When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, his focus was Cupertino's core customers: graphics professionals, publishers, and engineers—all of whom viewed the Mac as an important tool to help them get their jobs done better and faster.
OpinionsI thought about this when I saw the new iPad Pro, and I can see Jobs's influence in the new product. With the addition of the Pencil stylus, the iPad Pro is the kind of tool that artists, graphics designers, and engineers will love because it gives them a very precise level of control over their projects.
I also see an iPad Pro link to the desktop publishing (DTP) revolution of the past. I got to work on the DTP project for Apple in the mid 1980s and saw how a tool—in this case the Mac, Pagemaker and a laser printer—could revolutionize an industry and then eventually go mainstream. Interestingly, when Pagemaker was released and it caught the attention of graphics designers, publishers, and even those who did newsletters, most of us assumed that this would be a niche market. But as history shows, the concept of WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) eventually moved over to word processors, spreadsheets, and many other programs where layout and design was important to all types of projects. In fact, one could argue that the principles of DTP as laid out by Apple drive the design of Web pages and many apps, too.
With the iPad Pro and Pencil, Apple gives its core customers another set of tools that will dramatically impact their workflow. In fact, the Adobe rep who appeared at the Sept. 9 event stated that using Adobe Tools designed to work with Pencil allows people to do things they could not even do on a PC.
I talked to some graphics designers after the Apple event, and they are salivating over this product. They can now toss out their Wacom tablets and work directly on a large screen and interact with and manipulate their drawings, designs, and engineering projects at the pixel level, which ultimately gives them more control of their designs or projects.
Industry old-timers will remember that in 1984, when the Mac debuted, it introduced the graphical user interface, which was revolutionary since the IBM PC used text-based DOS. The Mac supported a mouse to navigate the screen, as well as draw pictures and charts. But in 1985, Pagemaker and a Mac-connected laser printer ushered in the desktop publishing revolution and brought graphically driven design and publishing tools to graphics professionals and engineers at lower costs.
Yes, they had publishing tools and laser printers back then, but the computers used for publishing were expensive dedicated graphics workstations and laser printers were the size of a closet and cost well over $50,000. The Mac, Pagemaker, and a laser printer together cost around $10,000 and made these tools available to a broader audience.
At a high level, I can see how the iPad Pro with Pencil will do a similar thing for artists, graphics, and engineering professionals. However, this could also trickle down to other business apps and users over time, particuarly with the release of APIs that target Pencil. Just look at the Microsoft demo during Apple's launch event. Microsoft showed how a person could draw three circles, which quickly snapped to a clean digital implementation in the form of a chart. Even a simple arrow became a clean digital arrow for inclusion in a document.
But I see this as the tip of the iceberg for the role a stylus will play in even mainstream productivity tools over time. As an aside, Bill Gates actually saw this vision in the early 1990s and he called it Pen Computing. But it looks like Apple will finally deliver.
The iPad Pro is clearly a device for an important audience. I even think it will be of great interest to some consumers as a gaming tablet as well as a larger-screen tablet for viewing movies and video. It may not be a big volume seller for Apple, but it will clearly be a tablet that should garner a lot of interest to some of its customers and help Apple grow the overall market for tablets.