Adding a Smart Keyboard and Pencil helps the device to carve out a niche

I am writing this column on Apple's new giant tablet, the iPad Pro, which in many ways is the anti-iPad.

iPads and tablets were designed to be moderate in size and lightweight, so you can hold them in one hand while operating them with the other. You use an iPad either in landscape or portrait mode, depending on what you do.

They're meant as companion devices for portable computers, for consuming content rather than creating it, and that's a notion that the iPad Pro tries to turn on its head.

The iPad Pro is meant more as a creative and productivity tool, and because of that, Apple made it big with much more computing power than previous iPads, with 12 graphics processor cores, four gigabytes of memory and faster storage. It's about the size of a sheet of A4 paper, which means you can fit more onto the screen and multitask easier with two windows open.


This means that if you're budgeting for an iPad Pro, you should add a bit for the Smart Keyboard that doubles as stand, and the Apple Pencil. Both of these are nicely designed and work better than similar products I've tried, but add $319 and $189 to the iPad Pro, which starts at $1399 for a 32Gb Wi-Fi-only model, and is $1679 for the 128Gb variant, to which you can add $200 more to get 4G data capability.

Not cheap, but still less than a MacBook, for instance.

I had doubts about the keyboard to begin with. But first impressions aren't always reliable.

The Smart Keyboard is great to use, similar to the MacBook one that has the same technology. I'm a touch typist and about as quick on the Smart Keyboard as on a laptop. The shallow depth means you can reach the iPad Pro with your fingers, although having long fingers here does help. You will be poking the screen and buttons on the iPad Pro every now and then, because there is no trackpad or similar mousing device.

Just about the only thing I don't like about the Smart Keyboard is the multiple folds needed for using it as a cover. It feels clumsy and not quite up to Apple's usual design standard. The cover should also have a holder for the Pencil.

In relation to the keyboard, some reviewers have complained that the iOS operating system holds back usability of the iPad Pro.

And it is true: iOS is touch-optimised and if you hit the keyboard and expect the device to behave like the Mac OS of a MacBook, there will be moments of frustration as the mobile operating system doesn't always do what you expect.

To start with, the amount of keyboard shortcuts available depends on what you do in an app; to see which ones you can use, press the Command key, and an overlay will appear showing shortcuts available in a particular context.


Usually, the context-sensitive shortcuts work well, but not always. While writing this in Apple's Pages word processor, I wanted to press command-s to save the document, and to give it a file name. This works in just about any text editing program I can think of, and you can save a document with command-s in Pages running under Apple's OS X desktop operating system.

Not so with Pages in iOS, where you have to tap on the "Blank" title to rename the document.

Also, keyboard shortcuts don't work in all third-party apps. I use Google Chrome every now and then, which in iOS doesn't understand the command-letter shortcuts at all; the same goes for the iOS gmail client.

I think the most annoying glitch is the command-tab task switching shortcut ceasing to work at random - once you learn that iOS can do the command-tab thing just like OS X, it's a feature you'll use lots.

The above is a long-winded way of saying that for me at least, who writes lots and edits heaps of text while multitasking, swapping a MacBook for an iPad Pro would be difficult, much as I like its long battery life, the light weight and keyboard. In comparison, using the Apple Pencil for drawing and painting on the iPad Pro feels very natural and that's something I can't do on Mac portables. This is where the iPad Pro shines, thanks to the well thought out Pencil that can be tilted for shading and the fast graphics hardware in the device that makes screen scribbling and sketching responsive and lag-free. Having the additional screen space that the iPad Pro provides makes a big difference as well.

As a result, I've spent most of my time with the iPad Pro in apps like Paper and Microsoft OneNote, and if my handwriting was a bit nicer, I'd have filed this column as a document created on one of those programs.

Using a stylus on computers and tablets is not new, but Apple's take on it works exceedingly well, and I think the Pencil is what will sell the iPad Pro - not just for artists, either, because the added dimension of being able to paint, draw, colour in, sketch and more appeals to everyone.

Overall, the iPad Pro is a nice reboot of the tablet concept for Apple. For most people, the iPad Pro is not a laptop replacement yet, but a unique device that carves out its own niche in the market, especially for those with a creative bent.