Who Needs All That Power in the M4 iPad?  Filmmakers, Baby


This post is by Charles Haine from No Film School

We covered Apple’s brand new iPad on release day, but didn’t get too deep in those nitty gritties of how intricately the new addition of the M4 chips will be an amazing addition for filmmakers.

Lucky for you, were circling back with exactly that. Check out our deep dive into Apple’s new iPad below and let us know if you can think of any sweet new filmmaking applications in the comments.

iPad 2’s Big M4 Jump

If there’s one running theme in response to the new M4 iPad, it’s “why put this much power in an iPad?”

Apple has been rolling out new processors at a pretty steady pace these last few years, but usually starts a new generation of processors in laptops or desktops first. Many people even felt that the last generation iPad (the M2) has much power the software couldn’t possibly use it all. Why go from there, skip the M3, and use the iPad as the launch platform for the newest generation, the M4?

We Need the Power

This might be true for normal people. But we’re not normal people. We’re filmmakers. And for better or worse, we will always take all the power someone has to give us to make whatever we possibly can with it. That’s like our whole thing. Normal people may or may not need apple care, but filmmakers get it because we eat our machines alive. Our machines are out with us in the field, going to sets and scouts and back in the office doing renders galore. We set them up on cooling stations to survive what we put them through, and we still used to cook graphics cards (when that was a thing).

Beyond the power upgrade, there are also a lot of new hardware tweaks. There is a new pencil that seems nifty; if you draw, there are a lot of reviews out there for the drawing feature, and it’s new “squeeze” function seems quite nice.

New Orientation

The bigger deal for filmmakers on the hardware end of things is that there is a new keyboard, a new XDR screen, and a new default orientation.

First, the orientation; if you use the iPad for “power” features a lot, this is a huge plus; the camera is now in the horizontal orientation. Meaning, if you have Resolve or Final Cut or another “pro” style app open the front facing camera is setup correctly. With the older iPad Pros, it was at the top in the vertical orientation, and you had to twist to use it.

New Keyboard

The keyboard is arguably more relevant for filmmakers, since while I don’t know that folks are going to write entire screenplays on it, it is better. It’s quieter, both than the previous generation and than the M2 laptop I write with, which makes it more useful in meetings. Less distracting if you are taking notes in a production meeting, or especially on a rehearsal. Not quite quiet enough yet to take notes during a take, but we’re getting there. If you are sitting far enough away, though, you could maybe use it while recording. Oddly the keys are slightly higher pitched than the last generation, which, odd.

The function keys are a big indicator of where Apple are hoping the iPad will be going. This is going to be a professional tool, and professionals love shortcuts—easier the more keys you have.

I’ve always lived by the “only try to learn one new shortcut key a day” rule, so I haven’t integrated that many shortcuts into my iPad life yet, but for some of the new software features below I could imagine the function keys playing a vital role in keeping your fingers on the keyboard, thus off the screen.

Brightner Displays

The new XDR screen will be relevant for us since many have been using the iPad Pro as their primary client review device for years. Fire up the frame.io app on a Pro and you can be reasonably confident that you are looking at accurate images, provided you were in a normal brightness room. But, famously, you would get clients who would watch your vide on on their deck (or at the beach) and complain about how it looked. The newest screen increases peak brightness, to the point where working outdoors was actually almost doable.

Look, it’s still not ideal. It’s very bright in direct sun, and that’s not ideal for evaluating images on an iPad that are intended to be watched at home on a TV. But you know what? On an overcast day, it was pretty good, and even in sunshine, it is by far the most useable client image review tool out there. If you have a client who insists on doing all their work on the deck, pester them into getting one.

Final Cut Camera

The bigger thing is all that horsepower. While, yes, if you are just watching cat videos you don’t need it, we don’t just watch cat videos—we make cat videos.

The big headlines here are that along with M4 Apple launched a very fancy new feature that requires all that horsepower: Final Cut Camera and live multi camera switching on iPad.

Final Cut Camera is a camera app for iPhone that allows you to use your iPhone as a “remote” camera for the iPad. Final Cut Pro will now allow you to pair multiple iPhones together and use Final Cut Pro for switching. Live, in realtime, you can live cut multicam.

This is a big enough release that normal people texted me about it. By “normal” I mean “work in a world related to the arts but aren’t obsessed with tech.” It absolutely crosses over into being a feature that uses, and needs all that horsepower, but that normal people are interested in.

In the Classroom

The demo at release was in a rock climbing gym, but that seems largely for aesthetics. The biggest place this is going to make a dent is education and tutorial content.

In the classroom the iPad already has a massive footprint, and the ability for a teacher to run a hybrid class on Zoom, streaming from an iPad, and live switch which view the remote students are getting will be wild. As a filmmaking instructor teaching how to thread a 35mm camera is tricky for the students who didn’t make it in that day; I imagine all hands on teachers have the same issue.

From a creative standpoint being able to get together with your friends, fire your cameras up together, and make a creative short with more angles and cut it live is frankly mind blowing. The hardware you needed to do something like this a few short years ago, the cabling, the power, was exhausting.

Now, it’s just an iPad and four iPhones.

Computer-aided Design (CAD) in Real Time

The power is showing up in other ways. Using the lidar camera you can scan a room, but we’ve been doing that on our phones for a few years now already. What makes it interesting is I’ve been on a few scouts where the DP scans the room on set and says “I’ll take it home, make a CAD model out of it, and then we can use it to pre-viz some lighting and shots.”

The M4 makes it pretty easy, and fast, to do that in the iPad itself. Scan the room, make the cab, bring it up for pre-viz and it all happens while standing in the location, without the need to wait until you are back at your desktop.

I’ll just talk about a current job I’m on; we didn’t finalize our lighting order until after we had pre-vized, which happened after the DP got home. We could’ve talked through lighting, and had a final sheet, on set. Production would’ve been happier, and information flowed faster, and most important the DP would’ve have had to spend time at home pulling the cad model, with the M4 iPad.

The Bottom Line For Filmmakers?

The typical answer to “who needs this power’ is always editors and colorists, and if you are an editor and colorist, you should absolutely think about the M4 revision. But for the first time in awhile, I found myself immediately thinking about production designers, lighting designers, gaffers, and DPs putting it in use on set.

Even just waiting at the veterinarian recently, the ability to fire up Resolve on the same iPad I was using to kill time was kind of astounding. And with bright window light streaming in the windows, the ability to see an image was great.

Yes, it’s a lot of horsepower. But we’ll find a way to get frustrated with it if we try.