Undoubtedly, by now, you’ve heard that Apple announced a new iPad on Wednesday, March 7. The 9.1-inch touchscreen device pretty much defined the tablet genre since the first iPad in 2010. Since then, almost every other hardware company has tried to build a similar device, most of which based on the Android operating system. Regardless of the many tablet options, none of them have sold numbers anywhere near those of the iPad or it’s successor, the iPad 2.
So, this new iPad, what’s so special about it? What did they change? Seemingly, most important of all, what did they call it? The features and changes we will get to in just a moment. First of all, let’s talk about the name. Many of the rumor mills had settled on the name iPad 3, after the second generation version of the device called the iPad 2. Apple decided to simplify the name down to just ‘iPad.’ Many bloggers and nay-sayers started getting a little up in arms about the rather unremarkable name, saying that simply calling it the iPad is confusing, especially to who still have the original iPad. To me, the name change makes sense as it follows Apple’s naming schemes for other devices like the Mac and the iPod.
Ok, so it’s called the iPad and it is apparently better than the iPad 2, right? How is it better than that wonderful tablet you bought less than a year ago? Well, what better way to illustrate the basic differences from last year’s model than a nice chart?
|iPad (2012)||iPad 2|
|Processor||Apple A5X dual-core with quad-core graphics||A5 dual-core|
|Display||Retina Display (2048 x 1536, 264ppi)||1024 x 768, 132ppi|
|Rear Camera||5MP iSight camera with 1080p HD video||720p HD video recording|
|Front Camera||VGA FaceTime camera||VGA Video and still camera|
|Wireless and Cellular||Wi-Fi-only or Wi-Fi + 4G LTE||Wi-Fi-only or Wi-Fi + 3G|
Of the changes from the iPad 2 to the new iPad, the real significant changes are the Retina Display and the addition of LTE. Other than that, there really isn’t a lot to great very excited about. There is a larger battery inside the new iPad, but that is mostly there to power the large display and the LTE chipsets all while maintaining that defining 10-hour battery life. The processor and other internal features are great to talk about, but they don’t really talk about the point of the device: Why is it better than the iPad many other people already have? Obviously there are a lot of varying opinions on this subject around the Internet, but I say the quad-core graphics, Retina Display, LTE options, and the much improved camera system are compelling arguments to choose the iPad over other tablets and an especially compelling reason to upgrade from that current iPad you may have.
The processor inside of all three generations of iPad have been an Apple-custom processor. The A5 inside the iPad 2 is a dual-core CPU and graphics processor. The processor inside the new iPad is the A5X processor, a new version of the A5 processor, that is still a dual-core CPU, but is now a quad-core graphics processor. This means that any graphics intensive games on the new iPad will be much faster, more detailed and smoother. During the keynote on March 7, Apple brought up several developers, including a couple of game companies, who showed off the capabilities of the new quad-core graphics processor. The detail and frame-rate the new A5X is quite impressive, from what I could see from the heavily compressed iTunes podcast release of the keynote. The quad-core graphics processor is also needed to drive the new Retina Display inside the new iPad.
The Retina Display is a type of high-resolution display introduced with the iPhone 4. It is a very high pixel density display that, when held at a “reasonable distance”, the human eye cannot discern individual pixels. For the iPhone, Apple declared a “reasonable distance” as about 10 inches. For the iPad, Apple upped that “reasonable distance” to 15 inches, which makes sense considering the iPad has a 9.1-inch display.
Looking at the chart above, you may notice the screen resolution of the new iPad is 2048-by-1536 pixels, exactly double the iPad 2. The video-savvy of you may notice that this is a higher pixel number than 1080p HD. Your HDTV at home generally displays 1920-by-1080, which is about 2 million pixels. The new iPad has over 3.1 million pixels, over a million more than the standard HDTV. This number of pixels in a 9.1-inch screen allows for pixel density of 264 pixels per inch, double the pixel density of the iPad 2. Not having seen the new Retina Display, I cannot speak directly on the Retina Display, but having owned an iPhone 3GS and an iPhone 4, I can say that difference a Retina Display makes is night and day. Photos, games, applications, and especially text will look a lot better on the iPad. Reading books and viewing websites on the new iPad will be less of an eye strain as text will have no visible pixelation.
The camera on the new iPad is a 5-megapixel iSight camera on the back and a FaceTime camera on the front. The rear camera features a f/2.4 5-element lens with an infrared filter. The camera system is probably the most anticipated of the upgrades to the iPad. One of the best new additions is face-detection that will balance focus and exposure across up to 10 faces. In addition to taking much better photos, the iPad will also feature the ability to record 1080p HD video. The video system has a built-in image stabilizer that will help reduce the shakiness of hand-held video taken with the iPad. Test images and video taken with the new iPad thus far have looked good, but you do have to take that with a grain of salt as the device isn’t released yet and the only photos and video are those that Apple has taken and used for promotion.
Probably one of the greatest additions to the new iPad is the cellular data connections. The new iPad will work with AT&T or Verizon’s 4G LTE networks, as well as a pretty long list of 3G and post-3G cellular networks. The addition LTE was highly anticipated as many other devices have started incorporating the new network technology into their phones and tablets. LTE is great for people who travel a lot to larger cities that have the new type of network and can take advantage of it. In Kansas City, MO, where many of the writers and contributors of SciFi4Me.com live and work, you can choose between either Verizon’s or AT&T’s LTE networks. In addition to 4G LTE, the iPad will work with a very long list of 3G technologies making the device very travel friendly. Being able to use a CDMA iPad in a non-CDMA continent like Europe is a particular boon to business travelers.
So, I’ve rambled on and on about what is great and new about the iPad, but let’s talk about the dark side of this device. The battery life of the new iPad is the same as the iPad 2: 10 hours of usage with Wi-Fi, 9 hours on a cellular data network. This is great until you look at the dimensions and weight. The new iPad is 0.6mm thicker than the iPad 2 and 0.11 pounds heavier. This may not sound like much, and for most people this won’t make a lick of difference, but it is a trend that goes against Apple’s history of making their devices thinner and lighter. However, if you think about the above changes to the iPad, a heavier, thicker iPad does make sense. To drive 3.1 million pixels, Apple had to slightly redesign the Retina Display, also the amount of computing power to display anything on that many pixels is significant. LTE chipsets and antennas are relatively new and still need a lot of power. Given that this article was written before March 16th and iFixit.com hasn’t had a chance to tear a new iPad apart yet to confirm my theory. I posit that the new iPad has a physically larger batter than its predecessor. Considering that the iPad 2 has a 25 W·h battery inside and the new iPad has a 42.5 W·h battery, it is almost certain that the extra thickness and weight is attributed to the substantially larger battery feeding the power-hungry Retina Display and LTE antenna.
Apple did keep the same pricing structure for the iPad as past models:
|Wi-Fi||Wi-Fi + 4G|
|iPad 2 16GB||$399||$529|
You’ll notice that Apple is keeping the iPad 2 around as a lower-priced option in the iPad line-up. These prices may still be a bit steep for many people, making them seriously consider smaller, less powerful tablets like the Kindle Fire and sub $200 Android tablets. How the smaller, cheaper tablets stack up against the iPad may have to wait for another time when a tablet-maker sends me a review-unit (wink, wink). Until then, I have yet to find a tablet as robust, long-lasting, and just plain fun and easy to use as the iPad. The new iPad is better than its predecessors in many ways, but is it enough better to sell your current iPad or tablet and make the jump to the newest and best? I say it is.