Eighth GPU core. Wide angle camera. LiDAR Scanner. 6GB of memory on every model. That’s how Apple updated the iPad Pro last year.
I’ve been using it every day since it first came out alongside the Magic Keyboard and I’m going to tell you whether or not you should get it now… or wait for the next-generation version that’s rumored to be coming out something later this year.
The 2020 iPad Pro kept the same design as the 2018 iPad Pro — because that was the biggest redesign in the history of the iPad. Which also means we’re unlikely to get a design anywhere nearly as big anytime soon.
So, if design is high on your list, go ahead and get the current iPad Pro, because the next one just isn’t going to look much different.
Liquid Retina, Apple’s term for the corner-to-rounded-corner LCD display technology first unveiled with the iPhone XR, is what the 2018 iPad Pro used and what the 2020 iPad Pro still uses. And it’s among the best LCD that LCD can be. Just Retina high-density crisp, P3 wide gamut colorful, and up to 120Hz ProMotion refresh rate smooth. But, because it’s LCD, it doesn’t get the deep black, peak brightness, or wide contrast ratio — basically, the high dynamic range — of OLED.
Since Apple’s apparently still not happy with the tradeoffs OLED forces at larger screen sizes, rumor has it the 2021 iPad Pro will go with miniLED instead. That’s a technology that tries to get close to OLED levels for HDR, while also avoiding some OLED problems.
So, if you don’t care about high dynamic range, in other words, watching HDR content like you would on an iPhone or OLED TV, then you can happily get a current generation iPad Pro.
If you really want that high dynamic range, though, if you just insist on HDR all the things, then you’re going to want to wait on the next iPad Pro.
The 2020 iPad Pro has an Apple A12Z system-on-a-chip. That’s the 2018 iPad Pro’s A12X but with higher binning, so instead of just 7 functional GPU cores, it has 8. But all of those cores, CPU and GPU, are still A12 generation architecture and IP. Just slightly better optimized and with a bit more graphics punch. And while it may not match the single core performance of the A14 in the iPhone 12 or current iPad Air, it’s still a monster when it comes to multicore. And I’ve yet to maxi it out in daily use.
The 2021 iPad Pro, though, is expected to be getting an Apple A14X. That’ll be the A14 like the iPhone 12 and current iPad Air, but with the extra performance and graphics cores, like the A12Z. In other words, pretty much what Apple just shipped as the M1, minus some Mac-specific IP. Which means it’ll be the the absolutely most monstrous multicore iPad ever. Or, at last until the next, next update.
So, if single core performance isn’t the most important thing to you, or good enough is just good enough for now, now, now, get the current A12Z iPad Pro.
But, if you need the absolute fastest multicore iPad ever, or you just want to make sure you get iPadOS updates for absolutely as long as possible, wait on that rumored A14X.
The 2018 iPad Pro introduced a 1TB option that also came with 6GB of memory. The 2020 iPad Pro pushed that 6GB of memory across the entire lineup. And…
It’s honestly hard to tell what Apple will do with the 2020 iPad Pro. It could stay exactly the same, or Apple could decide to push it even further with up to 1.5TB or 2TB of storage and up to 8GB of RAM. Because, for pro apps like Photoshop, the more the better, and the top iPad not even having as much RAM as the bottom Mac, even given the difference in memory handling between iOS and macOS… is just weird.
At the lower end, it’s also possible Apple will continue to offer more storage at the same prices, which they’ve done every so often over the last few years.
So, if you don’t need anything more than 1TB and 6GB, then you don’t need anything more than the current iPad Pro.
But, if you really do need more storage and more memory, you can roll the dice by waiting and seeing if Apple decides to deliver more, or just more for your money, with the 2021 model.
The 2018 iPad Pro was the first iOS-base device to switch from Lightning to USB-C, something the 2020 iPad Air did as well, and… none of the iPhones have done at all, and may never do. It gives the iPads access to more and faster peripherals, almost on par with the Mac.
Almost, because unlike any of the current Macs, the iPad Pro USB-C port is only USB-C, where the Macs also support Thunderbolt 3.
Now, Apple added on-board Thunderbolt controllers to the M1 for the new Macs, and since the A14X would theoretically be very similar to the M1, many of us are holding out hope that the next generation iPad Pro will also get a thunderbolt controller and also support TB3. Nothing exists until Apple officially announces it, though, so right now it remains just that — a hope.
So, if USB-C is all you need, then the current iPad Pro will give you exactly what you need.
But, if you want to hold out and hope along with us for Thunderbolt 3, then you’ll need to wait on the 2021 iPad Pro at the earliest.
The 2020 iPad Pro brought Wi-Fi 6, which… is better than Wi-Fi 5. But there are rumors the 2021 might bring Wi-Fi 6E, which adds 6GHz and makes it actually really better.
Likewise, since the iPhone 12 was all about 5G, it’s a super safe bet that the 2021 iPad Pro will go 5G as well. With support for both Frequency Range 1, the low and mid bands, and Frequency Range 2, the high bands, aka mmWave.
So, if you’re fine with Wi-Fi 6 and LTE, you’ll be fine with the current iPad Pro.
But, if you really want Wi-Fi 6E and 5G, you’ll really want to wait on the 2021 ver
The 2020 iPad Pro received a fairly major camera update, at least as iPad camera updates go. It got a dual camera system for the first time, adding in an ultra-wide angle. And it also got a LiDAR Scanner for near-instant augmented reality tracking. Sadly, the LiDAR Scanner wasn’t hooked into the camera system like it is on the iPhone 12 either then or, double sadly, now.
And… there aren’t any solid rumors about the 2021 iPad Pro being any better. That means we’ll probably see the same kind of incremental camera hardware improvements we always do, and the A14X image signal processor will bring way better computational photography to the table, but it will almost certainly, once again, fall way, way short of what the same generation iPhone is rocking.
So, you’re probably find just getting the current generation iPad Pro when it comes to the camera.
But, if you wait, you will get slightly better optics and at least some of the latest computational camera benefits. Even though I’d love, love to see Apple get just way more aggressive here.
The 2018 iPad Pro dropped Touch ID for Face ID, which was great at the time but has become less great in the age of masks. Apple’s begun working around this with the Watch, and there are rumors that the next iPhone will bring back Touch ID but in-display. If the iPhone is only getting that this fall, though, odds are the iPad Pro will only get it after that, in the next next update in 2022 or 2023.
Likewise, with so much work from home going on, there’s been a lot of frustration with Apple putting the front-facing camera in portrait mode while we’re all using it so often in landscape. Meaning all anyone ever sees of us is wicked side-eye. But, there haven’t been any credible rumors of Apple changing that… like at all.
So, if you’re waiting for better biometrics or video conferencing optics, you may have a long while still to wait.
And while you’re waiting, check out this playlist, where I run down everything Apple has coming our way next. See you in the video!