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How Apple should unleash the iPad Pro in 2019

It's only a few key steps away from being Apple's killer computer. Will this be the year it happens?

Sarah Tew/CNET

I've written this story before. For years.

I sit on a train, in a coffee shop, at the office, on a plane, at a press conference. The iPad is in my hands. I think: this can be my everything. This could be the One Device. And then, something happens. A disconnect, a workflow break, something that makes me go back to... something else.

The iPad Pro is a better (but more expensive) tablet now, and it's getting closer to being a killer device. Its speed, its seamless look, its invisible Face ID? Love it. But it's not the tablet hardware itself that's the problem. It's everything else.

I had a list of the features I needed on the next iPad Pro before Apple's event started. I'm revisiting that now, with a few more additions. I even sketched a few solutions on the train using the new Pencil and iPad Pro.

By the way, I wrote this story on the iPad but edited and posted it on a Mac.

Now playing: Watch this: The Google Pixel Slate hints at what the iPad Pro needs...
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The iPad needs its own operating system

The iPad has too long resembled the iPhone, down to its useless grid of apps on the home screen. That may have been helpful in 2010 when people were learning what a tablet was, but those days are gone. The iPad Pro's raw power is faster than most laptops I use. But I have nearly no way to harness it in everyday power workflows, beyond split-screening apps that might be optimized. The massive 12.9-inch iPad Pro's home screen splits that grid of apps so far apart, I can see endless wallpaper graphics behind the icons. That just makes me think of widgets, pop-up windows or other things that could be there instead. 

Apple revamped iOS for iPads with split screen, an app dock and other ideas a couple of years ago, but that's not enough. As to what that killer OS could look like? That's up to Apple. But it needs to let the iPad be its own thing. And it should support new inputs and accessories at an OS-wide level, including trackpads, mice, Pencil's new double-tap commands, and everything USB-C could bring to the table.

Speaking of which...

66-ipad-pro-2018-improvement-ideas
Sarah Tew/CNET

A real keyboard base with a trackpad. 

This is not a wild and crazy request. But it involves iOS on iPad getting a significant change to support it. It's worth the effort. Without a trackpad, I'm tapping on the screen to make edits. With a trackpad, I can edit just fine. And for web-based work, it'll help tremendously. Microsoft and Google (and everyone else, really) support trackpads. If the iPad Pro is ever meant to be a pro tool for writers, this is essential. And while we're at it, make the keyboard more lap-friendly, and add backlit keys. Google's Pixel Slate keyboard options are exactly what the iPad Pro needs.

An extra USB-C port, so there's one on each edge

Docking the iPad Pro in future USB-C hubs is key for desktop or laptop transformation. The next iPad will need an extra USB-C port for flexibility. A powerful blank slate is useless without killer ways for it to evolve.

65-ipad-pro-2018-improvement-ideas
Sarah Tew/CNET

A desktop dock for full-monitor second-screen computing

The iPad Pro can use a monitor for screen mirroring at the iPad's 4:3 aspect ratio, and individual apps can choose to make second-screen solutions. But the iPad can't add another screen and do what a Mac can do, and it can't even expand its display to a larger, higher-res monitor when docked, like the Nintendo Switch can do. If trackpad/mouse support existed, a dock would make a ton of sense for a number of apps, or provide a base for it to rest on and connect to other accessories, becoming a small-scale version of Microsoft Surface Studio. Like, for instance, check out this crazy Surface docking station.

USB-C support across iOS on iPad and external storage support

Part of being a pro means accessing vast files and time-demanding workflows that need to happen as the pro requires it. Video editing, photos: these require lots of storage. Paying up for an iPad storage upgrade doesn't make sense, and cloud storage is impractical. The iPad Pro needs to work with storage arrays over USB-C. Imagine if this USB-C hub for the iPad Pro could do all the things you wish it could.

Sanho HyperDrive USB-C Hub for iPad Pro

Sanho's HyperDrive USB-C Hub for iPad Pro would be so much better with improved USB-C support.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

More pro apps

Apple should lead the way with bold apps that make the most of its hardware. Oddly, on the new iPad Pro, that isn't happening. Why not Final Cut Pro X, Logic, or even some new apps and ideas? In order for app developers to come around more, Apple could lead the way.

And maybe more clever snap-on accessories. 

The new Pencil is a brilliant little revision, adding AirPod-like connectivity. The magnetic smart connector on the back is appreciated, too. But there should be more ways for add-ons to work similarly. Consider the Nintendo Switch and its Joy-Con controllers, which let a basic gaming tablet turn into a versatile handheld. The iPad Pro could transform in different ways if the accessories were there. Does this sound like Moto Mods? It does, but in Apple's hands on a pro device, it could lead to some really useful solutions.

Maybe this will happen in 2019. In the meantime, the iPad Pro hasn't gotten much closer to doing the things I need it to, even with its new design. And the funny thing is, it's so close... and so far.

(This story was originally published December 24, 2018.)

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