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Commentary Tablets

The new iPad Pro gets you closer to ditching your laptop

The latest iPad Pro is closer to a laptop thanks to its stepped-up hardware and software -- but its keyboard stays the same.

James Martin/CNET
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I held the new 10.5-inch iPad Pro in my hands, and thought, this is better. Not massively different, but better.

Apple's yearly developer conference was surprisingly full of new hardware, and the iPad Pro was one of the biggest recipients of an overdue upgrade. The latest version comes in two sizes: 12.9 inches, and a new 10.5-inch model, starting at $799 and $649, respectively. (In the UK they're £769 and £619, and in Australia they're AU$1,199 and AU$979.) It has better graphics, processing and a better display. But it's the software that seems most promising. And when those iPad-specific features in iOS 11 hit this fall, it could finally make it a real laptop contender. Or, at least, a serious laptop alternative.

The iPad's growth into a replacement for the MacBook isn't exactly now. But it's getting closer.

Power-user software

I played around with iOS 11's features on the new iPad Pro, briefly, and I like the changes.

A new dock finally adds all the apps I might want to quickly access. It's intriguing that three of the apps on the right are automatically added by Apple's AI -- last used, most used or those that are interfacing with other Apple devices. Dragging apps out of the dock and having them pop up in split-view windows is easy, too.

Swiping up brings up a multi-desktop mode, where multiple split-view app pairings can be left open like tabs and opened as needed. It's not the same as adding extra panes or tabs, but it's close.

A universal file system that can organize by cloud accounts or be used to build collections and folders sounds like what I've needed, too. I'm not entirely sure how it works yet, but it could be a major step towards making iPads feel more versatile, like Macs. The added storage size, going up to 512GB, at least tries to accommodate users with larger video-editing or photo-editing needs.

Similar feel, larger screen

iPads were already really fast and and delivered great battery life, so it's no surprise that the hardware feels more familiar than revolutionary. But there's plenty to like.

The 10.5-inch iPad Pro weighs exactly the same 469 grams as the 9.7-inch entry-level iPad that was released in March, and it's just a tad bigger: just 10.6 mm taller and 4.6 mm wider, but 1.4 mm thinner. But its trimmed-down bezels make it feel much more focused on screen, and feel more like a regular laptop's bezels in landscape mode. I like it better than the 12.9-inch size, which still feels too big to me.

The improved display is seriously bright, but I couldn't appreciate the extra-fast refresh rate in my quick demo time.

Where are the better accessories?

The major missed opportunity, to me at least, is the lack of truly new accessories. The Pencil and Apple's Smart Keyboard look identical in function as they were before. The Pencil gains some added use in iOS 11, but what I really was hoping for was some sort of trackpad on the keyboard, which I've been wanting for five years. Or how about some other, even more radical accessory that could interface with the Pro's side-mounted Smart Connector?

Can this new iPad be a real laptop? The improvements coming to iOS 11 finally push it in that direction more than ever before. But the conservative approach to the keyboard and accessories seem to keep it planted firmly in "tablet" territory.

Still, I'm really looking forward to playing with this new iPad for more than just a few minutes. Stay tuned for a complete review in the near future. 

WWDC 2017: All the news so far