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Industry observers said this month's iPad Pro news -- including a new iPad Pro model, the addition of mouse support and a new keyboard -- should make the device more appealing to business users.
The firm, based in Cupertino, Calif., said the new version of the tablet's operating system, iPadOS 13.4, would include mouse and trackpad support. Starting in May, it will also offer a backlit keyboard and trackpad -- called the Magic Keyboard -- for the iPad Pro.
Frank Gillett, an analyst at Forrester Research, said while the updated model provides greater flexibility for users, he did not see the announced changes leading to a widespread move toward the iPad.
"While it's symbolically significant, I don't see it making a huge mark," he said.
iPad for business
Experts said Apple has been positioning its tablet toward professional use for some time.
"[Apple is] never overt about their 'enterprise' aspirations, and yet they continue to evolve their products in a way that is more targeted toward the business user," said Eric Klein, an independent analyst. "It's known to them that pretty every executive is a devotee of Apple or carries an Apple device. It's a good chunk of their enterprise business."
Klein said it was clear that the iPad Pro's keyboard and mouse support were intended to help the device's business users.
Frank GillettAnalyst, Forrester Research
"They're inching closer and closer to a true laptop replacement with these iPads," he said. "There's no reason not to go in that direction. … Steve Jobs, in particular, was vehement about his vision of these products, but times change and usage models evolve."
Improvements to the new iPad Pro, like an improved camera and more powerful processor, could also benefit the enterprise user, Klein said. A better camera would improve video conferencing -- a tool that has gained prominence as COVID-19 has spurred remote work -- while the faster processor would allow for smoother switching between apps.
"Processors are less and less important these days, but still, people do expect a fast and responsive machine," he said.
Mikako Kitagawa, senior principal analyst at Gartner, expressed skepticism that the iPad Pro would displace more full-featured devices, even with the recently announced enhancements.
"There are specific business markets where the iPad Pro works very well, but it won't replace laptops for general use," she said. "I don't think the new iPad Pro will change the trend."
Gillett said he did not see high demand for an external pointing feature, be it mouse or keyboard, though he acknowledged some workers might prefer them out of habit.
"There are specific uses where you will find a trackpad handy -- editing text, for example," he said.
However, he said, those using the iPad already are likely accustomed to interacting via touchscreen.
Price a concern
The improvements come at an expense. The new 11-inch iPad Pro starts at $799, while the 12.9-inch model will cost at least $999 -- and the Magic Keyboards for the two are set at $299 and $349, respectively.
The iPad Pro, Gillett said, costs about the same or more than a good Windows laptop -- and is not substantially cheaper than a MacBook Pro.
Klein said the current state of economic affairs might hurt early business adoption of the devices.
"Given the situation that folks are in right now with economic and market uncertainty, we're probably not going to see a huge demand in volume … in the near term," he said. "But that goes for everyone; Apple's not alone in that fight."
Apple, with its unique operating system and app ecosystem, is set to retain those workers who already use its devices, Klein said.
"[Apple is] evolving in a way that will keep their business users happy and with Apple," he said. "They're not giving them reasons to move away to something that might give them more capabilities."
In the end, Forrester's Gillett said, workers will seek the devices that best fit their needs.
"It's just about the right tool for the job -- what combination of usability and portability do you want," he said. "Last week's announcement expands the iPad Pro's flexibility and usability."