At an event in Yerba Buena this morning, Apple announced the latest model in its iPad series. The first model was (of course) termed the iPad, and the second model was known as – logically enough – the iPad 2.
There had been some speculation as to what this new model would be called. Many people made the obvious guess – iPad 3. Others, anticipating a higher resolution screen, suggested iPad HD.
But the actual name chosen was ‘new iPad’ (and, yes, the official name does have lower case for the word new). So we have the iPad, the iPad 2, and the new iPad. I wonder what will happen next year when they release the next model in the series, and probably continue to sell the current model alongside it at a reduced price point. Will we then have the new iPad and the newer iPad? Or will the new iPad be renamed as the old iPad?
There’s another thought as well. The FTC often places limits on how long a product can be described as ‘new’. Will this apply to the new iPad, too? Does that mean in 3 months, or however long, Apple will then rename the new iPad as the ‘not so new any more iPad’?
A strange choice of name.
The Evolution of the iPad 3
It is a week over a year since the iPad 2 was introduced, and close to two years since the original iPad was first announced. The original iPad was a stunning device that generally exceeded expectations; the iPad 2 was a lackluster disappointment which we recommended people not buy. (Notwithstanding our recommendation, it went on to become a runaway bestseller!)
Even though the iPad 2 sold well, the reality has always been that it was never much of an update of the original iPad, and it lacked many of the features we’d all hoped to see incorporated into it. So there was a high degree of optimism that this latest launch would allow Apple to catch up with the marketplace’s expectations and come out with a truly enhanced new generation iPad.
At the time the iPad 2 came out, there was speculation that its successor would follow in less than Apple’s typical one year update cycle – perhaps in time for Christmas 2011. But the impact of the Japanese earthquake/tsunami may have slowed things down, or maybe Apple never intended to accelerate the replacement of the iPad 2, and the one year interval added to the expectations that the new version iPad would be truly transformational.
So – truly transformational? Or another disappointment? Read on for more about the new iPad.
Initial Part of the Presentation
As is often the case, the presentation started with a bit of corporate boasting, albeit probably fairly deserved. Apple has definitely transformed from being a computer company. In 2011, 76% of its revenue came from what it is called ‘post-PC’ devices – iPods, iPhones and iPads. Apple sold 172 million of these devices last year, 62 million in the last quarter alone. And, relevant to the main theme of the presentation, of the 62 million devices sold in Q4 of 2011, 15.4 million of them were high value iPads (rather than low value iPods or intermediate value iPhones).
Their App store now has a staggering 585,000 apps available, although as we’ve regularly noted, there is some ambiguity about how they count their apps – for example, many books are sold as an app and counted as such, even though they are not so much applications/programs as they are simple book titles to read. Other apps are available as both free versions and paid versions, and we believe those are both counted as well. But, whatever the number is, it continues to grow, as does, of course, the number of downloads – Apple says there have now been more than 25 billion downloads of apps from the store.
Of these apps, 200,000 of them have been specially written for the iPad. That’s amazing, considering the iPad is not quite two years old.
Putting the iPad sales number into context, Apple claims that their 15.4 million iPads sold in Q4 were more than the number of regular PCs sold by any computer manufacturer. Not more than all PCs sold of course, but more than any one manufacturer (Apple says HP came closest to matching, with 15.1 million computers sold).
Apple clearly dominates not just the computer world as a whole, but the tablet marketplace in particular. Estimates suggest that over 100 competing tablet style computer devices were launched last year, but with the possible exception of the Amazon Kindle Fire, none have gained any appreciable market traction at all, and the Fire, as great as it is, is not a general purpose tablet, but rather an ereader with some extra features added.
Interestingly – and not in line with our own experiences – Apple claim that the most popular use for iPads is email. They surveyed people with iPads as well as a notebook, desktop and smartphone and asked them which device they preferred to use for email, web surfing, and ereading, and in all three cases, users said they preferred their iPad.
Amazingly, people said they preferred playing games on an iPad too – even over using a dedicated game console.
Apple also announced a new Apple TV product that will support 1080p video.
So, what is new in the new iPad?
Screen and Processor
The display has been massively upgraded in terms of pixel density, and now is labeled as a ‘retina’ display, the same as the iPhone 4 and 4S. The display resolution has been upgraded from the previous 1024 x 768 resolution found on the iPad and iPad 2, and now is 2048 x 1536 – twice as many pixels in both dimensions, meaning four times as many pixels in total on the screen.
In terms of pixel density, the new screen has 264 pixels per inch (up from 132 on the earlier iPads) – not quite as much as the 326 ppi on an iPhone 4/4S, but enough to make text and images massively clearer than before, and due to the larger screen size of the iPad, Apple says the iPad is likely to be held further away from the face, so the lower ppi count is acceptable.
The screen is also claimed to have 44% better color saturation. Look for brighter colors and more detail in the shading.
All the extra pixels on the screen need a much more powerful processor to drive them. The new iPad will have an A5X processor with a quad-core graphics processor, giving it the ability to drive the screen probably as quickly as an iPad 2 refreshes at present (although the presentation was vague on this point and didn’t quite come out and promise this).
The 2048 x 1546 display is an amazing resolution. It is more than on most large screen computer monitors (which are typically in the order of about 1920 x 1200 or thereabouts), and it is larger than on most HD television monitors (1920 x 1080), too. This is a watershed moment – while the physical screen size remains exactly as before (a 9.7″ diagonal), the screen now has more pixels than on other typical ‘screens’ in our life – regular computers and televisions. It will no longer be necessary for web designer/developers to consider a different layout for their pages when being displayed on an iPad, for example, and when we are web browsing, we’ll not have to scroll from side to side for everything to fit. Of course, the type will be smaller, but at least the greater pixel density will make the small type clearer.
4G LTE Wireless Data
The next ‘big’ enhancement for the new iPad is one which we feel will be of little interest to most people, but which the more extreme technophiles are very excited about – the new iPad supports a faster method of wireless data connection – what is being termed 4G wireless data, using the LTE standard supported by both Verizon and AT&T in the US (and Rogers, Bell and Telus in Canada).
The reason we say this may be of little interest to most people is because most people have chosen not to pay the extra upfront cost to buy an iPad that supports wireless data from a phone company – all iPads come with regular Wi-Fi capability included anyway. It costs an extra $130 to get the wireless data capability, and then it costs some tens of dollars a month in fees to a wireless phone service provider, too to activate and use the wireless data feature.
For people who are willing to pay the extra costs of wireless data connectivity, 4G LTE is a good addition, although there are only limited parts of the country, at present, where LTE service is available. But most of us will forego this and settle for Wi-fi connectivity, the same as before
There will be different models of the new iPad to support each different carrier’s LTE implementation, due to different carriers offering the service on different frequency bands. This is disappointing; Apple certainly could have simply added additional receivers into the unit, just like with a regular ‘quad band’ cell phone that will work on all four main voice frequencies.
Annoyingly, Apple has continued to provide GPS capabilities only in the iPads that have wireless data capabilities. Our guess is that many of the people who bought the wireless equipped iPads prior to now did so more for the GPS capability than for the wireless data capability, so so in effect, Apple continues to price the GPS addon at the $130 price point.
This is very disappointing.
What else is new in the new iPad? How about an improved rear facing camera – it has a 5 MP camera with auto focus and auto exposure, essentially the same as the surprisingly good camera built into the iPhone 4S and a clear improvement on the never specified camera in the iPad 2 (the original iPad came without a camera at all).
We’re not sure that an iPad makes a convenient camera – at least a phone has a convenient size and shape to do double duty as a camera, and a phone is more likely to be in your pocket all the time, wherever you are, too. But if you have your iPad, you want to have a camera in it – eg for taking pictures to attach to emails – and so it makes sense to make the camera as good as it can be, particularly because the underlying cost of the camera module, to Apple, is probably minimal.
The camera can also be used to record 1080P video, and it has built in image stabilization capabilities too.
The new iPad also has a second lower resolution camera on the screen side of the unit for use when video conferencing. This is the same as on the iPad 2.
The iPad also has a microphone and can be used to take dictation.
Something that hasn’t changed is battery life. This is actually an accomplishment, believe it or not. The faster processor, the four-fold increase in screen pixels, and the faster LTE data connectivity all require appreciably more battery power. So Apple has managed to keep up with the increased power demands of the new iPad by increasing the battery capacity. The new iPad is said to have 10 hours of battery life, the same as the previous iPad 2.
This has however meant a small increase in the already appreciable weight of the device (now 1.44 lbs) and its thickness is now 0.37″. This compares with 1.33lbs and 0.34″ for an iPad 2.
Something else that hasn’t changed is the price. This too is an achievement – a better camera, an enormously improved screen, and a faster processor, all for the same price. A basic 16GB unit with Wi-fi but not 4G LTE sells for $499, the 32GB is $599 and the 64GB is $699. The extra cost for LTE (and the GPS) is $130, the same as before, too.
At the same time prices were announced for the new iPad, Apple also said it would continue to sell an entry level older iPad 2, and at $100 less than before (ie $399 or $529 for a 16 GB model without or with wireless/GPS).
One slight disappointment is associated with the model lineup. There is still no increase in capacity from 64GB, up to perhaps a 128GB unit.
Why would one need 128GB of capacity? To store high definition video, which probably requires 1 – 2 GB per hour of video. You can very quickly chew through 64GB of capacity – if one says you set aside perhaps 40GB for movies, then that could be as little as 15 movies available to store on the device.
Of course, there is another potential solution, but that is a solution which Apple steadfastly refuses to implement – the provision of a (micro)SD slot allowing for removable memory cards.
The new iPads will be available on 16 March in ten different countries simultaneously (US Canada UK Australia France Germany Switzerland Japan Hong Kong Singapore), and you can order them starting from right now. The units will be released in another 26 countries a week later.
In addition to new hardware, Apple released new software designed to take advantage of the extra screen capabilities and faster processor in the iPad, particularly in the real of photo and video editing. There is also a new 5.1 version of the iOS software being released, too – allegedly available now but not yet online as of a few minutes ago.
Should You Buy a new iPad?
Stay tuned for our upcoming blog post analyzing the new iPad and answering the question you are surely wondering – should you buy one?