Apple’s New iPad Pro Integrates Laser-Scanning Technology

For architects and interior designers, this means the ability to measure and model space accurately

Since Apple announced the first iPad 10 years ago they’ve continued to evolve the tablet from what, at first, felt like an oversized iPhone to a device that’s now a major contender for laptop replacement. We’ve been hands-on with the new iPad Pro since it was announced last week and while at a glance it doesn’t seem like a big update on the previous version, there are two massive changes that make this one stand out. The first is a software update that allows trackpad support, and the second is a new sensor in Apple’s kit-of-parts—LiDAR.

LiDAR, which stands for Light Detection and Ranging, is a sensor that emits laser light and measures the time it takes for that beam to hit an object. It does this at a very high frequency, allowing it to build a highly accurate 3D model of a space in near real-time. LiDAR sensors are becoming commonplace among cars with some level of autonomous driving capability, but this is the first case we know of using the technology in a hand-held consumer device. The LiDAR sensor in the new iPad Pro is much smaller than the ones you’ll find in a car and, as a result, its range is limited to five meters—but that’s just fine for most creative applications.

The iPad is already a valued tool by architects and interior designers, and the new LiDAR sensor (plus a new ultra-wide camera) definitely creates significant new opportunities. Shapr3D—an architectural and industrial design drawing tool—is one of the first apps promising to update and take advantage of the new sensor and Scene Geometry API. We expect many to follow. For existing augmented reality and human motion capture apps, the LiDAR sensor already feeds them its more accurate data, improving the overall user experience significantly.

As for trackpad support, that actually comes to all iPads with today’s release of iPadOS 13.4. After pairing a trackpad over Bluetooth, an adaptive cursor appears on the iPad screen. For pointing, it’s a simple dot, but the shape shifts based on what you hover over—resulting in a clear communication of what will occur when you click and also keeping the visual sensibility of the user interface super-tidy. Multi-finger gestures are also supported, just like in MacOS.

Now, carrying around a separate trackpad is highly unlikely for most of us, which is why the forthcoming Magic Keyboard is the missing link. It’s a case that protects the tablet, but also has a backlit keyboard and integrated trackpad. There’s a USB-C port in the hinge of the case for pass-through charging and the screen floats cantilevered above the keyboard so that you can adjust the viewing angle as needed.

The latest iPad Pro is available now and the Magic Keyboard will be shipping in May.

Images and video courtesy of Apple