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iPad Pro Accessories Review: Apple Pencil, Smart Keyboard, Logitech CREATE Keyboard

Ready to conquer Rome.

Ready to conquer Rome.

A fundamental part of the iPad Pro experience is the new range of accessories created by Apple and the framework the company has opened up to third-party manufacturers with the Smart Connector.

While Apple has been making iPad accessories since the very first iPad, the new Smart Connector has allowed the company to rethink how an external keyboard should connect to the device and interact with iOS, and they're giving third-parties the ability to do the same with new types of accessories. Meanwhile, the Pencil marks Apple's debut in the field of pens and styli for iPad, with several unique twists.

Alongside an iPad Pro review unit, Apple also provided me with an Apple Pencil, a Smart Keyboard, and, to my surprise, a Logitech CREATE keyboard case that connects to the device with the new Smart Connector. Because I don't plan to use these accessories on a daily basis (I'm not an artist, I rarely have to sketch and annotate documents, and I mostly use the software keyboard when writing articles), I have collected a few thoughts in this standalone article.

You can find my impressions below.

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iPad Pro Review: A New Canvas

For the past two years, I've been reconsidering my preconceptions on large screens.

Back in 2013, I thought the iPad mini would always be the perfect iPad for me. After the technologically outdated debut of the first iPad mini, the second-generation model iterated on almost every aspect of the device, offering a masterful blend of portability and strengths of the iOS platform. I couldn't see myself switching to a full-size iPad again.

And then iOS 9 happened. Or rather, it started becoming clear – from multiple angles and sources – what would eventually happen to iOS for iPad, which had long stagnated in a state of close resemblance to the iPhone's interface. In hindsight, looking back at my iPad's history through a mere technological lens, upgrading to the iPad Air 2 in 2014 was a safe bet: a year later, the device that seemed even too powerful for iOS 8 would be the only one to fully support iOS 9's new multitasking features on day one.

I was uncertain about switching from the iPad mini to the Air 2 as a future-proofing tactic for my iOS experience, but the decision paid off. I didn't know I'd be able to get work done faster and more comfortably on the bigger iPad Air 2 until I got one. The iPad Air 2 became my primary computer.

On both the iPhone and iPad, I've discovered that I like big screens and I'm not affected by portability concerns. Moving to the iPad Air 2 and upgrading to the iPhone 6 Plus has been instrumental to assemble a setup that makes me more efficient on a daily basis.

It's with this mindset that I approached the iPad Pro, which I've been using for the last eight days since getting a review unit from Apple last week. Announced in September alongside the iPhone 6s, the iPad Pro has been presented by the company as the future of computing, promising to deliver desktop-class performance in a tablet form factor and expanding the range of input sources beyond multitouch with new accessories.

More practical questions have been making me ponder my taste in iPads again for the past two months. Is the iPad Pro too big for me? Can it really take another leap and outclass the iPad Air 2 in my daily usage of iOS 9? And with an iPad this big, are the portability perks of the 9.7-inch tablet inevitably lost?

I've spent the past week trying to find out. I set up a clean installation of iOS 9.1 on the iPad Pro with the apps I use every day (Editorial, Tweetbot, 2Do, Slack, Newsify, Outlook, and Notes – just to name a few), tested several third-party apps with iPad Pro-specific optimizations, and used accessories Apple gave me alongside the review unit – a Pencil, a Smart Keyboard, and the new Logitech CREATE keyboard case. I've used the iPad Pro as my only computer in lieu of the iPad Air 2, and I've observed how its hardware and software changes altered my workflow and physical interactions.

There's a lot to discuss about the iPad Pro, and I'll have to continue unwrapping the nature of this device for weeks to come. But I want to make one thing clear from the outset:

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 me rethink what I expect from an iPad.

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How the 6s Plus Is Reshaping My iPhone Experience

In April, I settled an argument with myself. After years of assuming that a small and compact phone was what I wanted, I realized that the iPhone 6 Plus was the pocket computer for me. The size, harder one-handed operations, software slowdowns caused by memory constraints and resolution downsampling – ultimately, none of those potential 6 Plus issues pushed me to reconsider my decision. I had adjusted to the hybrid nature of the iPhone 6 Plus, and I couldn't go back.

My physical traits and lifestyle habits meet the prerequisites necessary to use a 6 Plus on a daily basis. My hands are big enough for size not to be a deal breaker; I'm no longer constrained by obligatory one-handed operations; and generally, when I need to use my iPhone, I can use two hands for a better grip or faster interactions, and I don't mind it.

I say "hybrid" as a callback to how many refer to the 6 Plus, but I don't mean it in a pejorative light for the iPad. Since I switched to the 6 Plus in February, my use cases for the iPhone and iPad Air 2 have continued to be distinct and well-suited for the nature of each platform.

The iPad Air 2 is my primary computer, which I use to write and publish articles, manage MacStories, play games, read, and every other activity I used to perform on a Mac. The Air 2 has the unique advantage of being a truly portable computer, and it's my most used iOS device to date.

The iPhone is the pocket computer for everyday life. It's my camera. It's my home remote. It's Twitter and Slack. It's my health companion. I value my iPad immensely (I wouldn't be able to write this article without it), but the iPhone holds the key to my mobile lifestyle.

The iPhone is the hub around which everything revolves. Even the iPad – my computer – orbits the iPhone.

Based on lessons from the past few months, I knew getting an iPhone 6s Plus would be the best option for me. As I've witnessed, the Plus-sized iPhone and the iPad Air 2 don't compete with each other in my life: they complement each other's strengths. While I have sometimes traded one device for the capabilities of the other (such as reading on my iPhone instead of the iPad), I use each device for what it's best at, and I've never once doubted the role of the iPad in my daily workflow. I'm fine with a big iPhone, and I'm doing well with a big iPad. I like big screens. They're comfy.

As I outlined in my review, the most evident drawback of the iPhone 6 Plus was the inability to keep up with iOS 8. Whatever the reason – and no matter the performance improvements that Apple promised throughout the OS' update cycle – the iPhone 6 Plus always felt behind iOS 8, exhibiting stuttering animations, constantly purging recent apps from memory, and, generally, being sluggish.

It was reasonable, then, to wait for an S-class upgrade that would iron out the kinks and offer a more complete vision of the 5.5-inch iPhone. More RAM, an updated processor, an improved camera; faster multitasking, faster apps, faster everything. That's what I wanted. And knowing Apple – or, at least, knowing their penchant for a regular dose of small surprises – I assumed they'd throw in some seemingly minor but welcome new features for good measure as well.

The iPhone 6s Plus delivers on all these fronts, going beyond the "S stands for Speed" philosophy that is inexorably repeated every two years with changes I didn't expect.

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OS X 10.11 El Capitan: The MacStories Review

In 2013 Apple left behind the decade old big cat naming scheme for major releases of its flagship desktop operating system. It set its sights instead on inspirational places in California. Beginning with Mavericks, a California surfing spot, OS X then moved on to Yosemite, the beloved national park. In this year's new release, Apple eschewed another big move in exchange for seeking greater heights within the bounds of last year's stomping ground.

Since the introduction of Yosemite last fall, Apple has faced some rough times in the press. While the company is well adjusted to the doomsday chicanery constantly tossed about by the mainstream tech media, this year the calls were coming from inside the house. Well known developers and tech bloggers who have historically been accused 1 of ingratiation with the Cupertino company, were stepping out to bring attention to a growing feeling of dissatisfaction in its software.

Software is a field which has classically been one of Apple's strong suits. Shave off ten seconds on startup and save a dozen lives. Yet recent years have brought debacles such as Apple Maps in iOS 6 and discoveryd, as well as many smaller issues such as random crashing in iOS, lost music files, and stingy iCloud storage.

The consensus that seemed to be reached when these issue came to a head this January was a plea to Apple to just slow down. While Apple's hardware division has proven themselves capable of firing on all cylinders year after year, their software division has not quite been keeping up. They could use a year to regroup, focus on existing features, and hold off on any major leaps forward. In essence, a Snow Leopard kind of year.

Thankfully, in what seems to be establishing itself as a pleasant trend of late, Apple has been listening.

discoveryd was reverted in the final update to Yosemite, Apple Music has some homework to do, and Apple Maps has picked up the last of its major missing features. Siri is getting faster, iCloud storage prices have gone down, and Notification Center widgets which launch other apps are being allowed into the App Store.

With the difficult, but necessary changes seen in iOS 7 and 8 and OS X 10.9 and 10.10 out of the way, Apple may finally have a chance to take advantage of some breathing room and address the features they've been neglecting.

With all this in mind, it's no surprise that OS X 10.11 is named after a mountain which can be found inside Yosemite National Park.

El Capitan marks an end to Apple's relentless march forward, opting instead for a calm retrospective on the applications and underlying frameworks which have been the keystones of the operating system for years. Portentous in its own restraint, 10.11 canonizes those small but significant features that enrich the OS X experience in daily use. Shaving off seconds and bandaging cuts, El Capitan is the operating system we've been looking for.

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  1. Without merit, but accused nonetheless. 

watchOS 2: The MacStories Review

On September 9th, 2014, Apple CEO Tim Cook took the stage at the Flint Center for the Performing Arts in Cupertino. This was the very same stage on which, 30 years earlier, a young Steve Jobs had introduced the original Macintosh to the world. The Apple of 2014 was a very different company. Loved and hated, famous and infamous, indomitable and doomed. The only statement about the tech giant that might avoid contestation was that it could not be ignored.

The 9th would be a rubicon for Tim Cook. The late Steve Jobs had helmed the company through every one of its unparalleled series of epochal products. This was the day on which Cook would announce the first new product to come out of Apple since Jobs' passing. A product that media pundits everywhere were sure to use as a scapegoat to prove or disprove the quality of his leadership.

The words "One More Thing..." overtook the screen, met by raucous applause from the expectant audience. Uncontrolled excitement burst through Cook's normally calm demeanor as he presented the introduction to his hard work. "It is the next chapter in Apple's story," Cook boldly stated before leaving the stage. The ensuing video gave the world its first look at the Apple Watch.

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    iOS 9 and Accessibility: My 5 Favorite Details

    I've made the case more than once that accessibility, conceptually, is not a domain exclusive to the disabled. Certainly, persons with disabilities will always be the target market for accessibility features, but I think many fully-abled people overlook the fact that accessibility features can help them too. To me, the canonical example is larger text. Yes, something like Large Dynamic Type is a boon to the visually impaired, but it can also benefit someone with aging or tired eyes.

    In a similar vein, accessibility isn't solely about discrete Accessibility features. While a big part of my writing involves reporting on iOS' (and watchOS') Accessibility features and how they affect users, I do make an effort to focus and write on the smaller aspects of accessibility. That is to say, I try to find accessibility in less obvious places – for instance, how technologies like Touch ID and Force Touch impact the disabled.

    This concept has extended to my testing of the iOS 9 public beta throughout the summer. As I've gotten used to the new operating system on my iPhone 6 and iPad Air, I've come to notice several details that aren't intentionally for accessibility, but nonetheless make the experience more accessible (and more enjoyable).

    With that in mind, here are five "little things" in iOS 9 that stand out the most.

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    What’s New for iOS Management in iOS 9

    Since the early days of iOS, Apple has always made it relatively easy to configure iOS devices to meet the needs of managed deployments in schools, businesses, and other mass-deployment situations. Heck, even the good old iPod Classic had a "museum mode" that could lock down the device to show specific notes on the screen while audio played.

    Over the past few years, iOS deployment has become more 'professionalised' – which might be a euphemism for 'complicated'. Honestly, all mass computer deployment is deeply complex when you get down to it. The best systems automate almost everything. iOS deployment, as it has developed in recent years, has tended to keep most of the moving parts close to the surface. These parts have been difficult or impossible to automate and easy to overlook or forget. That would be fine if most of these parts were optional, but they're not.

    The main parts of an iOS deployment are a Mobile Device Management server for configuring and tracking your devices, the Volume Purchase Program for bulk-buying apps from the App Store, and the user of the device having an Apple ID.

    When Apple launched the Volume Purchase Program, they introduced the ability for administrators to assign apps to users' Apple IDs, rather than to devices. This also introduced the requirement that every device have a single, identifiable user who has a working Apple ID.

    This was quite a good idea in the early days of iOS in the enterprise. These were days when users were bringing their own iOS devices to work and businesses had to make apps available to them. It wasn't such a good idea for more centrally-managed deployments where the use of the device was perhaps more task-oriented than user-oriented. Think: supermarket employee who picks up one of twenty available iPads to do stock control. It also wasn't great for schools, where many users didn't have Apple IDs and there were no tools for bulk creation of said accounts.

    I would love to tell you that iOS 9 fixes all of these problems. Unfortunately, I can't tell you that. What iOS 9 does is fix one problem while introducing another.

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    iOS 9 Goes to School

    I have been deploying and teaching with iOS in a 1:1 school for five full years now. A 1:1 school is a school where each student is provided with a computer in some form for their exclusive use. We started with the original iPad in August 2010 and now, five years later, are getting ready to refresh from our current 4th-generation retina iPad to whatever is current next summer.

    Over these past five years, we have seen iPad develop from an interesting device with some useful desktop-like apps in the iWork suite to a very powerful platform for student learning and creativity.

    I have often said that the iPad hardware matters only insofar as it enables you to have an excellent experience of software. Tablets and smartphones are as close as we can practically get to a pure software experience. This is one of the reasons why iPhone and iPad hardware is firstly so minimalist and secondly hasn't changed much in all the years they have been sold. What matters about the iPad is that it makes the software fast, smooth, and powerful.

    We have seen many more changes in iPad software than we have in the hardware. We started with iOS 3.2 – a version before even multitasking arrived on iOS – and we are now looking at iOS 9. So what does iOS 9 bring for education?

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