Apple announces a new iPad 9.7 and revamps applications to support the Pencil

Apple’s press event yesterday evening was centered on the company’s offerings for schools and learning in the classroom, which has been a common theme for the company over the last few years when introducing their cheapest iPad. At yesterday’s event, held in the hall of a public school in Chicago in the US, Apple launched a new iPad 9.7-inch, which is a major upgrade over last year’s model, confirmed support for the Apple Pencil for the new device, which means that it now works on both this iPad and the iPad Pro, and announced major changes to their suite of updates to take advantage of the new input methods.

The new iPad 9.7 for 2018 uses the same shell as the previous one, so there are cost savings for Apple in not having to design one from scratch. It now includes Apple’s A10 Fusion chipset, which was previously seen in the iPhone 7 range, and ships with Apple’s latest iOS 11.3 operating system. It’s a quad-core SoC design with an additional six graphics “cores”, much in the same way that AMD calls their GCN units “compute units”. Despite being slightly more than a year old, Apple’s A10 Fusion is still one of the fastest chipsets available on a mobile device today. The glass is scratch-resistant with an oleophobic coating, and includes digitiser support for the first time.

Internally, it also now has up to 128GB of drive space on a flash memory manufactured by Samsung, features the same Retina-class display found in the iPad 9.7 from 2017, and includes support for Apple iPay through the fingerprint reader on the home button. It still has a headphone jack.

Apple says the new iPad 9.7 is 40% better in CPU tasks and sees a 50% boost in GPU horsepower, while the battery life extends to 10 hours of run-time despite being smaller than the 2017 iPad 9.7. Silver, rose gold, and space grey colours will be available at launch, and the iPad 9.7 will retail for $329 in the US, with a $30 discount for schools and students purchasing one. Students purchasing the 2018 iPad 9.7 also get 200GB of storage on iCloud for free.

The Apple Pencil is still $99, with a discount of $10 for schools and students, although there are cheaper third-party accessories from Logitech (and presumably other partners too, once the tablet becomes available).

Although the new iPad 9.7 will come with official accessories from Apple, its partner Logitech seems to have the nicest setup. Logitech’s third-party Pencil replacement, the Crayon, will sell for just $49 in the US, and has all the features as the regular Pencil, just with some colour choices and a triangular crayon-like body.

The case is the Logitech Rugged Combo 2, a tough and stain-resistant protective case that comes with a detachable rubber-dome keyboard and an adjustable kickstand. All of the ports you’d need from the iPad are replicated on the case, and it has built-in speakers. Logitech will sell the Rugged Combo 2 for $99 in the US.

Apple also made changes to its iWork apps, specifically Pages, Numbers, and Keynote. All three now include support for Pencil input, which wasn’t the case before with the iPad Pro, oddly enough. Drawing with the Pencil is supported in several ways, and users can now use the Pencil for annotating documents, signing things, or creating art within these apps.

Pages now also includes support for creating short, interactive books for classroom use, and there are new push features that teachers can use to publish activities and other work to their students. One of Apple’s examples of this was dissecting frogs in science class – instead of dissecting a real one, you can have your students dissect a virtual one in an interactive book. Real-time collaboration across iWork is also supported, which is why that 200GB of iCloud storage is quite handy.

Finally, there are some augmented reality features that are new to the iPad 9.7 and the iWork suite. Teachers can design or purchase interactive AR activities that they can push to their students for learning in the classroom. Apple included examples like seeing all the elements of a frog’s body, learning about water physics and dam construction, or seeing AR elements inside student projects or class tours. It’s pretty neat, if a bit clunky when you realise you have to hold up the iPad the whole time, but Apple’s push in this direction is notable. Both Microsoft and Google are working hard to catch up in this area.

Barring Pencil support, many of the new software features will be available on the iStore for existing iPad users, and Apple is expected to extend Pencil support to all sixth-generation iPads. Apple’s next event, WWDC, is in June 2018 where Apple is expected to reveal a new family of iPad Pros, a new line of Macbooks, and a new version of MacOS.