Brief Thoughts and Observations on Yesterday’s ‘Let Loose’ iPad Keynote

Keynote / Mini Events

Apple hosted about 50 members of the media in New York City, in their ludicrously spacious Tribeca townhouse, to watch the keynote stream live. They had a hands-on area post-keynote, and a bunch of demos and briefings throughout the morning and early afternoon. It was nice. More low-key than the pre-COVID on-stage events (like the Brooklyn one in 2018, when they introduced the first retina MacBook Air and the 2018 iPad Pros), but low-key is good. Doing things in-person is good. (They held a similar event yesterday in London, too — which perhaps explains why they streamed the keynote at 7am PT.)

The New iPad Airs

No surprises here, but the big news is the addition of a 13-inch iPad Air to the lineup. Until last summer Apple’s only “big” MacBook was the 16-inch MacBook Pro (which starts at $2,500), and their only “big” iPad was the 13-inch iPad Pro (which, until yesterday, started at $1,100). If you wanted a big-screen MacBook or iPad you had to pay premium Pro prices, even if you didn’t need Pro features or performance. Last summer they introduced the 15-inch MacBook Air (starting price: $1,300) and now there’s the 13-inch iPad Air (starting price: $800).

There’s really not much else to say about the new iPad Airs. During the keynote, John Ternus described the iPad Air as getting features and components that were previously exclusive to the iPad Pro models, and that’s apt. But that means there’s not much new to talk about.

The New M4 iPad Pros

They are thin — really thin. It seems impossible that the new iPad Pros are thinner than an iPod Nano, but read the tech specs and weep:

For completeness:

The thinness is noticeable in hand, but the reduction in weight is even more noticeable. Per Apple’s specs, the new 13-inch iPad Pro weighs 579g, down from 682g in the 2022 models. That’s a sounds-too-good-to-be-true 15 percent reduction. The weight reduction for the 11-inch iPad Pros is less dramatic: 444g, down from 466g in the previous generation. (Those are Wi-Fi-only weights, but cellular networking adds only a meager 3–4g.)

Apple is advertising the new tandem OLED “Ultra Retina XDR” displays as “the world’s best displays”, full stop. From what I saw in the hands-on area yesterday, they indeed look terrific: bright, inky-black blacks (as you’d expect from any OLED displays), seemingly no problems with blooming or a halo effect. Generally though, Apple’s “best display” goes into the iPhone Pro, so purely as a guess, I’ll bet that the iPhone 16 Pro models get this display technology come September.

And, yes, the new iPad Pros have the M4, not the M3 chips that debuted just six months ago. This seems largely driven by moving to TSMC’s next-generation 3nm process, which brings efficiency gains compared to the first-generation 3nm process used to fabricate the A17 Pro and M3 family. In briefings yesterday, Apple reps emphasized, repeatedly, that these new iPad Pros could not have been built without the M4. The efficiency gains allowed Apple to make them remarkably thin and light, and more essentially, only the M4 has a display engine that can drive the new tandem OLED displays. This truly is one of those examples where Apple controlling the entire stack — their own silicon driving their own display design — puts their products in a league of their own. They couldn’t drive the new displays without the M4’s display controller and they wouldn’t have engineered that display controller if they hadn’t had these tandem OLED displays in mind.

Mark Gurman’s week-before scoop that these iPads might have the M4 is simply remarkable, even with the hedging around “might”. A hall of fame rumor scoop. Nobody else even spitballed such a notion. If not for Gurman it would have been a rather shocking surprise in the keynote. And my understanding is that Apple went to extraordinary lengths during development of these iPad Pros to keep the debut of the M4 under wraps. Apple folks are never ever happy about leaks, but this one in particular seemingly surprised them. But it also makes me wonder about reports — most prominently by Gurman himself — that these iPads were originally slated to launch in March, presumably just a few weeks after the launch of the M3 MacBook Airs, and just two months after the launch of the Vision Pro, which sports an M2. How soon after the launch of the M3 could the M4 have appeared? One thing I’m taking away from this is that it’s wrong to think about M-series generations as year-over-year annual iterations, like the A-series chips in iPhones. Rather, it seems like Apple is evolving the M-series chips in parallel, designing them with very specific but widely varied products in mind.

The iPad Family Lineup

Back in October, after Apple launched the Apple Pencil with USB-C, I wrote the following regarding the complexity and confusion in the iPad lineup:

Off the top of my head, what I’d like from Apple on the iPad front next year:

  • Drop the old 9th-gen iPad from the lineup. That iPad is so old it still has a home button.
  • Lower the price of the 10th-gen iPad by $100. (And maybe give it a speed bump from the A14 to A15 chip? But it’s probably wishful thinking to hope for a price cut and a newer chip.)
  • Update the iPad Air (and Mini?) models to be more like today’s iPad Pros, with Face ID instead of Touch ID.
  • Major revision of the iPad Pros, which haven’t seen a major form factor change since 2018. Put more pro in the iPad Pros, just like Apple has done with the iPhone 15 Pro models.
  • Update the Magic Keyboard, ideally in a way that continues to support both iPad Airs and 11-inch iPad Pros. The Magic Keyboard is a great idea, and I think a popular one. But it ought to be better — thinner, lighter, and more durable. (The white ones especially age quickly. Keep your eyes out for them in the wild, in cafes and airports — they often look quite grungy. Compare and contrast with MacBooks, which often look great even after years of daily use.) Mark Gurman has reported that just such a revision to the Magic Keyboard is in the works.

That would clarify the iPad’s three tiers: good (regular iPad, 10th-gen), better (iPad Air — the best choice for most people), and best (iPad Pros, with advanced new features and capabilities). The point should be to make the question “Which iPad should I buy?” as easy to answer as possible. I think Apple has made that question pretty easy to answer for iPhones, MacBooks, and Watches — and for peripherals like AirPods. Now do it for iPads.

Apple came pretty close to hitting every single item on my list yesterday. The only miss is that the new iPad Airs still use Touch ID, not Face ID. A few sources told me, after I wrote the above post in October, that Face ID components remain surprisingly expensive lo these many years after Face ID first appeared with the iPhone X in 2017, so I’m not surprised in the least that the iPad Airs still use Touch ID on the top button.

The only sore thumb in the entire iPad lineup is the iPad Mini, which, since it first appeared, has always been the least-frequently updated iPad. Compared to the 10th-gen regular-sized iPad, the iPad Mini seems expensive at $500. But the iPad Mini is more like a small iPad Air, with features like P3 wide color and an antireflective coating. And the current iPad Mini, despite being 2.5 years old, still has a faster chip than the 10th-gen iPad (A15 vs. A14).


StorageM4 iPad Pro 11″M2 iPad Air 11″iPad 10th-geniPad Mini 6th-gen
64 GB$350$500
128 GB$600
256 GB$1000$700$500$650
512 GB$1200$900
1 TB$1600$1100
2 TB$2000
11″ → 13″+300+200

* Available only with 1 or 2 TB storage.

A 13-inch M4 iPad Pro with 2 TB of storage, cellular networking, and the nano-texture display costs a cool $2,600.

Rounding up to 13

Praise Jeebus, Apple has decided to label the bigger iPads as “13-inch” rather than the more exact but far less graceful “12.9-inch”. Apple is more comfortable rounding down than up. Underpromise, overdeliver. Look at the tech specs for the 13-inch MacBook Air: the display is 13.6 inches, so it could credibly be rounded up to 14. But these product names are more like “size classes”, not specs. I’ve been referring to big iPad Pros as “13-inch” for a while now, on the same grounds as rounding up prices like $499 to $500. Glad to see Apple make it official though.

Pencil Proliferation

With yesterday’s introduction of the Apple Pencil Pro, Apple now has made, and continues to sell, four different Pencil models. I saw a lot of gripes yesterday that this is confusing — that there ought to be just one Pencil, or perhaps two at the most. But in practice I don’t think it’s all that confusing. You don’t start by buying a Pencil; you start by choosing an iPad, and then you buy a Pencil that goes with that iPad. Arguing that it’s confusing that different iPads support different Pencils is like saying it’s confusing that different iPhones require different cases. In real life you just buy a case that is designed for your specific phone model, and it’s not confusing at all that the Apple Store carries cases for several generations of iPhone models, each in two different sizes.

I mean in theory, it would be better if there were one Pencil that worked with all iPads. And it stinks that if you have a Pencil 2 already, you can’t use it with a new iPad Pro or Air. But the mistake that prevents Apple from being able to offer just one Pencil has nothing to do with any of the Pencil models, but instead was the company’s yearslong resistance to moving the front-facing camera on iPads from the short side (like an iPhone) to the long side (like a laptop).

From my brief hands-on time, the haptic feedback and new squeeze gesture on the new Pencil Pro are just great. And for illustrators and calligraphers, the support for rotating the barrel to rotate the on-screen pen nib is very cool. On the cusp of the keynote I offhandedly hoped for the ability to turn the new Pencil upside down to get the eraser tool, but this squeeze gesture and the new radial menu of Pencil tools that appears contextually under the current pen location is a better idea. Upside down eraser support would offer a shortcut for just one tool; the squeeze menu gives you a shortcut to all tools.

I suspect naming the new Pencil “Pencil Pro” is a downstream effect of the fact that Apple needs to keep selling the Pencil 2. (People who own years-old iPads still buy new Pencils.) But Apple never printed the “2” on the Pencil 2 barrel — it just says “ Pencil”. And physically, the new Pencil Pro is indistinguishable from the Pencil 2 — same size, same color, same texture. They even use the same replacement tips. So if they had named it “Pencil 3” but still printed only “ Pencil” on the barrel, anyone who owned both models wouldn’t be able to tell them apart. So “ Pencil Pro” it is, even though it works with the new non-pro iPad Airs.

Also: the new Pencil Pro supports Find My. Unsurprising, but nice.


  • Anyone playing a drinking game that required taking a shot for each mention of “AI” or “machine learning” during the keynote probably passed out before it ended.

  • There’s just one rear-facing camera on the new iPad Pros. The previous generation had two: wide (1×) and ultra-wide (0.5×). I’m not sure what to make of that other than conceding that iPads don’t really need multiple cameras. I can’t recall ever — not even once — wishing that my personal iPad Pro from 2018 had an ultra-wide lens in addition to the main 1× camera. Perhaps this omission helped Apple shrink the camera bump on the new iPad Pros, and/or reduce the overall thickness?

  • Apple is, for the first time, offering a nano-texture display option for the new iPad Pros. It costs an additional $100 and is only offered with the 1 and 2 TB storage configurations. I liked the way it looked in my limited hands-on time yesterday, and it didn’t seem problematic fingerprint-wise. I did not get the chance to try the nano-texture display with a Pencil, alas, but I can’t help but suspect it offers an at least slightly more paper-like feel. One oddity: only the display has the texture — the black bezel surrounding the display is glossy. The delineation between the glossy bezel and textured display area is both easy to see and easy to feel. In a sunny room with glare from the windows, I thought that looked odd: obvious reflections and glare on the bezel, but no reflections or glare on the display content area. With the nano-texture versions of the Pro Display XDR and Studio Display, the nano-texture finish includes the bezel area — except for one tiny glossy spot on the Studio Display in front of the FaceTime camera lens. Perhaps with all the various sensors for Face ID and the front-facing camera, leaving the entire bezel glossy was deemed a better trade-off than making several glossy cutouts. (No notch on iPads.)

  • Apple is doing some chip-binning with the iPad Pros. The 256 and 512 GB models have 9-core CPUs (3 performance, 6 efficiency) and 8 GB of RAM. The 1 and 2 TB models have 10-core CPUs (4 performance, 6 efficiency) and 16 GB of RAM. (The new iPad Airs all have the same M2 chip with 8 GB of RAM.)

  • I still have no idea how the event name “Let Loose” is applicable to any of yesterday’s announcements. But sometimes a name is just a name.