By Nikki Ekstein
March 21, 2016
Courtesy of Apple

Even hard-core Apple enthusiasts were skeptical about today's launch event, which was slated to cover nothing more than a couple of new Apple Watch bands, an entry-level 4-inch iPhone, and a boost to the bulky iPad Pro. And yet, Tim Cook and team Apple came through with one of the biggest improvements for travelers in a while. Whereas the old, 12.9-inch iPad Pro was too bulky to fit in a travel bag, the new version is smaller, lighter, and powerful enough to truly do double duty as laptop and tablet.

But first, a quick bit of context. For years, tech companies have been claiming that they’ve launched the tablet to kill all future laptops—an overstatement, in any case we’ve yet to see. There was the Surface, Microsoft’s productivity-driven hybrid, and Google’s Pixel C, which is great to work and type on but more limited where entertainment and photography are concerned. Apple’s first stab, the iPad Pro, also failed to deliver in key ways—it’s a bit unwieldy in its proportions and more suited to professional use (as its name might suggest) than leisure.

Enter the new iPad Pro. It’s 9.7 inches, just like the iPad Air 2, and weighs less than a pound. That means it’s packing professional-grade specs into a leisure-suited body.

With the help of a keyboard attachment, it becomes a compact laptop, capable of running multiple apps in split-screen mode and with a processor that’s more powerful than an Xbox 360. In other words, it’s got everything you need to work hard and play hard.

The best new feature, however, is the true tone display, which measures the color temperature of ambient light and adjusts the display to match, so you’re not stuck squinting at your screen when you’re trying to read on the beach. It does this with the help of two sensors that measure brightness and color temperature. The result is similar to that of real paper (or a Kindle Paperwhite), with true white colors no matter what setting you’re in. What’s more, the screen is 40 percent less reflective—a feature that anyone who has traveled with their iPad will immediately appreciate.

A final gamechanger comes with the update to iOS, which is available for all iPhones and iPads today: it’s called Night Shift. This feature will automatically switch the hues on your iPad to warmer tones in the evening hours, so that your late-night exposure to blue light is limited and you’re better able to fall asleep. The switch from blue light to warm light is triggered based on your location settings and the local sunset time—we can’t help but hope this helps fight jet lag.

As for the new iPhone SE? Skip it unless you’re married to a 4-inch screen: it’s targeted towards the Chinese and entry-level market, with processing power akin to the iPhone 6 Plus on a smaller, less elegant handset. This season, it’s time to upgrade your iPad instead.

The new iPad Pro will be available for orders starting on Thursday, March 24 and will begin shipping on Monday, March 31. Prices start at $599 without the keyboard or Apple Pen attachments.