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Apple's iPad Pro becomes more like a Surface, and that's a problem for Microsoft

Surface Pro 7
Surface Pro 7 (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

Back in June 2019, I did a piece on how the more the iPad Pro becomes like the Surface Pro, the bigger the threat it is to Microsoft's 2-in-1 PC paradigm. At the time, I remarked that mouse and cursor support was just the beginning, but once iPadOS gets a trackpad, the situation will become more significant.

Today, Apple announced refreshes to the iPad Pro line, and they're due to ship in the coming weeks. The more important news is what comes in May, which is the new $350 Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro. That keyboard brings a new hinge for multi-angle support and, yes, a trackpad.

Will Magic Keyboard be as good as the Surface Pro's Type Cover? It's unlikely. Microsoft's keyboard has angled typing, and the Surface Pro's built-in kickstand and hinge still set the bar. But that doesn't matter much, as Apple's is likely good enough (and yes, it's backlit and even works with the last-gen iPad Pro, too).

Putting aside how wrong Apple was about the 2-in-1 form factor, which it is now ironically fully embracing, this move by Apple is likely to harm sales of the Surface Pro line. Apple's iPad has long bucked the trend of the failing tablet market because it has the best hardware and an OS that people relish.

I'd argue – and many of you would too – that Windows 10 is still a more "serious" OS built for doing "real" work. But for many, those lines are blurring. For the last few years there have been many attempts by people trying to make do with just an iPad, and today's announcement will only make that easier.

Magic Keyboard

Source: Apple The new Apple iPad Pro with $350 Magic Keyboard. (Image credit: Source: Apple)

Apple still has some other hurdles to overcome yet. Its iPadOS is still lacking in many advanced desktop OS features compared to Windows, and its processor is still mostly overkill for what many use the iPad Pro for today. But those are surmountable problems that Apple will likely solve with time. That's not too different from Microsoft, who is working from the opposite of end of trying to make a desktop OS more palatable to light-computer devices like the Surface Pro X.

There's also pricing, and, to no one's surprise, everything Apple is doing is more costly. The 256GB iPad Pro 12.9 ($1,100) with Apple Pencil ($130) and Magic Keyboard ($350) comes to $1,580. The 256GB Surface Pro 7 ($1,000) with Surface Pen ($100) and Type Keyboard ($160) is just $1,260 with the current sale price. That favors Microsoft by $320. Although, interestingly, the Surface Pro X is $1,570, which gives you 4G LTE for just $10 less than Apple without LTE.

The good news is while Apple is just now catching up to Microsoft's 2012 vision of a 2-in-1 tablet PC, Microsoft is already on to the next thing: foldable and dual-screen devices.

As I reported in January 2018, Microsoft sees dual-screen and foldable PCs as the next era of mobile computing. That strategy is coming to life this summer with the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold and later this year with the Surface Neo with Microsoft's new Windows 10X OS. Companies like Dell and HP are expected to follow the trend in 2021 with their own takes on the hardware.

Much like in 2012, many Apple fans and general tech skeptics will question the value of dual-screen and foldable PCs, but the industry seems set on the idea.

All eyes will be on how Microsoft evolves the Surface Pro 8, which could come in late 2020 with some of those Surface Pro X design cues. And Surface Neo as the big exciting "next-gen" PC evolution.

But make no mistake, a lot of people will give the new iPad Pro with Magic Keyboard serious consideration the next time they need a laptop, and Microsoft better be ready to respond.

Daniel Rubino
Executive Editor

Daniel Rubino is the Executive Editor of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft here since 2007, back when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and arguing with people on the internet.

  • Yep, the trackpad was the one reason I believed laptops/Surface Pro was better for productivity as its gestures meant you didn't have to constantly poke at the screen. If Apple can get desktop class applications then that'll be another reason to switch to the the iPad Pro.
  • Yeah but the magic keyboard (/with the touchpad) is almost 3 times as expensive :O compared to the Surface keyboard, which already is not all that cheap.
  • Yeah their accessory is ridiculously expensive without much obvious advantage over the Type Cover. Well yeah there is that desktop-like hinge that not just angle the device, but also gives height like a monitor. Other than that, doesn't seem to be much differences for more expensive price. On Software side, I admit that the cursor support at least on the demo looks well thought out. I just like how the cursor morphs and adapts on what it is pointing/hovering. When you select a button, cursor simply morphs into a button, on text it simply morphs into text cursor, etc. Not that different from regular cursor behaviour we already have on desktop OS, but iPadOS seems a more "modern" feel to it. Trackpad gestures were all seem implemented like with their macOS as it should be. Now I just wish that they polish gestures in Windows 10. Swiping up for example simply animates into Task View/Timeline, it doesn't follow a finger to animate. Just one of those little touches that Microsoft did not bother when implementing a feature. Little details are often neglected even up to the point of features lacking something. Virtual Desktop for example still no way to re-arrange them, and the upcoming Feature Update only allow us to rename Virtual Desktop. The only feature was added since it was introduced more than 4 years ago.
  • Yeah I found recent Windows updates a bit disappointing tbh. I mean there is certainly some good stuff and I use most of it (swiping on OSK, Virtual Desktops, Timeline, Controlled Folders etc.) but many of those features could use some improvements here and there and of course the gestures as you mentioned. The only get small fixes as you mentioned. It almost looks like MS is beta testing several features intended for W10X.
  • Yeah this is my problem with Microsoft for a long time, they add new features which is nice but many didn't get any more improvements after or adding missing feature, they simply gets forgotten then scrapped after because of low-usage.
    Virtual Desktop in Windows 10 for example isn't as useful as from many Linux distros and macOS. I use this feature but because of certain features missing like re-arranging files and lack of drag-and-drop support for files between desktops, it is hard for me to really take advantage of it.
    Windows Snap is another example where we can resize snapped Windows when they are side-by-side horizontally, but no way to resize them vertically or when 4 apps are snapped. There is no multiple horizontal snap either for users of ultra-wide monitors. We have to use 3rd-party tools or something like PowerToys just to fill that missing capability which could have been baked into OS itself. OS doesn't need to have everything like those advance macro-shortcuts or something more advance, but just make the feature got all its essentials to be more useful out-of-the-box. I hope they will eventually polish their features in Windows 10 X and Windows 10 as well. But Windows 10 X is still in its early stages and I'm afraid it will take a while.
  • Concerning virtual desktops, you can drag-and-drop programs/windows through timeline between desktops (win+tab, than just drag a program thumbnail into a desktop).
  • Yes drag-and-drop programs between virtual desktops were possible, but you can't use Task View/Windows Timeline to drag-and-drop files or objects between virtual desktops or even through Task View. Let's say I have File Explorer open on Desktop 1 and I want to drag a photo in Photoshop that is on Desktop 2. I can't simply drag that file into Photoshop that is on Desktop 2. Only way is to drag that File Explorer to Desktop 2 or Photoshop to Desktop 1, and drag-and-drop files between unmaximized windows. Or you can go through the Taskbar. Now I can workaround this by enabling to show apps on another virtual desktop on all Taskbars. Which is forces me to enable it instead of keeping it separate between desktops. Virtual Desktop in Windows 10 certainly lacks flexibility. In macOS this is I think is possible. Not sure if I can with GNOME in Linux, I may try it over there.
  • Look at all those LTE variants.
    Look at them, Microsoft.
    You can't keep #@<%ing around with wifi only. The future is always connected.
  • Never understood that statement.... Why would I need it to be LTE 1nd pay a second plan when I will yave my phone with me if I'm mobile and can tether the connection? Am I missing something?
  • Q: Why do I need a car when I've got a perfectly good horse?
    Q: Why do I need to fly when I can take a train?
    Q: Why do I need a microwave when I have a perfectly good oven?
    Q: Why do I need a calculator when I can just do the math on paper? A: It's faster and more convenient. Your way works. Congratulations. Mine is faster.
  • L, I'm sorry but his is just as fast, as he keeps his phone with him at all times and can leave his phone connected all the time. How is your way "faster"? Simply speed?
  • There are quite a few reasons, actually. Let me spell them out: LTE onboard is always faster than tethering. You lose a lot of bandwidth via tether compared to a native modem. If you only use LTE once a month, this is NBD. When you use LTE every day, it is. Gigabit PC/iPad modems are quite fast these days. Not everyone has plans with tethering included Not everyone enjoys draining their phone's battery/heating it up just to do work on a computer For corporate use many companies can invoice/give you/manage a device SIM without having to manage your personal phone's data Native LTE modem is faster for initial setup/connection vs. tethering, which often requires you to enable it on your phone, wait for the connection, pair and go. There's also a higher fail rate with tethering since localized interference becomes more of an issue (not to mention SW quirks). Does this matter to all people? Absolutely not. Is that relevant to the issue at hand? Absolutely not. There is a demand for the technology and we know this simply because Apple offers it as an option for almost all its iPads (even its Watch has optional LTE). For many of us mobile workers (nomadic workers, if you will) having an LTE-enabled device is how we work now. Whether you find value in that is of no concern. It's whether others do find value in it. and if the market meets that demand.
  • I agree! Especially the draining phone battery part. Tethering may not be that inconvenient, but draining phone battery quickly can be a deal breaker since we still need our phone to at least last a work day without having to carry a power bank. And yes it is not faster as compared when LTE is natively integrated to the device.
  • Ontop of all that. I can easily just pop out a SIM from my phone into my Surface Pro and be fully connected. I don't use phone capabilities too much so I would love this option. Hopefully the Surface Neo
  • On iPadOS, you simply go to WiFi and tap "Daniel's iPhone" or the device will prompt if both connection is available. After a few minutes when nothing is connected, the phone automatically shuts it down. Apple solved this problem. It's called "Instant HotSpot." It's been in iOS (now iPadOS) since 2014. Even macOS devices can tether this way. I think Samsung has copied some of this and added it to their Android distribution - so their devices can do similar. Most U limited data plans in the US have like 10-20 GB of LTE tethering in the plan. Anyone buying a device this expensive likely has a plan with tethering. On device data is prioritized when tethering (logical), but the speeds are still more than good enough. For most people, tethering is a lot cheaper than getting a separate plan just for a Laptop or Tablet. It's why Apple sells way more WiFi iPads than Cellular. People buy WiFi and just tether to their phones. I've done tons of tethering. The speed/bandwidth argument is pretty laughable in practice, Lol... Costs are a far bigger consideration, IMO.
  • Agreed. I just want the option of adding LTE to any premium PC whether it's Surface Pro, Laptop, Book, etc. If people don't want it, that's fine, but let me add it on like Apple does for iPad. (Of course, they don't have it for its MBPs, so fair is fair).
  • @kingtigre Well said 😂👏
  • Yours is faster but also much more expensive (at least in my country where tethering is included in every abbo and some extra data for phone abbo is much cheaper than lte, lte seems also to be locked to certain abbo's here). Still good to have it as an option though.
  • 30 bucks a month is 360 bucks a year, you could buy a tablet from that every year. Or 3 years of that and you can buy a Surface Pro or Ipad Pro. :-)
    Not saying that it is a bad investment for everyone (a very good one probably for road warriors), but for most people it seems rather expensive for what you get compared to tethering.
  • Maybe it really depends on the region where people live and how long you use tethering, personally for me it is toggling 1 button and I got good enough speed. Battery drain for me is not a problem, but I do not use it longer than a hour on a day. The fact that you don't have to take your phone is kind of cool though. :)
  • Why do i have a car and a bike, and sometimes take the bike with me in my car? Because for > 50km, i want to take the car, for small tours the bike. Do I want pedals on my car because of that? No. I still see no use for LTE on a device i mostly use stationary (in Hotel, on the couch) where i have Wifi. Since i have my Surface Book 2 now since a year, there were 2 cases where i needed thethering.
  • I got a SPX and LTE was my least fav upgrade. In practice, it's one of my fav. The amount of time it takes to turn on my Hotspot and connect hoping it works the first time is annoying. If it doesn't work, then I'm spending several minutes farting around. With LTE, I'm always connected within 3 seconds regardless if wifi is working or not. If wifi is there, it connects and it wifi drops, LTE takes back over. Coonectivity turns into water. You take it for granted, it's always there and always works. Give. that I'm a mobile worker (well, I was, lol), it has been valuable not spending 5 minutes trying to troubleshoot connectivity issues when I just need 30 seconds to respond to an email. I was recently in Europe and my LTE connected perfectly to help me navigate the train schedule and book research my next hotel and get it booked. I poo poo'd LTE too. Now I will never go back.
  • Very interesting personal experience! Thanks for sharing and I like the "like water" analogy. It's true, once you get used to it being there it's hard to live without. Tethering is fine if you barely use/need it, but it's a PITA if you need to be online all the time. I also think those who tether simply have never used a native LTE device. Because you're right, once you do it's nearly impossible to go back.
  • I agree with you guys too, however, why have most reviews on laptops with built in LTE been mediocre as opposed to the surface pro x and now the surface like iPad pro?
  • Probably because they are priced to expensive for what you get; using lte as a luxury option (they probably saw how much eg Apple asked extra for lte in their older Ipad Pro's).
  • Qualcomm devices do it best. Lenovo laptops have been OK e.g. X1 Carbon. But, tbh, we don't get sent a lot of laptops for review with LTE. Just the ARM ones, obviously. Surface Go and Pro with LTE are pretty great though.
  • Exactly. Same analogy applies to wired 3.5mm earphones and Bluetooth earphones. There is no guessing game with wired earphones. That's why never liked Bluetooth earphones. Still use wired ones albeit with a dongle now a days. 😑
  • Just tether to your phone and move on. Speeds are more than good enough, and most carriers have really good tethering allowance (20GB LTE then 2G on T-Mobile Magenta Plus, for example). This is not a huge deal. It's a bigger deal for wearables than for Tablets. Just throw your phone on a portable charger and tether away. I personally wouldn't pay extra for an LTE variant, especially when it means adding more onto your carrier bill.
  • I mostly disagree with this assessment. Let's get real, people don't buy Surfaces because of the tablet form factor (a fact that is reflected in Microsoft's utter neglect for the tablet experience since 1511), they buy them because they are ultra-portable Windows (touchscreen) laptops. Many people also because of the pen, sure. But if you chose a Surface because of the pen in favor of an iPad with its pen, chances are you had reasons that haven't changed even with this new touchpad. If anything, the new iPad Pro might be a challenge for laptops in general, but not for Surface specifically. And I don't think it's far-fetched to say that expecting this new iPad Pro to significantly disrupt the laptop business would be ridiculous.
  • This, and horsepower.... As long has there is more powerful tablet PC, tablets running ios or Android, can't be called full productivity devices... Some softwares actually need the compute capacity... There isn't just looks and design that matters when you do actual work...
  • I don't think people are saying iPad Pro is underpowered at all. It's CPU/GPU is actually very impressive and rivals Intel. Have you read benchmarks on A12 Bionic chip? It often beats Surface Pro substantially (benchmarking is hard so you have to use things like Geekbench, not perfect, or video editing tests). There's actually the counter argument these days. The iPad Pro and iPadOS don't even leverage the power of A12 in an effective manner. In other words, the OS/apps aren't even making full use of it yet so Apple has a lot of room to grow the OS to add more features/abilities. Same can't be said for Intel-based systems. Windows 10 on ARM has the opposite problem. The OS is capable of a lot, but the chips are only now catching up to where Intel was 2 years ago. The big issue for Qualcomm is can they get fast enough so that's it's OK for Windows users.
  • This. Plus, for the types of apps that people choose an iPad Pro to run: Photoshop, Affinity Photo, Affinity Designer, etc. it is actually pretty good at it. For things like Video Editing, even a Surface Pro is fairly underpowered, and would get **** for battery life if you tried to use it primarily for that. No one runs DaVinci Resolve on a Surface Pro, Lol. Even Premiere Pro really taxes those weak machines. These are still portable computers running ULV Laptop-spec hardware. People are acting like the Surface Pro has the latest i9-H Desktop CPU, or something. ARM CPUs compare a lot more favorably against the type of hardware in Laptops than in Desktops, this is why OEMs producing those machines compare them predominantly to those machines. Not just because of the form factor similarities, but because it's a very favorable comparison to them. The comparison is even more favorable when you compare to productivity machines, and not gaming or workstation laptops. The same way they compare the graphics to Graphics Consoles, not the latest and greatest from Nvidia or AMD. An iPad Pro will compare favorably in CPU performance to a Surface Pro, especially the lower end SKUs. It's GPU performance is likely to run circles around Intel's iGPUs, as well.
  • But that is video editing, how many people do that daily for their work on the go? Stuff like programming, drawing, graphic design, modelling, cad work, big datasheets etc is all much more common I think on laptops and where a Surface Pro (6/7) is generally powerful enough for. The cpu and gpu is more powerful on the Pro 7 (Iris Plus igpu, and especially the 7nm Ryzen igpu will put both of them to shame) compared to the current Ipad Pro I think. But it is hard to compare them since they are different architectures (not sure if eg geekbench is a reliable source in that sense). Best would be real life tests with software that is not specially optimized for both OS'ses (maybe Blender benchmark test, or perhaps Firefox benchmark test).
  • Many. Content creators are a big market. Welcome to 2020. And that's ignoring the entire creative industry. Blackmagic, Avid, Adobe, Magix, and others are still in business for a reason. The people doing a lot of the stuff you mention are not using Surface Pro. They are using workstation hardware for it. They're likely to do the majority of their work on a full laptop or desktop. And the Laptop is likely to have High Lerformsnce I tell or Ryzen CPUs, not the slow ULV CPUs in ultrabooks (unless they remote in via RDC) And the iGPaus in these machines are laughable. You often can't even get enough RAM in these machines for serious professional work in areas of Motion Graphics Design, VFX, Modeling, CAD, etc. Not to mention a Surface Pro won't have a GPU usable for any of that beyond "beginner" levels. Iris Plus isn't a new thing. It isn't that good. It's worse than a GTX 1050, so spare me that drivel... iGPU performance is also held back by the memory bus in the machine. Surface Pros are not clocking the fastest RAM with the largest bus bandwidth. dGPUs started using DDR5 years ago, for comparison. No one wants to run massive compiles on a Surface Pro. If you are compiling lots of code, than anything works. Otherwise, thermal limitations often kick in due to high parallelized workloads involved in code compilation- worsening as the codebase increases in size.
  • This is me in a nutshell my "tablet" PC is a laptop for all intents and purposes. 90% of my usage is as a laptop, it's only occasionally that I'll use it to watch a movie without the keyboard.
  • Yeah somewhat agree, if the new Pro and accessorizes would be priced cheaper than it could disrupt laptop sales more but now only a bit I think. Even Apple fans I know buy older Pro's and accessorizes for the cheaper prices (they generally pay more for the iphones though).
  • Well, I'm aware I am probably in a minority, but I did buy a Surface Pro because if the tablet form factor. Not to use it mostly as a tablet, but to be able to use it as a tablet when I want. Majority of my use is laptop but I'm really glad I have bought a Surface Pro when I want to use it as a tablet. Otherwise I would have bought a 2-in-1, they are cheaper and often more powerful, but I find them more bulky, and basically unusable in tablet mode. Anyway, I don't know for the IPad pro...Apple seems to have more and more advanced apps (Adobe especially) available on this platform, and in that sense it could be an alternative for someone who has mostly a casual use but is a hobbyist in something (photo/video editing especially), and who would have bought a Surface. If the software is already on iPad Pro, adding a trackpad/mouse support may be enough to make that software fully useable on the Ipad Pro (at least as useable as on the Surface).
  • $350.00 for the keyboard in the midst of massive recession. Remind me to buy apple puts tomorrow.
  • I don't understand the $350 keyboard either, that just seems ridiculous. You can get a decent entire laptop or tablet with Bluetooth keyboard and Bluetooth mouse or whatever combination for that price.
  • The real question is, recession or not, has these observations about pricing ever applied to Apple or negatively aff