Just a few weeks ago, I shared my thoughts on why the 2018 iPad Pro is one of the best products Apple has ever made and talked about how it was “one of the most future-proof computers ever made.” The key point I was trying to convey was that the 2020 iPad Pro wasn’t worth upgrading to for most 2018 iPad Pro users. Apple didn’t really give even the most diehard iPad users a reason to upgrade last year. With all of the rumors that were swirling around the next generation (now the current generation), I wanted to recap what kept many of us from upgrading in the hopes that the next version would give us a good reason. So now that we’ve seen the new iPad Pros, are they worth upgrading to? Let’s talk about it.

Before I dive head-first into hardware, let’s just get it out of the way. The software story is missing. We all know it. I’m damn sure Apple knows it too. Don’t fret, though — in seven weeks, we should get a better idea of what the future of iPad software entails at WWDC. One should never buy a product on the hopes of future unannounced software updates, but it’s hard not to imagine that the M1 in these new iPad Pros won’t enable some big new things in iPadOS.

At the end of the day, the way you use these iPads likely isn’t going to be any different over the next seven weeks. So if you just use iPad Pro for basic productivity, you might want to wait until WWDC to buy. But there are plenty of other reasons some people should upgrade. It just depends on what you use iPad Pro for.

Artists

One of the iPad Pro’s flagship features is compatibility with the Apple Pencil. The 2018/2020 models have excellent displays, but the new Liquid Retina XDR display with mini-LED is going to elevate the drawing experience on iPad to a whole new level. It’s significantly brighter and has far better contrast in addition to the existing features like the P3 wide color gamut and ProMotion.

Artists who use iPad Pro for drawing, painting, and animation will definitely benefit from the new display technology. It will produce more vibrant and accurate color, and since the new iPad Pro uses the same Apple Pencil as the previous two generations, you won’t need to upgrade that particular part of the puzzle.

Video editors

There are a ton of reasons to upgrade to the new iPad Pro if you use one for video editing. The first is obvious: working with HDR content on the new display on the 12.9″ model. It has a display as good as the Pro Display XDR, and that alone may make a case for an upgrade. But combined with Thunderbolt for faster transfers, the larger 2TB storage configuration, and 16GB of RAM in those higher-end models, it’s an absolute powerhouse.

Apps like LumaFusion turn the iPad Pro into an incredible video editing tool. Of course, you can already use these apps today on the 2018/2020 iPad Pros, but there’s no doubt that exporting, editing, and overall workflows will be significantly improved with the M1 chip’s added performance.

Travelers

Lots of us are sick of hearing about 5G, but Apple is obsessed with it. So, of course, the new iPad Pros have optional 5G support. I’d love to know what percentage of iPad buyers actually choose the cellular models, but those people certainly do exist; otherwise, they wouldn’t bother making them. If you use an iPad Pro all the time while constantly on the road, the new 5G models are a worthy upgrade over the LTE ones.

5G hasn’t made that much of a difference in the iPhone 12. But iPads will benefit from this new technology in a much bigger way. You’ll be able to stream content, download and upload large files, work remotely, and more much more efficiently when using iPad Pro on the go.

FaceTimers

The new iPad Pro includes some major changes to the camera system. Even though the camera hasn’t been moved to the long edge like many of us hoped, it still gains lots of new features, and one in particular is a big deal. The front-facing camera now uses an ultra-wide sensor and includes a new feature called center stage that uses machine learning to reposition the camera on different people speaking in the frame. It’s absolutely awesome.

Not only did Apple make the lens ultra-wide, but it also increased the sensor from a 7 MP camera to a 12MP one. With that, the camera also now includes 2X optical zoom out.

Gamers

The M1 chip in the new iPad Pro is a major addition, but I don’t expect it to make that much of a difference in day-to-day performance. Where it will count, though, in addition to things like video editing, is in gaming. The M1 chip in iPad Pro has 8 core graphics in addition to the 8 core CPU. If you choose the 1TB or 2TB models, you even get double the RAM with 16GB total.

Games will load faster, and console-quality graphics will become a reality. Hardcore iPad gamers should see this upgrade as a no-brainer. Coupled with ProMotion, the M1 will make the iPad Pro the ultimate gaming machine on the go. And if Apple keeps adding great games to Apple Arcade, there will always be something new to play that takes advantage of the technologies Apple is spearheading.

2018 or earlier iPad Pro users

If the 2018 iPad Pro is your main computer, you should consider upgrading. There are so many quality of life hardware improvements here that it’s well worth the cost. The 2018 iPad Pros have held their value, and if you choose to trade one in towards the purchase of a 2021 iPad Pro, you can cut the price virtually in half. Let’s break down all of the major changes…

2018 iPad Pro 2020 iPad Pro 2021 iPad Pro
Display 11″ Liquid Retina display
12.9″ Liquid Retina display
11″ Liquid Retina display
12.9″ Liquid Retina display
11″ Liquid Retina display
12.9″ Liquid Retina XDR display
Processor A12X
Neural engine
A12Z
Neural engine
+1 GPU core
M1
Next gen Neural engine
8 core GPU + CPU
Camera 12MP
5X digital zoom
Quad-LED flash
Smart HDR
4K at 30 fps or 60 fps
1080p at 60 fps
12MP + 10MP UW
2X optical zoom
5x digital zoom
Brighter True Tone flash
Smart HDR
4K at 24, 25, 30, or 60 fps
1080p at 25, 30 or 60 fps
12MP + 10MP UW
2X optical zoom
5x digital zoom
Brighter True Tone flash
Smart HDR 3
4K at 24, 25, 30, or 60 fps
1080p at 25, 30 or 60 fps
Extended dynamic range up to 30 fps
FaceTime Camera 7MP 7MP 12MP
Ultra wide
Larger aperture
2x optical zoom
Center stage
Smart HDR 3
Extended dynamic range
Port USB-C USB-C USB 4 + Thunderbolt
Cellular LTE (29 bands) LTE (30 bands) 5G
LTE (32 bands)
Wi-Fi Wi-Fi
802.11a/b/g/n/ac
Up to 866 MBps
Wi-Fi 6
802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ax
Up to 1.2 Gbps
Wi-Fi 6
802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ax
Up to 1.2 Gbps
Storage 64GB – 1TB 128GB – 1TB 128GB – 2TB
LiDAR n/a Scanner Scanner

You get all of the benefits that came with the smaller 2020 iPad Pro upgrade in addition to the brand new ones. If you upgrade to the 2021 model from the 2018 one, you gain a better display on the 12.9″, a faster processor, dual cameras, better video recording, significantly better FaceTime camera, faster connector, faster Wi-Fi, more storage, and the LiDAR Scanner for AR.

Conclusion

So yes, you should upgrade if you fit into any of these baskets. If you are an artist and depend on the display, if you are a video editor, if you take your iPad everywhere you go, if you make tons of FaceTime calls, if you play lots of iPad games, and if your iPad is from 2018 or earlier you should consider upgrading. That aside, there’s still a lot of questions to be asked about the iPad’s software. We need significant changes to the iPadOS experience to actually take full advantage of all of the new hardware improvements.

These new iPad Pros ship in the second half of May, and WWDC starts on June 7. So within just a few weeks of the product’s launch, the next version of the software will get previewed. I think there are lots of people who should at least wait a few weeks and see what iPadOS 15 has in store for us. The M1 chip has so much added power that iPadOS 15 must have some improvements that take advantage of it. But if you are antsy like me and my colleagues, you’ll likely bite the price increase bullet and pick up the new iPad Pro beforehand.

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