The tablet resembles 2014’s iPad Air 2 in size and weight, but features a Smart Connector port and similar specifications to Apple’s larger, original 12.9in iPad Pro.
Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing, said: “Why make a second iPad Pro that’s smaller? 9.7in is large enough to get all your work done, but it’s small and light enough to carry around on the go. The iPad Pro is the ultimate upgrade. The ultimate PC replacement.”
The tablet has around twice the performance of the iPad Air 2 and will use Apple’s A9X processor, which will help with multitasking and PC-style work.
The biggest difference is that the new smaller iPad Pro will have Apple’s Smart Connector for attaching a keyboard or other accessories and will support Apple’s stylus, which has proved popular with illustrators.
Apple’s Smart Keyboard accessory will still have a full keyboard layout, but will have smaller keys than that released for the original 12.9in iPad Pro.
The new 9.7in iPad Pro will also have an improved 12-megapixel camera, capable of shooting 4K video similar to that fitted within the iPhone 6S.
Apple also announced its True Tone display system, which measures the temperature of the ambient light to adjust the colour tone of the screen to better reflect the ambient light. The technology is similar to that used by Samsung tablet devices.
The tablet will be available in rose gold for the first time, as well as white, gold and black, costing $599 in the US, or £499 in the UK, for 32GB of storage, $749 or £619 for 128GB and $899 or £749 for 256GB. It will be available on the 31 March with pre-orders starting on the 24 March.
The change from Apple’s primarily consumer-focused iPad Air to the new Pro line of tablets marks a change in the lifecycle of tablet computers, which more closely mirrors that of PCs than smartphones.
Tablet sales have continued to decline as consumers have kept them longer with little reason to upgrade. Meanwhile innovation in the tablet form factor has more or less ceased, as the machines have become about as thin and light as the screen sizes have allowed.
Apple’s market share of tablets declined by about 25% last year, according to data from Strategy Analytics, with a 22% drop in sales. Windows tablets were about the only sector to grow, with a 59% year-on-year.
As a way to invigorate sales Apple started targeting a business and prosumer tablet market with the iPad Pro, following moves from Microsoft with its original Surface Windows tablet in 2012. Tablets with keyboard accessories offer businesses a cheaper, easier to manage and often more secure productivity solution than traditional laptops, and have been favoured by institutions such as the NHS in the UK.
Google followed suit with its recent Pixel C Android tablet, which has a magnetically attached hard keyboard accessory.
Microsoft has been able to carve out a niche with its Microsoft Surface line for the productivity tablet, which since 2014’s Surface Pro 3 has been worth $4.28bn to the company.
Whether the same can be true for tablets based around mobile operating systems instead of desktop operating systems remains to be seen. The iPad Pro 9.7in is certainly Apple’s attempt to appeal to that market, but that don’t want the potentially unwieldy size and weight of a tablet with a 12.9in screen.
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