Is the iPad Pro just a warmed-over Microsoft Surface?

ipad pro
Credit: Apple

Apple tries to make the iPad Pro sound revolutionary, but it's a lot like a tablet that's been around for years -- Microsoft's Surface. Is the iPad Pro a game changer, or just a warmed-over Surface?

First, let's take a look at the iPad Pro's specs. The iPad Pro comes with a 12.9-inch screen, significantly larger than the iPad Air 2's 9.7-inch display. It's tough to get real work done on a 9.7-inch tablet, but a 12.9-inch one will do just fine.

It's not just the size of the screen that's important, but the extras you can buy for it: A detachable keyboard and a stylus called the Apple Pencil.

As for apps, what did Apple choose to highlight at the rollout? Microsoft Office for iOS tablets. And who showed off Office on the iPad Pro? A Microsoft executive --  Kirk Konigsbauer.

This should all sound familiar to you. A tablet with a large-enough screen that real work can be done on it. A detachable keyboard so that you can turn the tablet into a laptop. A stylus for writing on it. Runs Microsoft Office. This all describes a tablet that Microsoft built and released three years ago -- the Microsoft Surface.

Through the years, Apple CEO Tim Cook has denigrated the Surface because it was designed to be both a tablet and a laptop -- exactly what the iPad Pro is. Shortly after the Surface's release he called it "a fairly compromised and confusing product," and likened it to "a car that flies and floats." Before its release, he said to Wall Street analysts about devices that do double duty as tablets and laptops, "Anything can be forced to converge. You begin to make trade-offs to the point where what you have left at the end of the day doesn't please anyone. You can converge a toaster and a refrigerator, but those things are probably not going to be pleasing to the user."

But that was then. This is now. Tablet sales are slowing, and Apple wants to re-invigorate them. So it's copying Microsoft. Cook made clear at the iPad Pro rollout that the tablet was first and foremost a business device, saying, "We're partnering with the world's leading enterprise companies, IBM and Cisco, to redefine and transform the way people work in the enterprise."

So is the iPad Pro a warmed-over Surface? Yes, it is. But that shouldn't surprise you. Apple is at its best improving on existing products, not building entirely new ones. There were MP3 players before Apple released the iPod. There were smartphones before Apple released the iPhone. And there have been 2-in-1 devices before Apple introduced the iPad Pro, notably the Surface. This time, though, it's not clear whether warmed-over will mean big sales.

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