My enthusiasm for the iPad Pro lineup is well documented on this site, so naturally I have been fielding the question of which iPad Pro people should get, and if I am moving to the “smaller” model myself. I am very happy to see the addition of the 9.7″ iPad Pro — if for nothing else than signally Apple’s continued commitment to the iPad lineup.
The 9.7″ model, however, does not appeal to me. Yes, the better camera I guess is nice (not the bump though) and yes the smaller size might be nice at times — sure even the color shifting display seems great. But it is a lesser device.
The 9.7″ model is slower than the 12.9″ model — both in CPU and with less RAM. It has a downgraded lightning port which is not capable of USB 3 speeds. It has no fast charging features either.
All-in-all if you are buying an iPad Pro as your main computer, you buy the 12.9″ model — and I don’t see any reason why that wouldn’t be the case for everyone buying an iPad Pro as their computing device.
Where the Smaller iPad Pro Does Fit
None of this is to call the 9.7″ iPad Pro a bad machine — on the contrary it is a great machine for many people. My argument against the 9.7″ model is predicated on the it being your only computer and the fact is: people who only use iPads for their computing are rare, to say the least. Which means the 9.7″ iPad Pro is perfect for everyone who doesn’t want the iPad Pro to be their main computer — in that sense it is the perfect second computer.
If you sit at a large laptop, or a desktop, all day long, the 9.7″ iPad Pro is going to be a great alternative for you. Perfect for travel, or small work trips to a local coffee shop. But you will find it lacking, because the more you use it, the more you will be limited by the RAM and display size.
A 9.7″ screen is simply too small to handle most full time computing needs.
I look at the iPad Pro as a bit of a Trojan horse for Apple. Whereas the MacBook Air is a great tool for getting people into a Mac, the iPad Pro 9.7″ is a fantastic tool for getting people used to working on iOS as a primary computing operating system. It gives people a great way to get started with an iPad as a computer.
If you have an iMac, or 15″ MacBook Pro — as many developers use — then “oh hey that 9.7″ iPad Pro seems like it would be pretty neat for those non-Xcode times”. Hell translate that to any person still clinging to OS X for any reason and they might just give the 9.7″ iPad Pro a shot. And as they use it more, they become more comfortable with iOS — and well the rest of iOS will sell itself.
That’s the strategy I see with the smaller iPad Pro. It’s not meant to be a primary computer in the same way that the larger 12.9″ model is meant to be. It is, however, meant to be a fantastic secondary computer.
And in that light, I suspect it will do quite well.
I personally will not be buying one — I have no idea when I would prefer it over the 12.9″ model. I am, though, holding out all hope for an iPad mini with Apple Pencil support — that I would line up to buy. This is very much like the original 11″ and 13″ MacBook Airs, where the 11″ model just couldn’t ever get to the specs of the 13″, but it was a very compelling device for people looking at a tiny second computer. So too is the 9.7″ iPad Pro and I bet it does quite well.