iPad 8 on desk

OPINION: Apple’s iPad is undeniably the top dog in the world of tablets at the moment. If you’ve looked at our best tablet guide any time over the last three years, this is obvious.

The guide is crammed with Apple tablets, with the firm dominating pretty much every segment of the market and user case. Creative looking for a mobile sketch station? Grab an iPad Pro (2021). Impoverished student on the hunt for a device to take notes on during lectures and stream Netflix at night? The iPad (8th Gen) is a safe bet.

As an open source supporter who only stopped using his Nexus 7 (2nd gen) when it physically gave up the ghost and refused to turn on, I hope you can understand why this isn’t an ideal situation for me. It’s why for years I’ve used Microsoft Surfaces, or one of Samsung’s slates as my go to tablet between reviews, even if the user experiences aren’t quite as polished.

But, with Microsoft having failed to release a true update to its Surface Pro for half a decade, and the only decent looking Android tablet I’ve seen in the last 12 months being a Xiaomi device that is exclusive to China, 2021 may be the year this changes – if Apple takes these four critical steps with the fabled iPad 9.

A 2nd Gen Pencil

The iPad (8th Gen) was a great device. It offered most of the productivity perks of the iPad Pro, coming with a keyboard cover and powerful components that let it blitz through pretty much every test we threw at it during our in-depth review. But, there was one big annoyance I, and many others, couldn’t get over – the fact it only supported a first generation Apple Pencil.

Don’t get me wrong, any active stylus support on a tablet is welcome, but the first generation Pencil is an absolute faff with real world use due to the fact you can only charge it using the tablet’s bottom Lightning port. The design also doesn’t include a place to dock the Pencil, which is a key reason I constantly misplaced it when testing the iPad 8. The iPad Air 4 and iPad Pro’s (2021) second generation magnetic dock and charging mechanic is infinitely more polished and practical.

A 15-inch option

My other big issue with the non-Pro line of iPads is that, by today’s standards, their screens are a little on the small side. Portability is nice, but if you want to use the device for taking notes or doodling, 10.8-inches isn’t quite big enough.

On top of that, putting aside the iPad 8’s smart folio keyboard’s horridly squishy keys, its size makes typing on it for prolonged periods fairly uncomfortable, especially compared to competing Surface devices, or the Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 Plus. As a result I’d like to see Apple offer a larger option for people that want to use it for productivity, as well as entertainment.

Get rid of the bezel and home button

Apple’s got a reputation as an industry leader when it comes to product design. And for the most part that’s fair, with its latest line of iPhone 12 phones looking outright gorgeous.

This is why I’ve always found it so frustrating it hasn’t brought these skills to the budget iPad. Despite technical upgrades for the last few years the firm has belligerently stuck to the same design, giving them chunky bezels and a home button that gives each tablet a distinctly retro look. Hopefully this year Apple will choose to pull its thumb out and debut a completely new, more modern, design for the iPad 9 that brings it closer to the Air and Pro.

Improved freeware support

Apple’s iPad OS is one of the most developed app ecosystems on the planet, featuring support for Adobe’s creative suite plus other powerhouse products, such as Procreate and Affinity Designer.

But for me, there’s still a gaping hole in its portfolio: freeware. As a kid who grew up on Linux I’ve always generally favoured freeware products when doing creative work. Even today, whenever I take the time to do a digital painting project, or do some cheeky 3D Modelling you’ll find me using Krita and Blender, not PhotoShop and StudioMax.

But, to date Apple’s stringent control of the app store and refusal to let the services monetise (take donations) without giving it a cut has stopped them appearing on iPadOS. I’d like that to change before I consider jumping ship and investing in an iPad.

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