Earlier this evening, Apple launched a smaller version of its iPad Pro - alongside a new small phone, a watch strap and some interesting tech to help medical research and health monitoring. But what most designers wanted was nowhere to be seen: a new MacBook Pro. The iPad Pros - whether 12.9- or 9.7-inch version - are lovely, but for all Apple's protestations that the iPad Pro is 'the perfect PC replacement' it's actually looking like a PC laptop is the perfect MacBook Pro replacement right now.
The current MacBook Pro is more than a little outdated. It has a choice of Intel Core i5 or i7 processors that two-generations old - while there are strong rivals from Dell's Precision 5510 and HP's ZBook Studio G3 that have the latest chips that boost performance while draining the battery life less. Those 6th-gen platform (known as Skylake, chip codename fans) that underpins those chips also let you have twice as much RAM (up to 32GB), Thunderbolt 3 connections and tiny-but-pricey M.2 PCI drives as well your main SSD. And if that sounds like a whole load of nerdery - and who are you calling a nerd, Mr I-can-do-all-of-the-Photoshop-shortcuts-blindfolded - it means that for a price you can make your software run so much faster than on the latest MacBook Pro.
And both the Dell Precision 5510 and HP ZBook Studio G3 have the option of touchscreens, which some (like me) love despite the hit to battery life and some loathe. But the choice is there if you want it (and I do).
So either Apple is just taking a bit longer than it's rivals to release its upgraded MacBook Pro, or it's convinced most current MBP owners would prefer an iPad Pro. But could you be a professional artist or designer on an iPad?
As I discovered when I worked on a iPad Pro review with artist Pete Fowler last autumn (below), the big iPad is an exceptional tool for a very specific type of creative. If you're an illustrator who can produce your work start-to-finish in a tool like Procreate, you'll love the iPad Pro. The Pencil is a much better, more-natural feeling stylus than the biro-like Microsoft Surface Pen or the now-very-chunky-feeling Wacom Pen.
At the launch, the iPad Pro also received a lot of love from the likes of Pixar's John Lasseter who said that the "iPad Pro and Apple Pencil are the closest we’ve ever been able to get in the digital world to actually drawing on paper."
This is true.
Apple also quoted Alex Valdman, head of design for cycling clothing brand Rapha, who says "I’ve done everything including designing the latest cycling collection on iPad Pro.”
This also sounds plausible. Yes, there's a but - but I'll get to that in a bit after the final quote.
“At Citi, iPad Pro is truly transforming how we work,” Apple quotes Stephen Gates, US head of design for Citi Global Consumer Banking. “iPad Pro and Apple Pencil have played a huge part in the new Citi Design team’s work to create new innovative customer experiences. We use iPad Pro for sketching out new design concepts, presenting our work, answering our emails, working with our design files on Adobe Creative Cloud and participating in FaceTime meetings with our other design teams all over the world.”
Did you spot the nonsense in there?
The phrase "working with our design files on Adobe Creative Cloud" is vague enough that it's not exactly untrue - but it's still carefully worded nonsense. Yes, you can 'work' with your design files using Adobe's iPad apps. You can sketch, rough, experiment using tools like Comp or Illustrator Draw - but you can't finish the job there. To do that you need a mature design tool like Illustrator or InDesign where the files-and-folder metaphor of OS X or Windows 10 actually help as you're combining other assets. And an environment that supports fonts properly.
The same is true for photography, editing, animation and most other forms of professional-level creativity that don't just involve drawing.
John, Alex and Stephen are all very talented creatives, but they've reached the point in their careers where they don't finish the jobs they start - they have teams who do that so they can focus their time and talents on the overall vision and director of their projects. And those teams use computers not tablets.
The iPad Pro could be a rival to the MacBook Pro if Adobe (or Autodesk or a new rival) released apps that can do all of the tasks a designer needs to do - but so far, they're as real as a new MacBook Pro. Even Adobe's much-feted new UX design software Adobe Experience Design (aka XD) - which as far as I can tell has no technical reason why it couldn't run on iOS - is Mac-only with the first release (so as to take on the much-loved tool Sketch).
I love my iPad Pro. It really is the ideal digital sketchpad. But I also love my Dell Precision 5510 for when I need to do more than just ideate on the move.
There are a bunch of MacBook Pro users who could move to the iPad Pro - big or small. I see them on the train every morning, slapping sales figures into Keynote presentations or filling forms with what I can only assume from passing glances are construction jargon (or Thameslinks trains are rife with drug transactions). They don't need a MacBook Pro - they just like the status that comes with owning one.
But if you're reading Digital Arts and you haven't got a huge team working under you yet, chances are you would like a new MacBook Pro. So how about it Apple?