This week Apple took the wraps off its new 2020 iPad Pro, offering up a dual-lens camera system with a new 3D LiDAR Scanner along with a new Magic Keyboard that would feature trackpad support.
The new iPad Pro is a welcome update to Apple’s flagship tablet, which last got a major redesign back in 2018, but in addition to the headline features, there are a number of other interesting changes that make the new iPad Pro an attractive iPad but still don’t quite put it on par with Apple’s premium iPhones. Read on to find out what’s new (and not so new) in the 2020 iPad Pro.
Apple brought Wi-Fi 6 to the iPhone 11 last year, so it probably shouldn’t be a big surprise that the new iPad Pro now has it too. If anything it’s more surprising that even the newest MacBook Air, released yesterday, still doesn’t include Wi-Fi 6 support.
Also known as 802.11ax, Wi-Fi 6 will offer faster speeds — up to 30–40 percent more, provided you’re connected to a Wi-Fi 6 capable router. The theoretical maximums are 1.2Gpbs on the 2.4GHz band and up to 4.8Gbps on the 5GHz band, which should allow the new iPad Pro to take full advantage of high-speed fibre connections.
More importantly, however, Wi-Fi 6 is also better at handling congested networks and promises some nice battery life improvements thanks to better power efficiency of the Wi-Fi radios and signalling.
No Ultra Wideband?
There’s no mention of Apple’s U1 chip in any of the specs for the new iPad Pro, so we have to assume that Apple won’t be bringing Ultra Wideband technology to its tablets just yet. Clearly it wants to leave this as the exclusive domain of its iPhone models for now. It raises the question of whether Apple’s upcoming AirTags will be compatible with the iPad Pro, but either way it seems that they’ll still work better with the latest iPhone models.
The new iPad Pro also supports one less LTE band than its predecessor — Band 11 is gone — although that won’t likely matter at all to anybody outside of Japan, and even in that country it’s only one of several bands used by carriers.
Update: According to code found in iOS 13.4 by 9to5Mac, it seems the new iPad Pro models do include a U1 chip, but the fact that Apple hasn't mentioned it anywhere at all suggests that even if the chip is there, it doesn't look like Apple is planning to do anything with it just yet.
On the higher end, the new iPad Pro remains available in the same storage capacities as its predecessor — 256GB, 512GB, and 1TB. However, Apple has bumped up the entry-level model to 128GB, filling in the gap that previously existed with the 2018 iPad Pro, with models that jumped from 64GB to 256GB.
This will be a nice benefit to those who don’t want to spend too much money on the new iPad Pro, as 128GB has become the sweet spot for most users in terms of storage on iOS devices.
Size and Weight
The new iPad Pro is basically identical in size and weight to the 2018 version. The dimensions and case design are completely identical, meaning many cases and keyboard accessories designed for the 2018 iPad Pro will still fit the 2020 models; while they won’t accommodate the new camera bump, of course, an older case could still do in a pinch until new versions become available, especially if you don’t plan to use the camera often.
In fact, the only physical change other than the larger camera bump is a very slight difference in weight that is only going to be noticeable on the spec sheets; the 11-inch iPad Pro models gain about 3-5 grams, while both 12.9-inch iPad Pros increase in weight by about 10 grams.
Even though the dimensions of the new iPad Pros are identical to their predecessors, the new camera array and LiDAR sensor means you’ll ultimately need to pick up a case with a larger hole. This is similar to what happened with last year’s iPhone 11 lineup, where all three models retained the same physical dimensions of the iPhone XR and iPhone XS that came before, but required expanded cutouts for the larger cameras.
In terms of other accessories, the 2020 iPad Pro uses the same second-generation Apple Pencil as the 2018 model (and of course it’s still not compatible with the original first-gen version of the stylus), and charges it in the exact same way through a inductive magnetic connection on the edge of the iPad Pro frame.
The Smart Connector on the new iPad Pro remains in the same place as the 2018 iPad Pro, which moved it from the edge to the rear of the iPad. Apple’s Smart Keyboard Folio and other similar cases that make use of the Smart Connector should continue to work just fine with the new iPad Pro, but Smart Connector accessories for pre-2018 iPad Pro models will remain incompatible, as they rely on the older edge placement, now only found on the 2019 iPad Air and 10.2-inch iPad.
Cameras Still Lag Behind
Although the new iPad Pro didn’t get the triple-lens camera system many were expecting, it did gain a second ultra wide camera, much like the iPhone 11. However, for reasons we can only guess at, the iPad Pro version of the camera falls slightly short of the one found in Apple’s latest smartphone lineup.
Specifically, it’s only a 10MP sensor, although it does offer the same f/2.4 aperture and actually promises a 125-degree field of view — five degrees wider than the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro.
It also looks like the standard lens hasn’t gotten an upgrade from the 2018 iPad Pro, since it’s still listed as a five-element lens with the same specs as the earlier version. By comparison, the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro now use a six-element lens.
The front TrueDepth camera also remains the same as the one found in the 2018 iPad Pro, rather than the upgraded 12MP version in the iPhone 11 models.
One positive note, however, is that Apple claims the True Tone flash is brighter in the new model.
No Portrait Mode
One interesting omission in the iPad Pro product pages is any mention at all of Portrait Mode or Portrait Lighting features. Granted, the iPad Pro doesn’t have the telephoto lens that was originally required to support this, however, even the iPhone XR offered a limited version of Portrait Mode back in 2018, and last year’s iPhone 11 delivered the feature pretty much on-par with the triple-lens iPhone 11 Pro.
It’s unclear if the lack of any reference to Portrait Mode is simply an oversight, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see it omitted completely from the new iPad Pro, despite the inclusion of the LiDAR sensor. In fact, Apple’s marketing materials for the new iPad Pro talks about the LiDAR sensor a lot in terms of Augmented Reality, but mentions almost nothing about using it to enhance photography.
Likewise, even though the single-lens iPhone XR was released a month before the 2018 iPad Pro, the Portrait Mode feature didn’t appear on that model either. It seems that Portrait Mode and Portrait Lighting are features Apple wants to confine to the iPhone, while the multi-camera system and LiDAR sensor of the iPad Pro is targeted toward Augmented Reality and other creative applications.
It appears that the new iPad Pro will gain support for 24fps 4K video recording and 120fps slo-mo video, which may open up new cinematic possibilities, but one rather odd thing we noted is that you’ll only be able to use higher frame-rate video recording on the ultra wide lens.
According to the specs, when using the ultra wide lens you’ll only be able to shoot 4K at 60fps, and slo-mo video at 240 fps. The standard wide lens can now shoot 4K at 24fps, 30fps, or 60fps, and slo-mo at 120fps or 240fps. 1080p remains limited to 30/60 fps and 720p to 30fps, just as before.
The front TrueDepth camera will still only be able to record 1080p video at 30fps or 60fps, although it looks like it will now be possible to take 8MP still photos while recording 4K video from the rear cameras.
A12Z vs A12X vs A13
Apple has thrown us a curveball this year with the new A12Z Bionic CPU, and although we won’t know for sure what this means until people actually get the new iPad Pro into their hands and start running benchmarks, it’s a safe bet to say that it’s closer in performance to the A12X found in the 2018 iPad Pro than it is to the A13 chips in last year’s iPhone models.
For one thing, the A13 features a “third-generation Neural Engine” which almost certainly hasn’t been brought down to the A12Z, so it seems that the new iPad Pro won’t be as powerful at machine learning and things like computational photography as the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro are, and it’s also unlikely that it includes the “Metal-optimized” GPU of the A13 either.
Still, it may offer better performance in those specific areas where it counts for a tablet device. The A12X in the 2018 iPad Pro was an eight-core chip compared to the six-core A12 and A13, and the A12Z continues that trend, while also offering optimizations for the new LiDAR sensor technology and ARKit applications.
Apple now promises “five studio-quality microphones” in the new iPad Pro (emphasis ours), and while it’s unclear what this means, it does suggest that they’ve improved the microphone hardware a bit, which should not only help FaceTime calls, but could also see its way into AR applications that require accurate recognition and spacial placement of ambient sounds.
Beyond that, however, it looks like it will support the same four-speaker audio output as the previous iPad Pro model.
Although the 12.9-inch iPad Pro packs the same 36.71Wh rechargeable battery as its older brother, the 11-inch iPad Pro technically loses a tiny bit of battery capacity — it sports a 28.65Wh cell as opposed to the 29.37Wh one found in the 2018 model, but this difference is too small to be noticeable in practical terms.
Apple promises that the new iPad Pro will get up to 10 hours of surfing the web or watching videos over Wi-Fi, or up to 9 hours on a cellular data connection.