iPad Pro: Not a Question of If, Son, but Which One?

My esteemed colleague Julio Ojeda-Zapata knows that you should buy an iPad Pro if you’re in the market for a new tablet, but which model? The 12.9-inch model has a beautiful screen and faster performance, while the 9.7-inch model is a bit lighter and offers the True Tone display (and a wider color gamut).

In this TidBITS article, Julio breaks down the differences and spotlights the advantages of each: Comparing iPad Pro Technologies and Intangibles.

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Raw Support Coming to iOS 10

Well now, this is interesting. PetaPixel spotted a feature in one of the slides during yesterday’s WWDC keynote that reads: “RAW photo editing.” We don’t yet know the details, but if iOS finally supports raw images, that could be a giant leap for mobile photo workflows. Raw is typically where the iPad has thrown a wrench into the works (as I describe in my book and elsewhere).

iOS 10 is available now to developers, with a public beta coming in July. The update will be available for everyone in the fall when we’ll see new iPhone models. I would bet (and the PetaPixel article brings up) that we’ll see some sort of raw capture on the new iPhones and perhaps the iPad, too.

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ColorSync Support in iOS 9.3 (!)

Truetone cool warm

Shortly after Apple announced the new 9.7-inch iPad Pro, I wrote a very quick take on the new True Tone display feature. True Tone automatically adjusts the color temperature of the iPad’s screen to complement the ambient light of your surroundings. For example, have you ever been in a room with warm light and checked email on an iPad, only to lose your eyeballs from the cool-bright burst of light? (Maybe I exaggerate…) True Tone is the answer to that.

However, my initial reaction as a photographer was wariness. If the color of the screen is changing depending on my environment, how can I do any sort of accurate editing? I confirmed that this will be a setting that can be turned off. And I continue to wait until I can get my hands on a device and test it out.

Well, True Tone turns out to be a lot more interesting. Developer Craig Hockenberry noted that the expanded color gamut of the 9.7-inch iPad Pro is just the beginning:

In order to make the effect work, iOS needs color management. And with iOS 9.3, that capability is now here—and open for other developers to work with:

The Open Radar report Craig created notes that iOS 9.3 now supports ColorSync, the technology found in OS X for managing color profiles.

Additionally, starting with iOS 9.3 ColorSync support was added to UIKit.

I’ve noticed that it works correctly for both UIColor in a UILabel and with a UIImage in a UIImageView. Are there any other places where ICC profiles are used?

In a conversation with Apple engineers, I also learned that some older devices do not match color. That’s fine, but devices should be listed so our apps can adapt gracefully to this situation.

Why is color management important? Until now, every iOS device ships with just one color profile, sRGB, which is a good general color space for drawing color on screens. The problem is that not all screens are built the same: the photo you view on your laptop may look different on a desktop monitor, which may look different still on a mobile device. Color management is a way to adjust each of those screens so that the image you’re working on remains consistent.

Apple’s screens are generally very good, but for photographers and other visual artists and designers, the inability to adjust the color profile has meant that the iPad is excluded from any serious image-processing workflows.

Now, with true color management possible on the iPad Pro, the tablet may find a place in that chain, and perhaps photographers will be able to do final adjustment work on an iPad instead of bringing a laptop.

We’ll see when the 9.7-inch iPad Pro begins to ship. As Craig notes in his report, it’s not clear whether this capability extends to other hardware or if this iPad Pro is the only one. But with a ColorSync foundation in iOS, it puts more “Pro” into iPad Pro.

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The 9.7-inch iPad Pro and the Missing USB 3 Speed

iPad Pro with SD Adapter side

I write this knowing that it sounds like I have a particularly odd spec fixation, but it’s something my brain keeps coming back to.

The newly-announced 9.7-inch iPad Pro (yes, that’s the official name) is in many ways just like the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, but with a different-sized screen. They’re both powered by A9X processors and M9 coprocessors; both support the Apple Pencil; both have four speakers that adapt to how the device is being held; and both claim up to 10 hours of battery life.

In some ways, the 9.7-inch model improves upon the larger one:

  • The True Tone display technology that adapts the color temperature of the screen based on the ambient lighting
  • A wider color gamut (the DCI-P3 color space, which is also used by the 5K iMac)
  • Better cameras—a 12 megapixel (MP) iSight camera with Focus Pixels on the back, and a 5 MP FaceTime camera on the front
  • A screen that Apple says is 40 percent less reflective than an iPad Air 2 (hooray!)

But in one crucial way—especially for photographers—the 9.7-inch iPad Pro lags behind the 12.9-inch model, and it’s almost enough to make me pause. Tucked at the bottom of the description for the Lightning to USB 3 Camera Adapter is this caveat (emphasis mine):

The 12.9-inch iPad Pro transfers data at USB 3 speeds, while the 9.7-inch iPad Pro uses USB 2.

With so many shared components, why does the smaller model get stuck with slow file transfers?

If we were talking about laptops or desktops, this would be a bigger deal, because there are more occasions when you transfer data over USB. Looking at broader iPad usage, really not a lot of data passes through the Lightning connector other than if you sync to a computer using iTunes. Most people don’t need it.

But for photographers who want to transfer photos for review or editing from a camera to the iPad, this is almost crippling.

When I reviewed the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, I made a short comparison video showing import speeds using the old SD card adapter and the new USB 3-capable one. Transferring 1.5 GB of image files took 30 seconds via USB 3 and 2 minutes 20 seconds via USB 2. That’s the actual data transfer; just moving image thumbnails so I could preview the photos before importing took 23 seconds via USB 3 and 1 minute 16 seconds via USB 2.

That effectively means that when you want to transfer photos to the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, you need to also come up with something else to do while that’s happening, because it’s not going to be quick. (And the 9.7-inch model also doesn’t benefit from the fast charging feature in the 12.9-inch model using an Apple 29W USB-C Power Adapter and a USB-C to Lightning cable.)

Other methods of getting photos onto an iPad are available, such as transferring them via Wi-Fi to a camera or adapter that creates its own network or bouncing images to a cloud service like iCloud Photo Library or Lightroom mobile, but those aren’t as fast or reliable as a direct cable connection.

I don’t know Apple’s reasoning for demoting this promising new iPad in this way. Perhaps it’s a component space issue, having less room to fill compared to the 12.9-inch model. I hope it’s not a case of Apple wanting to eke out an extra 97-cents of profit by using cheaper parts. Is it an incentive to convince customers to spend more by buying a 12.9-inch iPad Pro? I hope to find out.

Putting a USB 2-speed Lightning port in the new 9.7-inch iPad Pro doesn’t doom it. My main reason for upgrading to one from my original iPad Air is for overall performance and the ability to use the Apple Pencil. But it does disappoint me that Apple could make a really fantastic tool for photographers by nudging it in a few directions—OS-level raw file support as in OS X, color profiles to bring the iPad into color management workflows, USB 3 speeds. [Update: And, ugh, it has just 2 GB of RAM, not 4 GB like the 12.9-inch model.]

I also recognize that those items really affect a small number of iPad owners. But as Apple says in their 9.7-inch iPad Pro video, “It’s where we believe personal computing is going.”

I just wish that could be a destination, and not just a direction.

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iPad Pro 9.7-inch and the Curious True Tone Display

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Apple today introduced a 9.7-inch version of the iPad Pro, and I think it’s the next iPad for me. Although I really liked the larger iPad Pro (see my review in the Seattle Times), I found myself drawn more to the traditional size of my trusty iPad Air. It was better for reading and certainly better for carrying around (considering that the iPad is not my main computer; your mileage may vary).

The new iPad has just about everything the larger iPad Pro does: faster A9X processor, four great speakers, Apple Pencil support, a Retina display (at 2048 by 1536 pixels), better cameras, and—surprisingly important to me—a Touch ID sensor; my little iPad Air is the first generation, which does not have Touch ID.

But there are also two details that I’m looking forward to learning more about and experiencing in person. The iPad Pro page reads:

A color standard big enough for Hollywood.

The 9.7-inch iPad Pro display uses the same color space as the digital cinema industry. This wider color gamut gives iPad Pro up to 25 percent greater color saturation than previous iPad models. So colors are more vivid, true to life, and engaging.

This sounds very gee-whizzy, and the optimist in me wonders if this could actually be a step toward having color profiles. The realist in me is pretty sure it means the display technology is just improved, and there’s just the one default (as has always been the case with the iPad models).

The other new feature, though, is even more interesting:

See things in the best possible light. Whatever the lighting.

People love using iPad everywhere. That’s why the new 9.7‑inch iPad Pro has a True Tone display. It uses advanced four-channel ambient light sensors to automatically adapt the color and intensity of the display to match the light in your environment. Which means reading is more natural and comfortable — almost like looking at a sheet of paper.

In theory, this sounds great! How often have we turned on the iPad and been blinded by brightness or the stark white of a minimalist app? Making the viewing experience more comfortable in a variety of lighting conditions is quite cool.

For photographers, though, this sounds like a giant hassle. If the color temperature of the screen is changing based on surroundings, that means colors are going to shift. Viewing and editing photos becomes more of a crap-shoot. I hope there’s an option to disable this feature (or maybe there will be an API call that would enable developers of photo-editing software to turn it off while the app is running). [Update: I confirmed with Apple that you can turn off the feature in Settings.]

We’ll see. I’m looking forward to some hands-on time with the device to check these out in person.

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PhotosApp.Expert on iPad Mobile Workflow

The iPad Pro is prompting us to revisit mobile photo workflows using an iPad, and PhotosApp.Expert has just published a great overview of options: The Quest for a Viable iOS RAW Workflow. Definitely check it out.

I have an article coming soon for Macworld about how the iPad Pro stacks up for iPhoto photo workflows; I’ll post a link when it’s published.

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Quick Lightning to SD Card Adapter Speed Comparison

I’ve just received Apple’s newest Lightning to SD Card adapter, which provides USB 3 speeds when transferring photos to an iPad Pro (see more here).

I performed a quick import of 40 Raw+JPEG images totaling 1.5 GB of data using the new adapter and the old one on an iPad Pro. Watch here:

Results:

Loading thumbnail previews

Old/USB 2: 01:16

2015/USB 3: 00:23

Importing Images

Old/USB 2: 02:20

2015/USB 3: 00:30

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iPad Pro Lightning Port Is USB 3 Speed

Update, Nov. 12, 2015: I just confirmed with a source at Apple that there are forthcoming adapters that take advantage of the USB 3 speeds, but they aren’t yet confirming when they will ship. That’s bare-bones Apple-ese for “Yep, and you’ll find out more when we’re ready.”

As iPad Pro units are now shipping, people are discovering the USB 3 hardware and testing copy speeds between the iPad Pro and computers.

Original post, Sep. 11, 2015:

I learned a little tidbit from a source today: the Lightning port on the upcoming iPad Pro will transfer data at USB 3 speeds, faster than current iPads. 

That’s potentially good news for photographers and videographers who import images and video clips from SD cards or cameras directly to the iPad for editing and reviewing. I don’t know offhand if the existing Lightning camera adapters will also support that speed or if new adapters will be required. But it’s a welcome change for those of us who have spent many many minutes waiting for media to transfer before we can act on it.

I can’t wait to learn more details as we get closer to the November release date.

Related: I’m running a survey to see how photographers are using the iPad in their workflows. It takes just a couple of minutes, and you could win a bundle of three of my latest books. Click here to take the survey.

The iPad for Photographers survey results are here.

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iPad Pro Reviews Roundup

IPadPro Pencil Lifestyle1

The iPad Pro is now officially available: order it from the Apple Store or use the Apple Store app, and possibly even pick one up at your closest Apple Retail store if it’s in stock.

Apple is sending a review unit to me at the end of the week, so for now I must scour the reviews of others to see what this new beast is like. So far I’m excited about it. Here are some of the reviews I’ve liked so far. Look for an article from me next week (or the week after) at Macworld about how the iPad Pro stacks up specifically for photographers.

  • Ben Bajarin at Techpinions, The iPad Pro: The Start of Something New:
    [I]f all we do is look for the iPad Pro to replace our desktop or laptop, we are missing the point. The paradigm of a fixed desktop computer plus a portable desktop computer, along with a mouse and keyboard as a primary input mechanism, is the old world of computing. I believe Apple has laid the groundwork for something new in this category. (Disclaimer: I helped edit this piece.)
  • Matthew Panzarino at TechCrunch, iPad Pro and the Death of a Metaphor: “iPads have little to no known malware, no bloatware to make a machine run slower, strict allowances for utilizing standing system resources and known hardware. What happens when you have a capable general consumer computing device, with no moving parts and software that is designed explicitly for the maximum capabilities of the device and no more? No one knows. It’s literally never happened before.”
  • John Gruber at Daring Fireball, The iPad Pro: “For me, the iPad Pro marks the turning point where iPads are no longer merely lightweight (both physically and conceptually) alternatives to MacBooks for use in simple scenarios, to where MacBooks will now start being seen as heavyweight alternatives to iPads for complex scenarios.”
  • Federico Viticci at MacStories, iPad Pro Review: A New Canvas: “This is less of a ‘just for media consumption’ device than any iPad before it. The iPad Pro is, primarily, about getting work done on iOS. And with such a focus on productivity, the iPad Pro has made rethink what I expect from an iPad.”

Not a review, but an acute observation by Rich Mogull:

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Survey Results: The State of the iPad for Photographers 2015

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I started September with a question: How are people using the iPad with their photography? Is it really an invaluable addition to one’s camera bag, or is it an occasionally useful item? Is it even being used at all? Sales of iPads have been steadily dropping over the past couple of years, though I think that has more to do with the fact that people aren’t buying new iPads at the same rate as new iPhones. (Any company would kill for even Apple’s “low” sales numbers of iPads, but that’s a rant for another day.)

In 2011, I saw the potential of the iPad as a photographer’s tool and wrote the first edition of The iPad for Photographers, which detailed how you could review photos you capture using other cameras (at the time, the iPad 2 had only just come out, the first model to include an admittedly terrible camera), apply metadata to them to streamline the tagging process, and of course edit and share them—all without using a desktop or laptop computer. I published, in cooperation with my friends at Peachpit Press, two subsequent editions of the book.

So how are you using the iPad in 2015? I created a survey to find out, and the results are in some ways unexpected and other ways surprising. I encourage you to view the full results, but here’s the short version:

  • Most people who import photos to the iPad do so using the wired Camera Connection Kit (older iPads) or Lightning SD Card or USB adapters. Almost as many sync via iCloud, Lightroom mobile, Google Photos, or some other cloud service. The number of folks transferring photos directly from a camera’s built-in Wi-Fi feature was about half of those others, but considering how long it’s taken companies to implement Wi-Fi into cameras, the number is larger than I expected.
  • People rarely assign ratings or favorites to elevate the good photos from the not-so-good. I suspect this is because the process of importing photos onto the iPad is still time-consuming.
  • Most people don’t bother with any additional metadata. The fact that the apps designed for doing so (such as Photosmith and PhotosInfoPro) have all gone dormant bears this out.
  • More effort seems to be going into editing photos, and of the tools available, Snapseed is the leader, followed by Lightroom mobile and Apple’s built-in Photos app.
  • Surprisingly, the iPad Air 2 was the most-used model—the latest model available at the time the survey was posted. I expected that there would be a broader spread of older models. Of those, a little more than half were Wi-Fi–only models. The 64 GB configuration is the sweet spot in terms of storage.

A quick but important caveat: The survey attracted just 132 responses, which is less than I hoped, but it at least provides a window into the preferences of those who chose to take the survey.

Conclusions

The iPad is strong on editing, but the effort needed to get to that point is greater than it should be. That means using an iPad as a field companion—appealing especially for people who don’t want to tote a laptop along—is possible, but it’s hampered by slow ingest and limited storage. Perhaps the iPad Pro, which will offer USB 3 speeds through its Lightning port, may improve this.

I’m not too surprised that the Cloud has turned into a preferred method of moving photos onto the iPad, although of course the usefulness depends entirely on your current Internet connection—likely fine when you’re at home on the couch, but not so great in remote locations.

And, lastly, no one is using the iPad to apply metadata. This is the top request I hear from professional photographers, but I don’t think most regular people are doing it. Perhaps services like Google Photos, which comes up with its own metadata based on automated visual searches of photos, is the future here. I still believe that metadata is a powerful thing for photos, regardless of your photo skill level or interest; in my book Take Control of Your Digital Photos on a Mac, Second Edition, I present a painless way to do it on the Mac.

The big question as I write this is how, or if, the iPad Pro will affect the field. Apple still hasn’t implemented any type of raw format support into iOS, which reduces the Pro’s appeal for many photographers in terms of editing, although perhaps the iPad Pro will be fast and powerful enough to run an app such as PiRAWhna smoothly. We’ll have to see.

The survey results appear below. Thank you to everyone who took the time to take the survey and share their comments!

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