For the longest time, the iPad was Apple’s big boring thing. It never lived up to its promise to revolutionize media and save magazines. It didn’t really change the way we play mobile games. It certainly didn’t seem like a good investment. For the first eight years of the iPad’s existence, my primary exposure to it has been at coffee shops with those tablet-based cash registers. But this week, Apple did something subtle but remarkable: It talked me into buying one.
I should be very transparent here and explain that, despite what I just said, I did own an iPad once before. Apple didn’t talk me into buying that one, though. My ex-girlfriend did because we were going on vacation and wouldn’t it be great for reading. I sold the damn thing as soon as we got back. It was an iPad 2, and it was too heavy to hold for extended periods of time, and the screen was simply shit compared to the display on my iPhone. It’s always gone down as one of my great purchase regrets, especially since I only got back a fraction of my money.
But now there’s a new one that looks exactly like the iPad before it with one key difference: you can use a motherfucking stylus. More specifically: you could use an Apple Pencil.
The Apple Pencil is one of those inventions that Steve Jobs swore he’d never make, but not long after his death, Jobs’s old coworkers just made it without him. This very nice stylus, Apple has always said, is precise and intuitive enough that an artist would use it. Sure, you’ve been able to buy third-party styli like the 53 Pencil or the Adonit Mark, but I’ve always liked the familiar form factor and the stiff tip of the Apple Pencil. I’m not an artist, but I would like to use an iPad as a sort of knockoff Wacom for some illustrations at work and maybe even a quick sketch now and again. I’m also not unaware that Apple products almost always work best with other Apple products. Also, the Apple Pencil costs an extra $100.
So as someone who likes make a little drawing sometimes, I always thought that I’d like to have an iPad and a Pencil, because I hate erasers and old fashioned paper is too easy to lose or destroy. In fact, I actually believe my sometimes drawing habit could be a daily anxiety-relieving exercise if only I had the right tools. (I realize this sounds a little foolish, but I mean it.) The problem is, you’ve always need a too-expensive iPad Pro to use the Pencil. Until this week, that is.
Apple’s big education announcement centered around this idea that schools should buy every kid an iPad for better learning and to sweeten the pot, the cheapest iPad would now work with Apple Pencil. The $330 device—or $300 if you’re a teacher or student—is the same price and form factor as the previous generation, but it’s received some nice spec bumps, like the upgrade from the A9 processor to the A10 Fusion. This still means that the iPad Pro is faster with its A10X Fusion chip—but not by much. Both devices feature similar Retina screen quality, similar battery lives, and similar weights. The iPad Pro is only special now because it has the Smart Connector for those super nice keyboards, better cameras for those assholes who take photos with an iPad, and 4GB of RAM.
That last detail could be a significant one. With only 2GB of RAM, the new cheap iPad will struggle with some load times and shit the bed if you run too many apps at once. Specifically, you’re limited to running just two apps side-by-side on the same screen with the cheap iPad instead of the three you can do with an iPad Pro. So that doesn’t mean that you’ll have to force quit apps if you’re switching, for instance, between Mail, Calendar, and Safari. The limitation only applies to using the iPad’s Multitasking feature to run more than one app onscreen at once. But 2GB of slow things down.
Even still, that cheap iPad is actually more powerful than an iPhone 7 which was plenty powerful for me. I also have no interest in Multitasking on an iPad. Anything more than that seems like it would be confusing, because I would honestly just want to use the thing as a giant iPhone.
Inevitably, comparing the new iPad and the iPad Pro is moot in my opinion. I was never going to buy an iPad Pro because they cost at least $650, and I’d rather take a vacation for that kind of money. For $330, however, I find myself getting excited. But it still feels like half price! I could get an Apple Pencil and do my little drawings. I could take it to the gym and watch Netflix on the treadmill. I could even read in bed without squinting at the screen so much.
So hats off Apple, you multi-billion-dollar marketing machine. You talked me into buying an iPad. I’ve received no outside counsel on this one, and I’m frankly looking forward to getting a new gadget. If I decide I don’t like it, I’ll take it back to the Apple Store. If I decide I don’t like it too late, I’ll sell it. And I definitely won’t lose as much money as I did the last time I did this dance.