March 8, 2012
Well, the new iPad -- in all its singular (and single-named!) glory -- is finally upon us. For most, the reveal went along as expected, but some folks are feeling Steve's absence; the presentation was clinical, the magic oddly AFK. Of course, that shouldn't affect the reality of Apple's newest mobile device, and -- for me, at least -- it hasn't. With the third-generation Apple tablet, I'm getting, per Stella's roundup, absolutely everything I ever thought I would. The iPad's biggest selling point, obviously, is its new Retina display, which Apple's reportedly been stockpiling since last fall in an effort to better meet demand come launch. While we haven't yet had the chance to go eyes-on with the new tech, Apple's met its goal in spades, and the panel promises to be as striking a visceral upgrade as the old iPhone jump from 3GS to number four. It's the biggest spec advancement the iPad's ever had, and it's sure to be the de facto standard for years to come. No other current tablet comes close to the new iPad's 264 PPI, and the quality and accuracy of Apple's IPS panels have been unmatched in the industry for several years running. The OLED movement has many fans and offers some compelling competition, but, as long as the iPad maintains its industry-leading power efficiency (10-plus hours of runtime), there's no real advantage to including that newer, more expensive organic technology. Externally, almost nothing has changed, and most previous-generation accessories (save various form-fitting iPad 2 cases) should work well with the new iPad. The 30-pin proprietary
cash cow port's still there, too, and the home button is, once again, the old familiar physical kind. Personally, each one of these aspects suits me just fine, as I've already got a Smart Cover, iPad 2 dock, and plenty of charging cables. Plus, I've never been a fan of capacitive buttons of any kind, so Apple's choice to keep the tangible key is something of a relief. It's already easy enough to unintentionally engage the current home button when handling or rotating the iPad, and a touch-sensitive toggle would make accidental input a much too frequent and annoying occurrence.
Internally, there have been changes galore. The brain -- or, rather, the ARM -- of the tablet, Apple's A5X SoC, is flexing harder than ever, providing the quad-core upgrade and advanced GPU architecture everyone was hoping for. The only practical difference is that it's not called an "A6." Apple, clearly, is saving that bit of awesome for another day (some half -- or even one whole -- year away).
However, another big advancement did meet today's deadline: 4G support. And I don't mean that conveniently "reworked" 4G definition the wireless carriers are bandying about. No, Apple actually included a next-gen LTE radio in its next-gen cellular iPad, and, though my area doesn't yet support the super-fast standard, it's nice that -- in terms of service capability -- the new iPad is fully future-proofed.
While the front-facing camera remains a 30 FPS VGA module (likely enhanced to some degree by the faster A5X), the rear camera is a massive upgrade. Essentially, the 5MP iSight shooter takes the iPhone 4's revolutionary sensor and stacks it with the 4S' five-lens, IR-filtered improvements. There's no flash, but we never expected one, and the resulting images are better than tablet-era top-notch. Indeed, I would've been pretty shocked to see Apple's newest 8MP array make it to the iPad this year, if only because the iPad 2 camera was so far off the leading edge to begin with. Remember, every hardware move Apple makes is tied to maximizing existing supply chain output, efficiency, and cost. That's the power of Tim Cook's genius, and it's why the new iPad retails for the same price as its predecessors.
Battery capacity, RAM specs, and other minutiae we won't really know until the iFixit crew disassembles their customary launch model next Friday. But, regardless of what else is inside that slightly thicker aluminum shell, general iOS performance and app speed can only get better this third time around.
Even though I'm completely thrilled with today's unveiling, there are a couple of "omissions" that, in the coming weeks, are sure to be relentlessly criticized: increased storage and full Siri integration.
Complaints about the former will echo everything we've heard for the last 12 months, that Apple is ripping us all off by charging $100 for each flash drive upgrade, and that said flash drives still come in the too-small sizes of 16, 32, and 64GB. If, for instance, Apple really expected iBooks' e-textbook platform to take off in the very near future, it would have made sense to so up the storage ante. But that education initiative is going to take a long while to roll out, and, until then, a 64GB cap makes perfect production-line sense. The requisite memory is already mass produced, prices are sufficiently low, and potential shortages can be mitigated by the increased manufactory avenues for such pieces of kit. My first iPad was a 16GB model, and I only filled it up a couple of times. With my 32GB iPad 2, however, I've never come close. Naturally, my usage scenario won't be identical to yours (or anyone else's), but I do use my tablet for over 90 percent of my daily work and play, and it's shouldered the load with efficiency and ease. Personally, I can't ever see needing more space than I already have. And, as iCloud improves, I'll need even less.
Siri's partial absence probably represents the more substantial mainstream "problem." Most people figured the iPhone's throaty assistant would make her way to the bigger screen this month. Alas, it was not to be. Instead, the new iPad gets a Siri-powered, inbuilt dictation feature. And it makes perfect sense. Siri is largely location-based, and she's the single biggest selling-point for the iPhone 4S. Its GPS-enabled, location-aware functionality is specifically designed for performing tasks better suited to the handset than the tablet. As Apple continues (rightfully) promoting the iPad as a more creation-centric device, it's appropriate that only dictation support made the initial cut. If you want the full Siri experience, Apple wants you to get it where it can serve you best: on the iPhone itself. There are other compelling reasons why Apple limited Siri's iPad presence (and I'll discuss them in depth in the very near future), but it's enough to know that we've been granted the most iPad-friendly Siri feature possible. That, friends, is enough for me.
All in all, I'm as excited as ever for the new iPad. Heck, I've already placed my order! And those of you who need help deciding on the perfect model, check out Alexander's still-relevant guide from last year. Of course, the only logical choice is the 32GB Wi-Fi + 4G in white. (Update: Check out Bryan's just-published new iPad buying guide!)
Stay tuned for next week's exclusive AppAdvice iPad review!