Apple’s iPad Pro And The Apple Pencil: Surface Pro 3 Knockoff, Or Can Apple Still Innovate?

For months prior to Apple’s unveiling of the iPad Pro, tech observers were just about certain that autumn would see the introduction of a larger-screened iPad, and Apple did not disappoint. Or did it? No sooner was the iPad Pro introduced alongside its stylus and keyboard peripherals than complaints arose from a number of sectors, but is the iPad Pro really indicative of an Apple that’s lost the ability to innovate? Does it borrow way too much from its competitors?

The easiest comparison for the iPad Pro, of course, is Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3. Microsoft’s tablet-notebook hybrid has a lot in common with Apple’s newly announced larger iPad, including its relative size and aspect ratio, the addition of a stylus peripheral, and a keyboard cover – Type or Touch Cover in the Surface line, Smart Keyboard cover for the iPad Pro. Apple’s new, larger iPad also has a bit in common with Samsung’s Galaxy Note 10.1 line – if only due to the possibilities opened up by the stylus – but Samsung appears to have abandoned its larger stylus-enabled devices, even though it still pushes the Galaxy Note phone series.

Apple might have avoided these comparisons had the Cupertino tech giant not decided to release the Apple Pencil. Late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs famously decried the use of styluses on touchscreen devices, even while the company’s competitors were charging full-speed ahead with active styluses. Critics say that, with the iPad Pro and the Apple Pencil, Apple now looks something like a late-arriver trotting out tech that’s already well established. Is that the case, though?

In at least one plain sense, Apple definitely isn’t copying Microsoft or Samsung when it comes to the Apple Pencil, and that sense is the price. Apple charges an additional $99 for the Apple Pencil, whereas the Surface Pen and Samsung’s S Pen peripherals come included with the cost of a device.

But how does the Apple Pencil compare to the Surface Pen and other competitors? Over at Mashable, they’ve dubbed the Apple Pencil “an impressive piece of engineering” that is equally “impressive to use.” That account even appears to give the edge to the Apple Pencil, saying that “while [the Surface Pen] is an expert at tracking pressure, I have never seen it do quite what the Apple Pencil did in my short time with it.”

Just what’s so impressive? The initial praise for the Apple Pencil seems to stem from the fact that Apple has done its best to make it… pretty much a pencil. The peripheral is reportedly quite slim and sits in the hand like an actual pencil. What’s more, Apple has built in tech that allows the device and the iPad to know when the Apple is touching the iPad Pro screen at an angle, allowing users to “shade” with the Apple Pencil just like they would with a real one.

The tech is reportedly quite solid, with TechCrunch saying it “works quite well” and dubbing it “the iPad Pro’s secret weapon.”

So the Apple Pencil appears to be a winner and quite possibly more innovative than either the Surface Pen or Samsung’s S Pen. What about that keyboard?

The jury appears to still be out on the Smart Keyboard cover, and it may well come down to a matter of taste. Microsoft’s Type Cover and Touch Cover peripherals laid the groundwork for much of what Apple accomplishes with its own keyboard cover, but users will have to see whether or not Apple’s keys have enough travel and bounce-back to make for pleasurable typing. Some reports have the new iPad keyboard seeming a bit like the shallow keyboard on Apple’s super-thin new MacBook. Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing largely depends on how willing a user is to change their typing habits and adjust.

The one area that’s hardest to predict right now is how well the iPad Pro will function as a productivity device. With iOS 9, Apple has added a number of features aimed at making the iPad Pro better suited to content creation, including picture-in-picture and split-screen functionalities, but users have not yet been able to put such features through their paces on the larger-screened iPad Pro.

Meanwhile, Microsoft’s Surface Pro line is built with productivity in mind, as it’s meant to be “the tablet that replaces your laptop.” Microsoft’s offerings run the full version of Windows, and Surface owners will be able to use regular Windows applications, while iPad Pro users will have to run mobile versions. Those mobile versions are admittedly getting much, much better, but there are some areas where the regular versions of applications are still miles ahead of their less powerful mobile counterparts.

For good or ill, Apple has seemingly tossed its hat into the “hybrid” segment with the iPad Pro and the Apple Pencil. Their offering will doubtless see quick sales and scores of Apple faithful lined up to get it on the first day of release. Whether it’s a truly innovative device, though, might still take some time to figure out.

[Image via Apple]