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An iPad Pro “Pro Mode” may sound nice, but it all depends

An iPad Pro “Pro Mode” may sound nice, but it all depends

Apple may be planning to offer many consumers what they long asked for... with some caveats
Two different sources suggesting that Apple could be working on a “Pro Mode” function for iPadOS, both in the space of a few days, is too much of a coincidence, isn’t it? (Daniel Romero, Unsplash)

Well, never let it be said that the expression of our hopes and dreams about using the iPad Pro as a true productivity tool, our incessant nagging about it or our eventual frustration at it not happening fall on deaf ears at Apple’s headquarters — at least if certain U.S. Patent and Trademark Office documents are to be believed. Patently Apple tracked down a patent application the company filed a few days ago describing an iPad accessory that “triggers” a different iPadOS graphical user interface not unlike macOS, in the sense that it allows for several floating windows open, a menu bar and a desktop where icons can be placed freely. What the patent describes is not a different or separate operating system: it is iPadOS changing to a more macOS-like form when an iPad is connected to this tablet keyboard/trackpad accessory.

As is always the case, of course, patents represent ideas and concepts that may or may not see the light of day as actual products. But this particular patent application Apple just filed comes a few days after Bloomberg’s reporter Mark Gurman — one of the most trustworthy sources about the company’s future plans — suggested something eerily similar as a solution to the iPad Pro software problem.

Gurman is of the opinion that the iPad Pro needs a “Pro Mode” function: when Apple’s most powerful tablet is connected to a Magic Keyboard-like accessory or an external display, the traditional touch-first user interface of iPadOS could transform into a macOS-like one, complete with proper multitasking, multiple application windows, a dynamic dock, desktop folders and files, maybe even dynamic widgets and always-active miniature apps.

A very Apple solution to an obvious Apple problem

Both Gurman’s suggestion and the aforementioned patent filed describe something that is, admittedly, an Apple-like approach: a round-about solution to a problem that’s difficult and complicated in more ways than one. That solution may or may not satisfy consumers, but it will most probably be the only one they are going to get because Apple will absolutely not give them what they actually asked for.

Apple knows by now that the way iPadOS currently works is costing the company hardware sales, so some serious changes in the future do make sense. (Image: Sayan Majhi, Unsplash)

What yours truly and many others were excited about when the first M1-based iPad Pro was announced was the possibility of this particular model offering a dual-boot option to macOS and access to the actual applications of that computer operating system. That option would be ideal, offering the best of both worlds — traditional iPad apps and macOS applications — on the same device. Technically speaking, something along those lines is definitely doable.

After more than a year, though, it’s rather clear that Apple will not go down that road either because it deems this approach too much of a security risk (a jailbroken iPad Pro with access to macOS would not be something the company would like to see) or because it does not want to deprive its laptop business of potentially higher sales through a macOS-capable iPad Pro. So what Apple seemingly plans to offer is an alternate “version” of the iPadOS that can “mimic” many aspects of the macOS, but remain as locked down and safe as the company prefers it. Well, as “safe” and “locked down” as an OS that’s been jailbroken numerous times in the past can be anyway.

It’s all a matter of how exactly, isn’t it?

Since all of this is based on decidedly hazy evidence at this point, there’s a lot we do not know about the way Apple would choose to implement such an iPad Pro “Pro Mode”. Would it only be compatible with M1-based models? Rumor has it that this will indeed be the case (and it makes obvious sense), but those now include non-Pro, regular iPad Air models — so how “Pro” that Mode will end up being? Would this “Pro Mode” be triggered by Magic Keyboard-like peripherals only or could it be used with any wireless keyboard and mouse? The latter would be preferable in the eyes of many consumers, yours truly included, as it’s much less restrictive of an approach.

The rumored iPad “Pro Mode” discussed here would affect the way these tablets are marketed by Apple in the future, so a half-baked, not well-thought-out implementation won’t do. (Ernest Ojeh, Unsplash)

The most important question, though, is the obvious one: will this theoretical “Pro Mode” allow the use of full-fat macOS applications or will it just be forcing traditional iPad apps into working in “windowed mode”? The former seems unlikely since those would normally require a macOS kernel and file system, but — truth be told — that’s what most of us would like to see. Regular iPad apps would still be holding the iPad Pro back in terms of functionality, despite the improved user interface. Or maybe some form of emulator — kind of how Rosetta works but on the same hardware — would do the trick, allowing for the execution of macOS applications directly, without the underlying layers of the full OS…?

Almost everything about this theoretical “Pro Mode” for the iPad Pro is a big question mark at the moment. The good news: WWDC 2022, Apple’s software-focused event of the year, is less than a month away. If the Cupertino giant does plan to introduce such a mode in the upcoming iPadOS 16 in September, then it will talk about it on June 6th. If, on the other hand, such a big change in the OS the best iPads are based on is not that far into development yet, then we’ll have to wait more than a year for it… which would admittedly not help Apple’s case at all. Four weeks to go, then. Excited?

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