Alongside its new, colorful M1-powered iMacs, Apple also announced an update to its iPad Pro lineup that sees its flagship tablet models get the company’s M1 chipsets. In addition to the more powerful processors, Thunderbolt and 5G and WiFi 6 in both the 11” and 12.9” models, the larger 12.9” iPad Pro also gets a new ‘Liquid Retina XDR display’ that takes inspiration from Apple’s Pro Display XDR monitor and brings it to the iPad line.
Both the 11” and 12.9” iPad Pros now have Apple’s 8-core CPU and 8-core GPU M1 chip. In addition to improving performance – Apple claims 50% and 40% faster CPU and graphics performance, respectively – the new chip powers the new Thunderbolt / USB 4 connection and includes 5G connectivity for better wireless performance. Apple says the Thunderbolt port now offers 4x the bandwidth of the USB-C port found in the 2020 iPad Pro models. As an example of just how powerful the new iPad Pro devices are, Apple says the tablets can output full 6K resolution to Apple’s Pro Display XDR.
The display is where things get interesting, at least on the 12.9″ model. While resolution remains the same, Apple has dramatically upgraded its 12.9” iPad Pro with what it refers to as a ‘Liquid Retina XDR display.’ Fancy marketing lingo aside, this is effectively a mini-LED display that Apple claims offers 1,000-nits max full-screen brightness and 1,600-nits peak brightness (for smaller regions of the screen, unspecified percentage) in HDR mode, and a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio thanks to 2,500 local dimming zones. The panel itself is made up of over 10,000 mini-LEDs that are grouped into these zones, and Apple claims each LED is 120 times smaller than those of the previous generation. The display offers up to 600 nits max brightness outside of HDR content; that is, in general usage and for SDR content.
The 11″ ‘Liquid Retina’ display on the smaller model remains the same, with a 2388 x 1668 (264 ppi) display capable of 600 nits maximum brightness. The 12.9″ model sports the same ppi; it’s just bigger, with a resolution of 2732 x 2048. The IPS LCD panels ensure wide viewing angles, and cover the wide P3 color gamut. ProMotion offers 120Hz refresh rates for smooth motion and scrolling. TrueTone ensures the white point of the display is tuned to your viewing environment for more natural colors. Anti-reflective glass coatings ensure low reflectivity (1.8%) for a clearer view of the display.
Both models now gain a 12MP, F2.4 ultra wide-angle front-facing camera, now with a 122º, or 12mm equiv., field-of-view or FoV (previous models had a 7MP wide camera with a 68º, or 32mm equiv. FoV). That extra coverage comes in handy with a new feature called ‘CenterStage’, which uses machine learning to track human subjects in the frame and digitally pan and zoom as necessary to follow them FaceTime calls and in other video conferencing apps. This camera also works with the TrueDepth camera for Face ID.
The rear ‘Pro cameras’ on both models remain largely the same, though Apple claims that thanks to the more powerful ISP in the M1 chip, they’re now capable of the ‘Smart HDR 3’ algorithm. There’s a 12MP, F1.8 ‘wide’ camera with a 29mm equiv. FoV (73º), and a 10MP, F2.4 ‘ultra-wide’ camera with an 11mm equiv. FoV (125º), though we should mention we’ve found the actual output to be closer to 13mm equiv. (118º). In the picture below, housed just below these two cameras you’ll see a LiDAR scanner capable of measuring how long it takes light to bounce back from objects in front of you. This information is used in low light conditions to aid autofocus in stills and video, and also to aid augmented reality experiences.
On the audio side of things, five microphones – three on top, one in front, and one on the left side, record sound from all directions. Four speakers – two up top, and two on the bottom – with support for Dolby Atmos and spatial audio playback promise an immersive listening experience. Spatial audio playback can be quite effective – it’s one of those things you just have to try: you’ll either love it and get hooked, or you’ll leave it off permanently. More than likely, in our experience, the former.
The new M1-powered 11” and 12.9” iPad Pro models start at $799 and $1,099, respectively, with 128GB of storage. Storage options beyond the base 128GB model include 256GB, 512GB, 1TB and, for the first time ever in an iPad, 2TB. The 128GB, 256GB and 512GB models will have 8GB of RAM, while the 1TB and 2TB models will have 16GB of RAM. A maxed-out 12.9” iPad with 2TB of storage and Wi-Fi + cellular will set you back a wallet-busting $2,399.
The new iPad models will be available to order starting April 30 with the first units expected to ship out in the second half of May. You can find out more on Apple’s website.