Apple is in the midst of a multi-year, multi-pronged charge into the enterprise. With iPad Pro arriving soon, Apple will gain its most powerful enterprise offering yet. More than any iOS device to date, the iPad Pro is a highly-capable professional productivity tool. From where I sit, I'm betting that a significant and growing percentage of Pro sales will be into the enterprise, and that these incremental sales will be key to rekindling growth in the iPad product line.
Update: iPad Pro goes on sale this Wednesday Nov. 11th, and will be available in Apple retail stores later in the week.
The Rumors and the Reality
A jumbo iPad has been one of the longest-running (and most humorous) Apple rumors, dating back to May 2013, when the Korean news site ETNews.com described a 12" form factor device called the "iPad Maxi" (!) with a supposed launch date of early 2014. When I hear this kind of rumor, I consider these green-light questions:
- Is the technology ready? Can Apple deliver the needed feature set and performance, at the right size and weight, with excellent battery life?
- Can Apple create a product that is genuinely great, truly innovative?
- Is the market ready? Can it generate at least single digit billion$ in revenue?
In my experience, Apple rarely moves ahead on a project that doesn't have three strongly green lights. (The first generation Apple TV was an exception, but Steve Jobs called it a hobby.) When ETNews.com published its iPad Maxi rumor in 2013, I'm sure Apple did have a project running to explore a 12" iPad concept (and maybe ETNews.com caught wind of this), but the green lights were clearly not lined up—for example, in 2013, the technology just didn't exist to drive a mobile 12" Retina-density display with acceptable performance and battery life. Not even close.
The real iPad Pro, which Apple announced at their "Hello Siri" event on September 9th, scores three solid greens. The Pro is amazingly thin and light, with incredible performance and excellent battery life. It embodies the same great quality and attention to detail that we've seen in the latest iPhones and iPads. And the iPad Pro brought us several awesome surprises, notably the Apple Pencil (and its $99 price point), and the Smart Keyboard. Two bright greens already.
What about the third green light, market size and readiness? That's where the enterprise comes in. Without a significant enterprise kicker, the iPad Pro might be able to stem the shrinkage of iPad revenue—it's a compelling personal-use device for media consumption, general-purpose web browsing, social apps, gaming, and so on. It is my belief, though, that the iPad Pro adds a group of compelling productivity features that will enable Apple to crack open an important new segment of the enterprise market.
As Apple made clear at the September event, the vastly larger canvas on the iPad Pro is just not about big-screen apps, it's also about multitasking—specifically, running two full-scale iPad apps side-by-side. Here's Phil Schiller explaining that multitasking had a major impact on Apple's choice of display size:
Apple's web messaging for the Pro pounds home a similar multitasking message:
On any previous iOS device, multitasking is mostly about switching between apps that are then used one at a time. The iPad Pro takes us into new territory. Two full-size iPad apps, side by side, both active and responsive to multitouch input—that's huge:
Powerful Keyboarding, Software and Physical
In iOS 9, Apple enhanced their QuickType software keyboard on iPads, focusing specifically on productivity. QuickType now includes Easy Text Selection, with new two-finger gestures for faster text selection, as well as the Shortcut Bar, with buttons for commonly-needed functions like undo/redo, and text formatting. So what happens if you expand QuickType onto the generous space available on the iPad Pro? A full-size software keyboard! Here's Phil:
Note the full number-key row, tab key and super-sized delete, caps lock, and return keys. The Shortcut Bar is wider and intelligently adapts itself to the app being used, for example providing formatting controls when Pages is running. Typing productivity on this beast must approach 75% of a laptop keyboard.
Want 100% keyboarding productivity? Meet the iPad Pro's optional Smart Keyboard:
The Smart Keyboard connects to the iPad Pro using a new Smart Connector, which carries both data and power, doing away with both Bluetooth pairing hassles and keyboard battery charging. Just click the Pro magnetically onto the Keyboard, the Connector engages, and you're instantly ready to type.
Because the Smart Keyboard is thin, light, and folds up to serve as a cover, carrying around a physical-keyboard-equipped iPad Pro doesn't impose a significant mobility penalty.
Perfect Precision: Apple Pencil
The final hardware innovation arriving with the iPad Pro is Apple Pencil. Innovative, you might ask? Haven't others had stylus offerings for years? Yes, but: with Pencil, Apple has totally eclipsed every prior stylus / tablet surface solution. Linda Dong, a designer and longtime user of the Wacom Cintiq, which has been considered among the most innovative stylus/surface devices available, sees Pencil as obviously superior in this blog post.
Here's Phil Schiller introducing Pencil:
To me, Apple Pencil was the most impressive engineering feat of the entire the September 9th event. In the glorious Apple Pencil product video, Jony Ive explains the engineering effort involved, which included completely reengineering the touch display system for higher (variable!) precision and detection of the special sensors embedded in Pencil's tip. Watch the whole video, it's well worth two minutes.
An essential feature not mentioned in the video is palm rejection. When you use a pen input device, your palm naturally rests on the touchscreen. The OS must detect and reject these palm touches. Pixar's Michael Johnson, who tweeted that Apple stopped by with Pros and Pencils and let Pixar animators take a test drive, reported that the Pro+Pencil combo has perfect palm rejection.
Zero latency, perfect palm rejection, rich and precise sensors ... all for $99, a breakthrough price point. Precision pen input is now within easy reach of every enterprise user.
The biggest iPad Pro breakthrough—and the biggest driver of iPad Pro adoption in the enterprise—will be its apps. At the September event, Phil Schiller repeatedly stressed this, concluding his remarks with this:
Given that developers have only recently gotten their hands on the Xcode 7.1 SDK necessary for developing for the iPad Pro, the vast majority of apps are still under development. But already, at the September event Apple was able to show a incredible iPad Pro apps from a number of companies, including Microsoft and Adobe. Here's Microsoft's Kirk Koenigsbauer showing Office for iPad Pro:
And here's Adobe's Eric Snowden with an eye-popping demo of several brand-new iPad Pro apps including Photoshop Fix:
Until now, mainstream productivity apps like Word and Excel (and, to be fair, Apple's Pages and Numbers) running on the smaller iPads have provided an "OK in a pinch" level of productivity. If you're stuck on a plane with only your iPad, you can get work done but it'll be a slow slog and there will be things you just can't do. With these new built-for-Pro apps, though, I sense a sea change. With the iPad Pro having "caught up" to the laptop with a large screen, real multitasking, and effective keyboarding, suddenly iPad Pro apps no longer need be disadvantaged "Lite" versions. The exciting Pro apps demoed Microsoft, Adobe and others are just the leading edge of a tsunami of powerful Pro apps we'll see arrive over the coming months.
Finally, let's not forget that enterprises are increasingly investing to develop their own custom mobile apps, reengineering core business processes and providing revolutionary new levels of customer service. Today's powerful and highly mobile devices, paired with the well-conceived, well-built custom apps, can generate radical improvements and extremely high returns on the app development investment. All of the iPad Pro's many unique advantages, notably side-by-side multitasking, high-productivity keyboarding, and precision pen input, make it a prime candidate for even higher-return custom enterprise apps.
Transformative commercial and custom apps, more than any other factor, will enable iPad Pro to lead the charge into the massive, largely untapped market of mobile enterprise productivity. And that will help Apple grow and win in the enterprise.