Although Apple didn't make any hardware announcements during its WWDC 2015 keynote, several key enhancements introduced with the next generation iOS 9 mobile operating system would make sense on a larger, yet to be announced iPad Pro.
The biggest iOS 9 feature that's iPad Pro-ready is simultaneous multitasking, a feature that's missing from prior versions of the mobile operating system but is currently available from some of Apple's biggest tablet rivals. During his keynote presentation, Craig Federighi, SVP of Software Engineering at Apple, showed off how users can run two iOS applications side-by-side, allowing them to juggle tasks without switching or closing apps.
This PC-inspired feature in a post-PC era – along with better hardware keyboard support and an improved Quick Type software keyboard – seems primed for an iPad Pro launch.
Like having windows but without Windows
Simultaneous multitasking was introduced initially on Windows 7 with a feature Microsoft called Aero Snap. Users can drag an app to the edge of the screen, and it would snap to fill the display's height, allowing apps to run side-by-side. Since its debut, this feature has been replicated on Android by Samsung and LG with features like Multi Window View and floating windows.
On iOS 9, simultaneous multitasking works in a similar way. Federighi demonstrated that he can open the Photos app and also have the Messages app run in a smaller pane on the right side of the display. Swiping from the top of the Messages app, Federighi was able to cycle through various different apps that are open and running in the background on this second pane.
By running apps simultaneously, users can save time. iPad owners no longer have to hit the home button, close out of an app and then switch to a second app. If you're browsing a web page, you can copy the text you want in one window and paste it into the Notes app running in the second window without having to close out of the Safari browser first.
Even though this feature will be coming to the iPad Air 2 through a software upgrade, it makes even more sense for the iPad Pro. As the iPad Pro is rumored to debut with a 12.9-inch display, there is even more screen real estate to view content compared to the smaller 9.7-inch display on the iPad Air 2 or the 7.9-inch screen of the iPad mini 3. The larger screen allows users to see more content in each screen panel without having to do too much vertical or horizontal scrolling, or be stuck with a small font size to fit more content in each pane.
For business users, this means you can check email while reviewing a PowerPoint presentation, proof a PDF while chatting with a colleague in an iMessage conversation or preview photos to insert into your Notes or Pages document at the same time.
Federighi showed that the windows can be resized. The two apps can take up 50% of the screen real estate each, or they can be sized so one app takes a larger portion of the display.
Multitasking on iOS 9 doesn't go as far as Microsoft's implementation with Windows 10. Windows 10 allows users to snap four windows together.
Is a convertible in the iPad Pro's future?
Another feature that Apple announced with iOS 9 is better support for hardware keyboards. With the current iPad Air and iPad mini models, third-party keyboards are already available from companies like Belkin, Logitech and Zagg, but an even better hardware keyboard for the iPad Pro could transform the tablet into a lightweight productivity powerhouse.
"If you want to hook a physical keyboard to your iPad, we've made that easier than ever," Federighi said as he flashed a Keynote slide showing that iOS 9 will support popular keyboard shortcuts for text input, like Command + C for copy, Command + B for bold and others.
If Apple makes a dedicated keyboard folio or dock for the iPad Pro, it would allow the tablet to compete in the same two-in-one hybrid space as the Lenovo ThinkPad 10, Microsoft Surface 3, Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 and Asus Transformer Book T100HA. The keyboard would enhance the iPad's position as a content creation tool. In fact, Samsung didn't make its own branded keyboards for the Galaxy tablets until it debuted the productivity-centric Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 with a 12.2-inch screen.
Given that current iPad market share is cannibalized by larger smartphones like Apple's iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus models, a larger iPad Pro with a focus on productivity with a keyboard dock could help Apple appeal to enterprise customers and productivity users. It would also allow Apple to capitalize on the growing interest in two-in-one devices at a time when the tablet market is declining, according to IDC and Gartner reports.
Businesses could benefit from such a solution as executives can carry a single device rather than having to travel with a tablet and a laptop. This reduces total hardware cost for deployment, time in having to manage data between two separate devices and travel weight.
It's all in the touch
Since Apple made no mention of iOS 9 supporting Bluetooth mice or trackpads, the main difference between the iPad Pro with a keyboard cover and devices like the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 with its Type Cover is that the Apple solution may not come with a trackpad. Instead, users would likely type with the hardware keyboard and perform trackpad functions with the iPad Pro's touchscreen.
This doesn't mean that Apple hasn't thought about touchpad support on the iPad Pro. Federighi demonstrated that touchpad functionality could be replicated with touchscreen gestures.
Tapping the Quick Type keyboard with two fingers would enable a trackpad on the software keyboard. In his demo, Federighi showed that users can easily highlight text to copy with this software trackpad feature.
"It starts with something simple like how you work with text," Federighi said. "What makes a multitouch keyboard so special is it can be anything you want."
In addition to improved hardware keyboard support, multitasking and Quick Type keyboard, other iOS 9 features introduced by Federighi include two-factor authentication for iCloud security as well as better battery life, key features that are important to business users.
While better iCloud security will make Apple's services – like Home Kit and integration with Pages, Numbers and Keynote – more attractive, enterprise users may still demand hardware security. Even though Touch ID can match fingerprint readers on enterprise-class tablets, it's unclear if Apple will be able to match other readers, like smart card support, encryption and TPM.
The new features introduced in iOS 9 have set the stage for the iPad Pro's introduction, whenever Apple is ready to launch the highly hyped tablet. Combined with the robust catalog of app titles available for iOS, ease of use and Apple's partnership with former rival IBM, Apple is looking to push more of its tablets into the enterprise. Whether the iPad Pro will cannibalize the MacBook in Apple's renewed post-PC push is anyone's guess at this point.
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