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Saturday, February 17, 2024

Apple's New iPad Pro Has Lidar and a Keyboard With a Trackpad

Apple has a new iPad Pro, and it looks like a mash-up of its predecessor and the iPhone 11 thanks to Apple's signature dual-camera array on the back. But the cameras go a step further; they use Lidar, a technology commonly seen in self-driving cars, to sense depth and to boost the iPad Pro's augmented reality abilities. Perhaps more interesting, the tablet's keyboard cover now has a built-in trackpad.

The new iPad Pro models start at $799. Joining the announcement, which Apple made virtually due to the coronavirus outbreak, is a new $999 MacBook Air. It rids itself of the butterfly keyboard that has long plagued its predecessors.

A Lidar Sensor and a Minor Power Bump

The dual-camera system on the new iPad Pro is very similar to the one on the newest iPhone 11. The main camera is joined by an ultrawide camera, but there's also a new Lidar sensor on the right. It uses infrared light beams to measure distance and can sense depths of up to five meters. It's the same technology used in self-driving cars, but on the iPad Pro, it's for improved AR performance.

The improvements can be seen instantaneously. Typically when using AR on an iPad, you need to scan the room, which can take a minute. Thanks to the Lidar camera, AR objects can be dropped in an instant. Apple specifically noted that its Measure app can now calculate someone's height, and it's more accurate when measuring objects. We'll see exactly what other improvements the camera brings as we test the new iPad.

Powering all of this is a new A12Z Bionic chipset, an upgrade over the A12X Bionic chip used in the previous generation. The new chip now has an eight-core graphics processing unit and better thermal design, which Apple says makes it 2.6 times faster than the 2017 iPad Pro. (You'll only see a minor bump in performance over the 2018 iPad Pro.)

The same 11-inch and 12.9-inch size options as the 2018 iPad Pro are in tow, as well as price tags of $799 and $999, respectively, for the models with Wi-Fi. Models with cellular connectivity are more expensive.

Visually, at least from the front, the new iPad Pro looks the same with the uniform, slim bezel around the screen. It remains the only tablet in Apple's iPad lineup with Face ID, no home button, and a magnetic dock for the second-generation Apple Pencil on the edge.

A Fancier Keyboard

The new keyboard cover for the iPad Pro, which is still a separate purchase, keeps the tablet elevated (or "floating", as Apple calls it) via magnets, offering better viewing angles and seemingly a little more sturdiness when placed on unstable surfaces like your lap. There's a USB-C port that allows passthrough charging too, which frees up the USB-C port on the iPad to be used for an SD card reader or something else.

The trackpad at the bottom lets you use a cursor in iPadOS, though Apple claims the experience isn't like using a mouse on macOS and has been "completely reimagined for iPad." The cursor is round, and hovering over certain parts of the user interface (like icons) makes them animate a little. You can use it to click on the clock to access the Control Center or move to the far right of the screen to see your Slide Over apps. The trackpad itself still supports many of the gestures you might be familiar with, like a three-finger swipe up to go home, and the pinch-to-zoom gesture.

Adding a trackpad is a concession after years of pleas for robust mouse support. Apple has always claimed its phones and tablets are touch-only devices, but that's changing now as Apple increasingly sees the iPad Pro more like a computer than a traditional slate. More granular control is a necessity.

Onto the keys, you'll find the same mechanism Apple is using for its Magic Keyboard, the design it pivoted to for the latest 16-inch MacBook Pro after facing a litany of complaints the past few years about faulty keyboards in its MacBooks. The keyboard is backlit, too.

Unfortunately, while the new iPad Pro is available on March 25, you'll have to wait until May to get this new trackpad-laden keyboard. It also costs a head-scratching $299 for the 11-incher and $349 for the 12.9-inch version. The good news? It's compatible with the 2018 iPad Pro models as well as these new ones.

The new cursor support arrives on March 24 in a new version of iPadOS, which means you'll be able to make use of it on any iPad that can run iPadOS. Apple said Logitech is also making a keyboard with a trackpad that will cost $149, also due in May, that will work on the standard iPad, the 2019 iPad Air, and an older iPad Pro. Expect other third-party manufacturers to follow suit, not just for the standard iPad and iPad Air but the new Pro models as well. Using Apple's Magic Mouse or a third-party mouse is also another way to get that coveted cursor support in iPadOS.

The New MacBook Air

For the past few months, if you didn't want to risk using a MacBook with a potentially flawed keyboard, your only option was to buy the extremely expensive 16-inch MacBook Pro. Now, you have a much cheaper alternative. The new 13-inch MacBook Air has the same Magic Keyboard, which includes a dedicated Escape key, and it starts at $999.

Outside of the keyboard, you won't see any visual changes from the previous generation, but the internals are getting a sizable upgrade. The base model starts with a dual-core Core i3 10th-gen processor from Intel, but you have the option to go all the way up to a quad-core Core i7. Apple says to expect a two times performance upgrade over the predecessor if you use the most powerful configuration. More impressive is the 80 percent graphics performance bump, which is thanks to Intel's Iris Plus Graphics integrated graphics card.

Apple claims 11-hour battery life (when web browsing wirelessly), there's 256 GB of internal base storage, 8 GB of RAM, Touch ID, and a 2560×1600 screen resolution. Sadly, you still only get two Thunderbolt 3 USB-C ports. But there is a headphone jack!

The MacBook Air still uses a 100-percent recycled aluminum enclosure, whereas the iPad Pro has an enclosure made with "low-carbon aluminum," as well as other recycled components inside. Both come with one year of Apple TV Plus and are available to order online now. The devices ship next week.

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