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Why the iPad Pro being Apple’s thinnest ever product matters

Key Takeaways

  • The new iPad Pro is Apple’s thinnest product yet, powerful enough to replace a computer.
  • The evolution from iPad to iPad Pro has made it an all-in-one tool for artists and creators.
  • The thinner chassis of the iPad Pro brings challenges like excess heat but also incredible portability and power.



At Apple’s “Let Loose” event this week, new iPad models were announced, including the new iPad Pro. The new iPad Pro is Apple’s thinnest product ever, with the 13-inch model coming in at 5.1mm thick, and weighing only 0.98 pounds. For reference, the last iPod Nano was 5.4mm. The fact that we can now fit the power of a computer into a tablet thinner than an MP3 player is, to me, truly awe-inspiring.

In the 1980s, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs envisioned a computer you could carry around with you, and in the 1990s, he worked on the Newton MessagePad, which was a PDA that looked a lot like a tablet. This is seen as the original predecessor of the eventual iPad, so it’s clear that Jobs had seen a tablet as the future of computers. But when the iPad originally launched, for the layperson it felt more like an afterthought, what one buys if they have excess income, and after they already have a phone and a computer. Older people might use it to look at photos or play Angry Birds (like my grandmother), families might pawn off the iPad to a young child to keep them distracted, and some people like it for watching videos.


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Apple’s latest Pro tablets bring efficiency and power to a form factor that’s now thinner-than-ever.

But with the launch of the Apple Pencil in 2015, the iPad quickly became a staple for artists, who were often using external drawing tablets to connect to their computers previously.

If you had asked me in 2015 if the iPad is a computer, I would’ve given you an unequivocal “no.” But if you asked me now, I would be a bit more inclined to say it
is
a computer.

It became an all-in-one tool for artists, and after that, the trajectory of the iPad seemed a lot more in the direction of becoming a replacement for a computer.

If you had asked me in 2015 if the iPad is a computer, I would’ve given you an unequivocal “no.” But if you asked me now, I would be a bit more inclined to say it is a computer.


So now that we’re on the 14th year since the launch of the iPad, the new iPad Pro is thinner than anything Apple has ever released, and it weighs less than three actual average-sized apples. How do they do it, and what does the iPad’s decreasing size and weight mean for the future of computers?

Related

At Apple’s iPad event, it was all about the software, not hardware

The new iPad Pro is an exciting hardware revision for Apple’s high-end tablet, but it’s the software that hardware enables that’s really interesting.

The pros and cons of thinner tech

Portability comes at the cost of excess heat

First of all, it’s easier to have thinner devices these days because the internal components of electronics get smaller and smaller with new advancements. The new M4 chip inside the iPad has 28 billion transistors, which means it has 28 billion switches that turn current on and off, making this a really powerful chip with lots of processing power. These switches are roughly 3 nanometers, and putting that size into context, that’s approximately the size that your fingernail grows in three seconds. The actual chip filled with these 28 billion transistors is tiny, and that chip fits into a logic board inside the iPad Pro. Ten years ago, a chip would’ve consisted of 14 nanometer transistors, and 20 years ago it would be more like 90 nanometers. So the way chips have advanced has allowed companies to fit so much computing power into smaller and smaller vessels, like a 5.1mm thick iPad.


An Apple iPad Pro sits on a desk with a hand holding the Apple Pencil Pro.

Apple

Fitting all of this processing power into such a small area also brings up some problems. For example, you can’t always fit other features into a tablet this thin. As a result, we see that the iPad Pro doesn’t have an ultra-wide lens anymore, and it doesn’t have a SIM slot, only supporting eSIMs now.

A thinner iPad Pro chassis also means that there’s less material to absorb and dissipate heat, so it’s likely to get hot fast, and stay hot for longer. There’s no real ventilation or fan, so the iPad Pro relies entirely on passive cooling. This means that when the internal components get hot from all the processing, the surrounding metal will get hot, and the air inside the iPad will get hot too. With less metal and space inside to disperse and absorb heat, this could be a problem.


Related

Let Loose felt like Apple’s best event in recent memory

If you felt like Let Loose was better than some of Apple’s recent events, you’re not alone.

The good thing is that with smaller transistors, the chip is more efficient and draws less power, so it won’t get as hot as it would otherwise. Still, it’s something to keep in mind as a caveat of a thinner chassis. Regardless of the caveats, being able to carry around such a powerful computer in a thin and light format is incredible. Laptops and tablets have been getting smaller for years, but 5.1mm and 0.98 pounds is incredible for a 13-inch tablet with so much processing power.

A thinner iPad Pro chassis also means that there’s less material to absorb and dissipate heat, so it’s likely to get hot fast, and stay hot for longer.


I don’t know if anyone could’ve seen it coming that a device like the iPad would evolve into the iPad Pro of today. It’s incredible that it is now useful not just for using as a drawing pad, but also for editing videos on Final Cut Pro, producing music or a podcast, and watching movies on a Tandem OLED screen, just to name a few examples. Its portability and power is truly a great feat of technological development, and even if there are problems that arise with putting so much power into a small package, this year’s new iPad Pro easily makes a space for itself as an innovation in Apple’s product lineup.

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How to buy Apple’s new iPads and accessories

Apple unveiled new versions of its iPad Air and iPad Pro, along with a new Pencil Pro and Magic Keyboard. Here’s how you can grab the latest devices.

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