Why Upgrade When the 2018 iPad Is So Good?

It’s a tough act to follow

Key Takeaways

  • The 2018 iPad Pro might be the most future-proof computer Apple has ever made.
  • The 2020 iPad is just the 2018 model with a fancier camera.
  • Rumored improvements to the 2021 iPad Pro don’t really sound very impressive.
An iPad pro sitting on a desk in place of a computer with an iPhone and daily journal nearby.
Henry Ascroft / Unsplash

The 2018 iPad Pro might be the best, most long-lived computer Apple has ever made.

In 2018, the iPad Pro was a huge leap forward in power, design, and compatibility with then-current and future accessories. It was so good that the 2020 "update" gained nothing more than an upgraded camera.

It remains so competitive that the rumored new features for the 2021 iPad Pro barely seem worth the bother. Did Apple make the 2018 iPad Pro too good?

"The iPad Pro 2018 was definitely a game-changer," tech and gadget reviewer Edward Eugen told Lifewire via email. "In my opinion, it was the first iPad that could be seriously considered for a laptop replacement."

Chips

Everything about the 2018 iPad Pro was superlative. It reintroduced the flat-sided design concept from the iPhone 5, did away with the home button, and added FaceID. FaceID is nice on the iPhone, but it’s a game-changer on the iPad, where reaching up from a keyboard to unlock the screen is awkward and annoying.

The 120Hz refresh rate makes the screen look and feel ultra-responsive to touch, while dropping the rate when not needed to save battery, and the four speakers use Apple’s sound-processing knowledge to the fullest.

"I think we'd have to see a pretty big expansion in battery life, processing power, graphics quality, or some revolutionary feature to shake the iPad out of its current state."

The Pro remains the thinnest computer in Apple’s lineup (at 0.23 inches thick, it beats the iPad Air, the iPhone 12 mini, and even the iPod Touch). Even the A12Z system-on-a-chip that powers the 2020 model is identical to the 2018 A12X, but for one extra graphics core (most likely due to improved chip yields after two years).

This 2-year-old chip design still beats the current A14 in several essential areas, and was faster than several Mac models for a while. 

In short, it was impressive in 2018, and it still more than capable today. It’s like seeing a 73-year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger and realizing that he’s still in better shape than most of us will ever be. 

Apple’s Problem

The rumors about the 2021 iPad Pro say that it will have an improved miniLED display and a Thunderbolt port instead of the current USB-C port. The screen is already very good.

And while Thunderbolt is a big step up from USB-C, its utility is limited by iOS itself, which doesn’t provide proper external screen support, and is unreliable when it comes to connecting external storage. 

"I think we'd have to see a pretty big expansion in battery life, processing power, graphics quality, or some revolutionary feature to shake the iPad out of its current state," Rex Freiberger, CEO of Gadget Review, told Lifewire via email.

A sideview of an iPad Pro on a Magic Keyboard.
Charlie Sorrel / Lifewire

"I want to note, however, that this state isn't bad by any means. It's a mature product now, and people get what they expect when buying it."

One big boost may be the M1 class chip that Apple could put in the iPad Pro. Perhaps it will be called the A14X, or perhaps Apple will wait until the fall and use the next-gen A15/M2 platform.

Whatever it is could be quite a step-up in capabilities, but again, the current iPad Pro is still no slouch. I have owned and used mine since launch day, and it shows zero signs of needing an upgrade, whether I’m recording and editing music or arranging video clips. 

Again, the bottleneck here appears to be the software. The iPad is very capable, but iOS fails to take full advantage. 

Accessories

The big story with the 2018 (and 2020) iPad Pro has been accessories. Its squared-off case seems purpose made to use them.

The second-generation Apple Pencil clamps onto the iPad’s edge with magnets. The amazing Magic Keyboard adds a MacBook-class trackpad and backlit keyboard. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Apple make more accessories, especially as they can all now be used with the iPad Air.

The 2018 iPad Pro with keyboard cover.
Charlie Sorrel / Lifewire

"The external trackpad and cursor support also allowed users to be able to choose how they want to work with the iPad," says Eugen. "If they want to plug it into an external monitor, keyboard, and mouse, they can."

Apple seems happy to keep using the current iPad design, and it may stay the same, just like MacBooks have barely changed over the past decade.

One great accessory would be a Thunderbolt display, one that could be used to dock audio and video accessories and then connect to and power the iPad Pro via a single Thunderbolt cable. That would be a killer accessory for all kinds of pro use.

The iPad Pro already has replaced the laptop for many. With external display support, and an Apple-made monitor to pair it with, the iPad Pro also could replace a desktop Mac.

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