The iPad 3’s First Week – Hero or Zero?

The iPad 3's wonderfully high resolution screen - originally thought of as a plus, but might actually be a minus?

The iPad 3 was generally well received when announced on 7 March, and its first day of sale last Friday, 16 March was preceded by the usual lines of people waiting overnight to be first into an Apple store on Friday morning.

We first  commented on the iPad 3’s release here, and also discussed if you should buy an iPad 3 and pointed out the six biggest disappointments of the iPad 3.

Now that many millions of the iPad 3s (note – we’re ignoring the ridiculous name Apple gave this product – ‘the new iPad’ and referring to it instead as the iPad 3, the same as most others) have been sold to eager owners, what additional things have we learned?

iPad 3 a Best Seller

Apple indicated that in the first weekend (ie the three days Friday through Sunday) they sold more than three million iPad 3s.  This is massively up on their first weekend sales of the ipad 2 (which is believed to have sold about one million units in its first three day weekend) and doubly massively more than the original iPad, which took about four weeks to sell its first million units.

While to be fair, the iPad 3 went on sale in more markets simultaneously than was the case for the iPad 2, which in turn went on sale in more markets than the original iPad, there is no denying the huge success of the iPad 3.

Interestingly, it seems that about half the purchasers of the new iPad 3 are first time iPad owners.  This is interesting however you look at it – the huge number of people buying an iPad for the first time would seem to indicate how mainstream the product has become, and/or the huge number of people buying a new iPad (replacement?  upgrade?  additional unit?).

The most popular model seems to be the 16 GB according to one small survey sample (previously the 32 GB unit has generally proven to be more popular).  This is also interesting, and suggests that as the market for iPads broadens into the mainstream, it is now reaching down to people who are more price sensitive and who see less need for all the iPad’s features and memory capacity.

It also seems that about half the iPads being purchased had the 4G and GPS option.  But, contrasting with this, a recent survey shows that 90% of people only use their iPad on Wi-fi, preferring not to pay an extra monthly fee to AT&T or Verizon for wireless data service on their iPad.  This would seem to suggest that most of the people are paying the extra fee either to ‘future proof’ their iPad, giving them the ability to use wireless data if they should need to (or if its costs come down), and/or are people who want the GPS ability and are forced to buy the GPS and 4G wireless data bundled option.

The iPad 3 Runs Hot – or Does It?

Tests by Consumer Reports and PCMag showed that with graphic and processor intense applications running (ie video games) the back of the iPad 3 could get as hot as 116°F (46.5°C) – quite uncomfortably hot if you’re balancing it on your legs, and probably not very good for the internal electronics of the iPad, either.

Other tests by other organizations have failed to replicate this, while showing the device to run maybe a mere 5 or so degrees hotter than an iPad 2.  So this remains a bit of an unproven thing.

Battery Life Shorter than Claimed

Testing by Information Week suggests that the iPad 3 has an appreciably shorter battery life than the iPad 2.  The main culprit seems to be the extra power drain by the high resolution screen, followed perhaps by extra power taken by the faster processor.

Whereas the battery’s storage capacity has increased 70% (from 25 to 42.5 Watt hours) the iPad 3 will consume about twice as much power doing the same things that the iPad 2 does.  This would imply that rather than the same life, the iPad 3 might actually have 20% less battery life than its predecessor (depending of course on which applications you primarily run on the device).

As we observed when believing battery life was comparable to the iPad 2, you can never have too much battery life, and it seems that the iPad 3 is definitely underscoring on this front.  Which leads to :

Problems Charging the iPad 3

On the one hand, with shorter battery life, you’ll need to charge the iPad 3 more often.  On the other hand, with a 70% larger battery inside, the same charging device will take 70% longer to charge the iPad 3 than it does to charge an iPad 2.  The charger supplied with the iPad 3 is the same as the one with the iPad 2.

But wait – there’s more.  If you’re trying to charge the iPad 3 at the same time as you’re using it, you’ll have an even longer wait.  Here are the theoretical numbers :

Charger gives about 10W of charge.  The iPad 2 consumes 2.5 – 3.5W while doing typical tasks, leaving (say) 7W to charge its battery.  With a 25Whr battery, this would take about 3.5 hours to go from nearly zero to nearly fully charged.

But the iPad 3 consumes about 3.5 – 7.5W while doing the same tasks as the iPad 2.  If we use an average of 5.5W, this leaves 4.5W to charge the battery.  With a 42.5Whr battery, this will take 9.5 hours to go from nearly zero to nearly full – almost three times as long as the iPad 2.

It certainly makes it difficult to quickly ‘top up’ the iPad during a day of mainly traveling around.

The iPad 3 Screen is Too Good?

Everyone loves the high resolution iPad 3 screen, which at 1536 x 2048 pixels is massively better than any other tablet, and better than most regular computer screens too.  Type has never looked so crisp and clear and clean (because it is vector drawn).

But.  Pictures – especially from web pages – are either too small or too blurry (because they are raster drawn).  This is because most websites are programmed to assume a maximum width of about 1000 pixels on the user’s computer screen, and after subtracting some space on both sides for margins and other stuff, pictures are seldom much wider than perhaps 600 pixels, and often considerably smaller (the picture at the top of this article is 325 pixels wide, and the entire column width of the article, if you’re viewing it on the website rather than in a newsletter, is little more than twice that).

But most of us, on a regular computer screen, have multiple windows open at the same time, with none of them full width.  The iPad can only have one, full-width window, open at a time, so instead of a picture being half the column width and sensibly sized for the window on the screen as a whole, the picture has to be either oversampled up in size (which makes it fuzzy/blurry) or else, if shown proper size, it becomes proportionately very small compared to the window as a whole.

It is possible for people to design a second version of their website to display on a high resolution iPad 3 screen, but that ‘solution’ poses many problems too.  The first problem is the hassle factor for the web designer – needing to have two different sized pictures for every illustration on their website.  That’s a huge amount of coding and graphical manipulation, for only a very small percentage of all total web views that a site will experience.

The second problem applies to the iPad 3 owner.  A picture that is ‘doubled’ in size (ie twice as long, twice as deep) will quadruple in file size, making web pages much slower to load and, if using wireless data, four times more expensive in terms of the limited ration of data each month they can use.

Does this mean the iPad 3 screen is counter-productively too good?  It is an interesting conundrum, for sure.

Problems with Wi-Fi

Do you have that deja vu feeling all over again?  The original iPad was plagued for some months with problems connecting to (and staying connected to) Wi-fi networks.  It seems the new iPad 3 may have some similar issues.  Ooops.  (There were also antenna problems with the iPhone 4 when it was first released, too.)

What of the Future

On balance, however, the iPad 3 is a great device, even if its high-resolution screen is a bit of a double edged sword, and even if its battery life is less than the two earlier model iPads.  As has already been demonstrated, it is selling like hotcakes, and it is currently out of stock if you were to order one from Apple today (they currently say the units will ship in 1 – 2 weeks from when you order).

What will Apple pull out of its bag of tricks next?  Three things seem somewhere between certain and possible.

Certain is a reversal of their policy for some 15 years of not paying dividends.  With right around $100 billion in cash sitting in their bank account (an amount which grew $31 billion in 2011 alone), they’ve decided they can afford to start paying dividends to shareholders once more.  Their first dividend will be $2.65 per share (share price is currently $593 making this a 0.45% dividend).

Probable is the next iPhone, which it is rumored may be announced in the next couple of months or so, and which may have a considerably larger 4.6″ diagonal screen (the current one is 3.5″).  One has to wonder if they would then increase the resolution on the larger screen from the current 640 x 960 up to 768 x 1024, making it exactly half the iPad 3 and the same resolution as earlier iPads.  This would make it much easier for programmers to write software to display best on both devices.

Possible are the continued rumors of a smaller screen sized iPad.  This was something Steve Jobs emphatically said would never happen, but one should learn never to say never, especially now in the post-Jobs era.

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