Apple's iPad Pro: why it's not right for pro artists and designers (yet)

Apple's iPad Pro (above) is real. It has a lot of creative potential, but it's pro-grade apps - or a lack of - that will make or break it.

In the run up to its announcement, most of the speculation about the iPad Pro has been around whether Apple would offer a keyboard or mouse with it - which the company has (as options). However, this all seemed rather ridiculous considering that even if it didn't, third-party keyboards and styli would appear to fill the gap. 

Instead, there are more pressing concerns for creative pros. Is the iPad Pro a glorified sketchbook or a professional-level creative tool like Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 (below)? Read our Surface Pro 3 review.

The Surface Pro 3 is a brilliant tool because it has a reasonably powerful processor from Intel's Core i5 or i7 range and a full version of Windows - so it's quite capable in Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Corel Painter and even Premiere Pro (though not so much in After Effects, Maya or anything else that needs a lot of 3D oomph).

The choice of laptop processor (and operating system) is the reason why you might by a Surface Pro 3, but not a standard Surface 3 or one of Lenovo's Surface clones that are aimed at Office users who don't need much power.

An iPad Pro might not be for creative pros

Apple's Phil Schiller describes the iPad Pro's A9X chip as "desktop class", having twice the memory of and 1.8x the performance of the A8X in iPad Air 2. The company has also called the iPad Pro's 3D performance as 'console class', which will help boost the power of creative apps that generally tap graphics power to boost overall app performance as much as the main chip. 

However, as someone who tried to use Photoshop on a Lenovo Yoga to see if it was possible - the answer being a resounding 'no' - just because a tablet is much more powerful than others or even other laptops, doesn't mean it's powerful enough for our needs as designers, artists, editors and the like.

And if the iPad Pro can match - or even beat - the Surface Pro 3's performance, what are you going to use to create professional works on it?

When I reviewed the Surface Pro 3 last year I edited videos on it in Premiere Pro, retouched photos in Photoshop and Lightroom and even did a bit of print-based graphic design in InDesign. There is nothing available for iOS that deserves to mentioned in the same sentence as these applications. There are brilliant creating tools for sketching, roughing, storyboarding, writing pitches and beginning the retouch process (hello Lightroom Mobile) - but nothing to complete your projects.

Adobe got up on stage with Apple and showed its Comp layout tool and the new Photoshop Fix retouching tool. These are well-designed, beautifully executed applications - but limited in functionality. Adobe says in a blog post that 'with the iPad Pro, iOS9, and Adobe’s Creative Cloud mobile apps, professional creativity is coming of age' but it's going to have to go higher and wider if it wants to make Apple's big tablet something you'd choose to put in your bag rather than a Macbook Pro or Surface Pro 3. It's not out of reach and Adobe has hired some very talented people in this area recently.

Before the iPad Pro comes out in November, we need to see serious, grown-up, professional applications for creative pros - or it'll end up in a limbo between tablet and laptop like Wacom's Android-based Cintiq Companion Hybrid, which only lasted a single generation before being killed off in favour of a proper tablet PC.

Note: We may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site, at no extra cost to you. This doesn't affect our editorial independence. Learn more.

Read Next...