phones. The biggest problem: There's nowhere to stick your stuff. One of Apple's greatest innovations was the desktop, and the use of handy little icons and folders. iOS, having begun its life on tiny iPhone screens, smartly ditched the desktop. But for doing work, it's still indispensable.
Granted, the iPad Pro appears to be better at standing in for a laptop than its predecessors. It has more space to do multitasking, so you can have two apps open at once, in side-by-side panes. And the $169 Smart Keyboard seems like a good stand-in for the touchscreen keyboard (which is now full-size). But better doesn't mean good, and until Apple modifies iOS to make it more work-friendly, its claims of enhanced productivity with the iPad Pro are empty.
The truth is, the iPad has never been about getting things done. It's not a work machine. It's a device that begs you to play hooky, and that helps you kill time like it's your job. Apple can show off all the medical apps for doctors it wants. The rest of us will be using the iPad to download games, devour movies and TV shows, rock out to streaming music, or fall into random internet rabbit holes. What makes Apple's tablets great, namely the responsiveness of the touchscreen and the high quality of its compatible apps, make it a clear and present threat to productivity.