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Issue #48: Thoughts on the 2021 iPad Pro

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Have you gotten your new iPad Pro yet? I got mine on Friday, launch day, and unsurprisingly, it got me thinking. This is going to be a pretty meaty one, so let’s just get down to it, shall we?

About that screen

The 2021 iPad Pro doesn’t have OLED, a disappointment for many. It does have Mini-LED though, which is pretty darn close, I must say. Previous iPad Pros have had great screens, I don’t have any complaints, although I’ve been hoping for an OLED version ever since I got the iPhone X (and subsequent models), and my first OLED TV. It’s hard to go back when you’ve experienced true black.

The Liquid Retina XDR display in the 12.9” iPad Pro is crazy close to OLED, without the disadvantages, like screen burn and the like. Putting the 2021 model beside the 2020 one, it becomes abundantly clear that this is quite a step-up, and that from one of the best screens on a consumer device. The M1 MacBook Pro and Air both have great laptop screens, but the 2021 iPad Pro puts them to shame. If screen quality is important to you, for professional reasons (whatever that is…), then the iPad Pro is a whole lot of more Pro than the MacBook Pro manages. It’s the best Apple screen to date, possibly (likely) shy of the crazy-expensive XDR display — I haven’t been able to compare the two.

Is this reason enough to upgrade to the 2021 model if you’re on the 2018 or 2020 ones, which both have the same form factor and screen? I’m not sure. I’m a sucker for screens (staring at them all day), and great sound, so to me, with the luxury of affording an upgrade, then yes, maybe? I think so. But here’s the thing: I’ve never felt that the 2018/2020 screens lacked anything. They’re great.

Case in point: I’ve been watching a show stored locally on my 2020 12.9” iPad Pro, despite the 2021 sitting beside me. I could move the files easily, but I can’t really be bothered. Granted, the show wouldn’t take advantage of HDR or anything like that, but blacks would be more black, everything slightly more vibrant. It’d look better, no doubt because that’s true of everything I’ve thrown at the 2021 screen versus the 2020 one. I think this speaks volumes to the quality of the 2018/2020 screen, rather than putting any shade on the outstanding quality that the 2021 model offers.

So, maybe not upgrade for the screen alone? Is that where we’re at? I think so, assuming you don’t have any gripes with speed or screen on your current iPad Pro model. It’s a shame the 11” model didn’t get this screen though, it still has the older one. I wonder why that is?

🧐 But I don’t have an iPad Pro?
Well then it’s a matter of if you want one, it’s as simple as that. The 12.9” version has the XDR screen, the 11” one has the same screen as previous models. If you want an iPad Pro, that’s what you need to consider — screen size, and quality, because there’s no doubt in my mind that the 12.9” screen is the best option out there.

M1 processor

I must admit, I didn’t expect the 2021 iPad Pro to feel this much faster than the 2020 version. It’s noticeable, but only because I’m looking for it. I never felt that the 2020 version was lacking in processing power, but that obviously comes down to what you do with your iPad. These days, I rarely render 4K video, but if I still did, I’d see the shorter rendering times, probably in line with what I get on my M1 Mac mini.

Look, iPad Pros are plenty fast already. Both the 2018 and 2020 models perform well for just about every task. The 2021 model is just faster. It’s not something I’d like to dwell on just yet, because it’s not without its problems. Some apps aren’t performing well at all, like Procreate giving you the standard iPad canvas, and both LumaFusion and iMovie are being wonky according to several sources. It’s a new chip, the M1, and it’s likely that some tweaks are needed in the Xcode builds. It’ll work itself out.

What I mean is, it’s hard to talk about how powerful the 2021 iPad Pro is. It’s crazy powerful, sure, but that’s not really a technical term, is it? 

Should you upgrade from 2018 or 2020 iPad Pros, to the 2021 versions, because of the universally acclaimed M1 chip? I’d like to flip that around and ask you: Have you ever felt your iPad Pro wasn’t fast enough? You need to answer “yes” to that question to motivate the upgrade on processing power alone. I wouldn’t upgrade, not for that reason alone.

🔮 Size doesn’t matter, but it does
Okay, so both the 11” and the 12.9” iPad Pro models have the same M1 chip, which is akin to the top of the line chips in the M1 Macs. Which of these you get won’t matter. What will matter, however, is the storage you opt for, because the models with up to 512 GB will have 8 GB of RAM, whereas the 1-2 TB models get twice as much. That might mean something in the long run, it certainly means the larger iPad Pros can keep more apps open in the background without closing them to handle other tasks.

About that incompatible Magic Keyboard

Apple dropped the ball with the new Magic Keyboard, and the initial message that the 2021 12.9” iPad Pro wasn’t compatible with the previous Magic Keyboard. You see, the 2021 iPad Pro fits just fine in the old Magic Keyboard, despite the added thickness to the device.

And yes, you can feel the added size and weight just by holding the devices in each hand. It’s truly noticeable, and, I must say, somewhat disappointing. It’s not a dealbreaker at all, but holding them both, I clearly prefer the thinness of the 2020 model. I’ll forget about it when I sell the 2020 model, but for now, it’s annoying.

The 2021 version will fit your old Magic Keyboard. Apple talks about it not being a perfect fit, and I just can’t see it. The other way around, putting the 2018 or 2020 version in the new Magic Keyboard, gives you a slightly larger gap than you used to, as I mentioned previously. It still works though, and if I didn’t know better, I probably wouldn’t have noticed it.

So, why did Apple initially say that the new iPad Pro is incompatible with the old Magic Keyboard? It’s probably a case of possible smudges on the screen, due to the added thickness of the iPad Pro. I haven’t gotten any of those, which is quite common in laptops by the way, but I wouldn’t rule it out. What I’m saying is, if you have a Magic Keyboard already, don’t go and order a new one for your 2021 12.9” iPad Pro until you’ve tried it. Unless you really want the white version, which I wish I’d gotten rather than going black and black again. White and silver is a really nice combination, as seen below, courtesy of Matt Gemmell on Twitter (do check out Matt’s site too for his books and short stories).

⚽️ No changes for the 11” version
The 2021 11” iPad Pro has the same dimensions as the 2018 and 2020 models, so no need to worry about whether your 11” Magic Keyboard will fit those. Also known as, the way things should’ve been. Apple truly dropped the ball here, methinks.


The USB-C port on the 2021 iPad Pros has Thunderbolt. This might be important, will certainly benefit some more than others, but it’s too early to say. I’m curious to try my iPad Pro with my Corsair Thunderbolt dock, but I must say, it’s more curiosity than filling any actual need I have. My workflows are pretty lightweight (although I’m cooking something up that’s all but that), so I’m not sure what I need a Thunderbolt dock for. The faster transfer speeds are a welcome addition, though.

The elephant in the room is external display, yet again. When you connect your iPad to an external display, it’ll show up with black borders on the side, it won’t actually use the display’s full resolution. This looks really silly on a 27” 4K display, but it’s still something a lot of us, me included, do regularly. Adding proper Thunderbolt support could be yet another hint that iPadOS will get support for fullscreen resolutions on external displays. Hopefully, this is something they’ll announce on WWDC less than two weeks from now, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

So, did you get the new iPad Pro?

I order the top of the line 12.9” iPad Pro, 2 TB of storage and everything. My reasoning is mostly silly because I was happy with my 2020 version, but I felt confident that Apple had pulled through yet again. Getting the newer version of a device you like is rarely a bad idea, and the iPad is my computer of choice, so… Yeah, you see what I mean, it’s silly, because the 2020 version wasn’t slow by any means, and had 1 TB storage which, with photo offloading, works. I do pull a lot of RAW files onto my iPads, so the additional storage helps.

I’m looking forward to putting the new iPad Pro to its paces properly. Batch editing RAW photos in Darkroom is snappier for sure, but not to must upgrade now levels. Although I certainly don’t mind it, and the new screen, well, it’s bloody great, as previously stated. I do feel I need to get a proper project onto this thing though, to truly appreciate it for what it’s worth. I’m also, for the first time in quite some time, looking forward to my next video meeting, to truly give Center Stage a go. It’s really cool, I’ve played with it, but I want to know how it feels in real life, not to mention how everything else will feel crappy and old after having gotten used to it, as I’m pretty sure is what’ll happen.

Did you get an iPad Pro? What did you upgrade from, and what was your reasoning? I’d love to hear your thoughts, either on Twitter (just tweet to @tdh) or by hitting reply if you read this in your inbox.

Until next week, take it easy!

— Thord D. Hedengren ⚡️

In the wild…