There is very little surprise or mystery left when it comes to Apple’s iPad lineup. The tablets are a staple of Apple’s hardware range — an experience that’s similar to your iPhone, only bigger, and in many ways more versatile. When it first launched, the iPad was forced into a silo of being viewed as an entertainment device. You install Facebook, Netflix, YouTube, and a couple of games, and you have the ideal consumption device in your hands.
But for the past few years, Apple has tried to change the narrative around the iPad. The iPad Pro line, the upgraded iPad Air, and now the base iPad have all gained features and capabilities that make the iPad more laptop-like. Physical keyboard support, built into the iPad’s housing, and Apple Pencil support have all made the iPad a device you can use for work and play.
With the recent release of iPadOS, Apple is now tackling the software challenges the iPad has faced as consumers and business users alike try to do more with the tablet. Not only does iPadOS bring an improved browsing and multitasking experience, but Apple also added a handful of new features for BYOD enterprise users that makes the $329 iPad very attractive.
The new iPad looks just like the old iPad, but with a slightly bigger screen. The black rectangular frame wraps around a 10.2-inch display size, up from 9.7-inches, with a Touch ID-equipped home button at the bottom. A Lightning port is also on the bottom for charging and syncing the iPad, with a sleep/wake button and a 3.5mm headphone jack at the top of the housing. On the right side of the frame are the volume up and down keys.
On the left edge of the iPad are three round dots for Apple’s Smart Connector, used to connect and power Apple’s Smart Keyboard Cover. The keyboard isn’t included with the iPad. It’s priced at $159, and the Apple Pencil will set you back $99.
The seventh-generation iPad starts at $329 for 32GB of storage, or $429 for a 128GB model. Both of those prices are for the Wi-Fi-only model, with cellular connectivity costing $459 and $559, respectively. You can get it in gray, silver, or gold.
There’s not a lot to say about the overall design of the iPad, because it’s very much the same design Apple has used for years now, save for the current-generation iPad Pro lineup. There’s nothing wrong with this design, although I would have loved to see Apple start to expand USB-C beyond the Pro offerings.
Software and performance
For the past year, I’ve used the latest generation iPad Pro as my main laptop. I’ve grown to love Face ID, the speed of Apple’s A12X Bionic processor, and its 12.9-inch display. Switching to this iPad was a bit of a shock at first, but after a few days, I acclimated to using Touch ID and the smaller 10.2-inch display powered by an older A10 Fusion processor. Battery life has been good enough to get through a full day of use, ranging from writing, triaging my inbox, watching YouTube videos, and scrolling mindlessly on Twitter.
As I stated nearly a year ago, despite hardware improvements, the entire iPad line has been held back by software. But that’s changing, with Apple giving the iPad its own operating system — iPadOS — paving the way for meaningful software upgrades to the iPad line, and moving the tablet out of the iPhone’s shadow.
This iPad is the first to ship with iPadOS installed out of the box. At its core, iPadOS is still iOS, with a lot of feature parity between the two platforms. You still get things like dark mode, improvements to Mail, the new Reminders app — you get the point.
Where iPadOS starts to differentiate itself from iOS is with Safari’s desktop-class browsing experience, making it possible to compose, edit, and review Google Docs directly in the browser (a much better experience than Google’s corresponding apps).
The multitasking approach in iPadOS has also expanded, with the ability to open multiple windows of the same app, just like you would on a PC or Mac. For example, you can have multiple instances of Apple Notes open in Split View, each one sharing the screen with Mail, Safari, or Reminders.
The new windows feature streamlines the way I work on the iPad. I no longer have to constantly move around and manage which apps are open and where.
You can now connect external storage to the iPad, ranging files and folders stored on an SSD or a thumb drive using the Files app.
In short, iPadOS is exactly what the iPad has needed in recent years. It’s a giant step in the right direction for the platform, and I’m hopeful that Apple aggressively adds more features to the entire iPad line in future updates. And the sooner, the better.
I touched on the enterprise additions in iOS in my iPhone 11 review, but let’s expand a bit.
As of iOS 13 and iPadOS 13, there are several new features baked into the operating systems that make BYOD with Apple devices easier. Apple Business Manager now has Managed Apple IDs and a new service called User Enrollment.
Managed Apple IDs integrate with Microsoft’s Azure Active directory, removing the need for IT departments to have to manage multiple IDs for a user across different platforms.
BYOD users can bring their iPad or iPhone to a company and add a managed Apple ID to their device, which will then allow for device management through User Enrollment. The setup process for the user requires installing an enrollment profile and signing in with the Managed Apple ID. The company can then install managed apps, configure work accounts, set password policies, and use app-based VPN connections.
When User Enrollment is used on a device, your personal and work data is kept separate at all times. Your company can’t see what apps have been installed using your Apple ID, nor can it see any of the information that’s stored outside of the managed account’s storage partition. That means information like your personal notes in the Notes app, which are displayed next to your corporate Notes account, can’t be read by your company.
In the event of a lost device, the company can only wipe data that is connected to the Managed Apple ID, leaving all of your personal information in place.
Apple also added a single sign-on extension that, when integrated into third-party apps, will automatically sign you into all corporate apps after you’ve signed in to one. You could, in theory, sign in to OneDrive, Outlook, and Teams by entering your user ID and password only once. Hopefully, developers will begin to adopt the new extension soon.
The new iPad is…
A lot of things. It’s an entertainment device at home. It’s a workhorse for churning out emails or editing a Google Slides presentation in Safari. It’s a portable gaming device. It’s a tablet. And, now, it’s a 2-in-1.
I’ve been spoiled by using an iPad Pro for nearly a year. I said a year ago it was the best tablet ever made, and I still feel the same way today. But with the slow trickle of Pro-like features having reached almost every iPad in Apple’s lineup, you can’t make a wrong choice when it comes to which iPad to get.
On second thought, you can. Don’t get the 32GB model. You’ll eventually run out of space and regret not spending the extra $100 for 128GB.
By expanding the capabilities of the iPad through hardware and software improvements, including enterprise additions, the standard iPad sitting on my desk right now, is just as capable as the iPad Pro and it’s a fraction of the price.
Indeed, it’s far more nuanced than that, but for the average user who wants a streamlined computing experience, at home or work, the new iPad is an affordable option that will surely get the job done.