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On the surface Apple’s latest iPad Pro doesn’t appear to be all that different when you sit it down side by side with the model it is set to replace. However, looks can always be deceiving and that definitely applies in this case. The majority of the upgrades that Apple has afforded its latest addition are hidden under the hood. The new iPad pro hides several major internal upgrades. In terms of specs, it harbors the same M1 chip as the latest MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Pro, Mac mini, and redesigned iMac. Making it just as energy-efficient as the rest. If you opt for cellular models it also supports 5G networking. The front-facing camera also has a few new tricks that will help when it comes to video calls. It can zoom and pan, allowing users to keep their faces in focus for the duration. Given the year we have just had in which remote conferencing and communication has been key, this is without a doubt a sensible tweak to benefit from. Shiny new processor aside, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro’s biggest change comes in the form of its exclusive “Liquid Retina XDR,” display. It functions utilizing smaller than typical ‘Mini LEDs’ to backlight the display itself. Despite the downsizing in the lights department, the results are counterintuitively much brighter. This new design actually renders the latest iPad Pro one of the brightest iPads produced to date. It augments the contrast capabilities and wipes the floor with any previous display Apple has ever designed.

In fact, the display is more in line with the Pro Display XDR which will set you back a whole lot more, when it comes to expenditure. With an average of 1,000 nits, that can even jump up to 1,600 nits where HDR content is concerned; it is far brighter than many current 4K HDR TVs.

Its predecessor only provided a max of 600 nits, so it really is a leap. For further comparison, the 16-inch MacBook Pro topped around 500 nits. Even Apple’s brand new to the market 24-inch iMac can only hit the 500 nits mark. So it really is a big leap. If you are wondering how it compares to the current iPhone lineup, specifically the Pro OLED screens, it again wipes the floor. The iPhone 12 Pro boasts a max brightness of 800 nits soaring to a commendable 1,200 in HDR, but still, this new iPad trumps the lot.

Apple hasn’t had any plans to give its tablets OLED screens and with the obvious advantages that the Mini LED screen brings they probably won’t. The new and improved display with its eye-searing brightness still gives users a decent 10-hour battery life like other iPads provide but gives your display a big upgrade that can be plainly seen.

MINI LED EXPLAINED

So for a while, all we have really been hearing about has been OLED. This in layman’s terms, fits the screen with self-illuminating individual pixels. Because they are individual they can light up and fully turn off when that specific pixel is not in use. Mini LED could be considered a step-back from OLED because the tech is older, just smaller but is a far more logical progression from your typical LCD screen. The only thing that really changes is as we said the size and quantity of LEDs in use. During its Spring Loaded event, Apple’s Heidi Delgado said that the previous iPad Pro had 72 LEDs, but the new “Liquid Retina XDR” is able to pack in over 10,000 of them. Apple accomplished this by miniaturizing the LEDs to a size “120 times smaller in volume than the previous design.”

Mini LED
Apple says the 12.9-inch iPad Pro has over 10,000 LEDs. Image credit: theverge.com

Grouped together into around 2,500 dimming zones the Mini LEDs can function more efficiently than an average LCD screen. The groups individually brighten and dim based on requirements making power allocation easier and consumption overall much less. According to Delgado, this granular level of control, results in viewers “seeing the brightest highlights along with subtle details in the darkest parts of an image.”

BORROWED TECHNOLOGY

Apple might be the first to employ this Mini LED tech within a tablet but like Chris Welch over at The Verge reminded us it has been used for a couple of years successfully now in modern TVs. Both Samsung and LG made the switch to Mini LED backlighting in some of their higher-end 2021 LCD TV displays but the trend appears to have been sparked by TCL back in 2019.

TLC Mini LED
A visualization of TCL’s Mini LED implementation on its TVs. Image credit: theverge.com

When TCL first started to adopt the ‘smaller is better’ approach, this is what they had to say to explain the improvements Mini LED’s can make to your display:

There are two parts of the LED LCD TVs display that combine together to create an image. The “LCD” (liquid crystal display) part of the display creates a picture and the “LED” (light-emitting diode) part of the display is responsible for making light that shines through the picture in order for your eyes to see it. So an active matrix backlight which is a more powerful light that is more smoothly distributed across the screen, more precisely controlled for a sharp contrast, and more effective in creating vividly saturated colors that dazzle the eye is the benefit of thousands of precisely controlled mini-LEDs. In other words, the mini-LED simply delivers dramatically better picture performance.

Mini LED could also work to improve panel uniformity on the whole. Many devices have previously been subject to backlighting issues making it somewhat of a panel lottery for consumers. You may remember some previous 11-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pros suffered from uneven backlighting. But with the grouped, local zone functionality, Mini LED displays should provide much better consistency.

SO, WHAT ABOUT MICRO LED?

Although OLED has been in the limelight, there has been ‘talk’ for some time about Micro LED technology. Ultimately it is where we are headed and viewed as the next major leap for TV displays. Most believe it will replace OLED altogether when it becomes available. However, it is currently a very costly technology to install. Whilst it shares the self-emissive nature of OLED but has less of its drawbacks, making it a win-win, we will likely only see it in luxury models for now. Samsung currently uses Micro LEDs in its ultra-premium TVs.

Of course, we can only speculate on the new iPad Pro benefits until it is readily available but it sounds like it has a lot to offer over the previous 12.9-inch model when it comes to user experience. But only time will truly tell what the Mini LED tech brings to the table.

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