Siliconrepublic.com editor John Kennedy gets his hands on the new iPad from Apple. Is Retina on the iPad everything it’s cracked up to be, why we should care about LTE and 4G, and what else is new that would make you want to trade up to the latest incarnation?
As usual – after the usual rumour mill crap – everyone was a little flummoxed when Apple unveiled its newest creation. You see, until that point, it was the iPad 3 and a day beforehand it was suddenly known as the iPad HD. And in usual Apple fashion – because only Apple really knows these things – it was unveiled simply as the ‘new iPad.’
The big stand-out features of the new iPad are the 2,048 x 1,536 resolution display, the 4G capability (LTE), its 5-megapixel rear camera, its A5X chip and new dictation capabilities.
My first impression of the new iPad when I finally got my hands on it had to be the display. It is certainly brighter and more vivid but it is through constant usage that you really come to appreciate it. That said, there is definitely a wow factor.
The device is 0.6mm larger than the iPad 2 and ever so slightly heavier to accommodate the bigger battery. You only notice the slight increase in heft for a moment, though, and if you compare it with an iPad 2, after a few seconds the weight difference ceases to be discernable.
The new iPad guarantees the same 10 hours of battery life as its predecessors so the bigger battery is really there to support the extra processing power of the A5X chip to handle the graphic processing that the Retina display requires. The A5X chip doesn’t necessarily make the new iPad any faster than its predecessors, it is really there to support Retina.
Retina on the new iPad
To really tell the difference that Retina makes it is a worthwhile exercise to compare firstly text on an iPad 2 with the new iPad. Zoom in really close on words and you’ll notice the pixels on the iPad 2 but with the new iPad absolutely zero pixels. This definitely sets a new standard.
The display on the new iPad is believed to be 40 times higher definition than HD TVs on the market today. The display offers 264ppi on its screen and has a 44pc better colour saturation than the iPad 2.
The incredible thing about Retina is the depth of detail. If you take a picture of a flower, for example, with the iPad 2 and compare it on the new iPad you immediately see features that blur on the iPad 2 but appear crystal clear and vividly on the new iPad.
For example, a picture of a cat would look pretty matte on a previous iPad while on the new iPad you can literally count the hairs on the cat’s head.
The quad-core graphics capability of the A5X chip and Retina combined really shine when you try out the iPhoto app Apple has just brought out. It not only lets you capture your memories in snazzy new albums in which you can add calendar notes, but the editing capability is stunning and simple.
I kind of get what Apple is trying to do here. In the two years since the first iPad was introduced, behind the scenes Apple is becoming more and more productivity oriented.
Hence the tabletisation of long-standing Mac favourites like GarageBand, PhotoBooth, iMovie and iPhoto. It is a subtle and necessary move that is adding a depth and complexity to the iPad and hurtling us towards a future where there will be little you can’t do on either an iPad or Mac device. The two are gradually becoming one and the only difference will be the shape of the device you will carry.
With iPhoto on the new iPad, the first thing you will notice is this really life-like library – with shelves – for your various albums. Think of iBookstore, only with green glass shelves.
But the real game changer is the photo-editing capabilities. You can auto enhance a photo by pressing one wand-like button or you could take more control by either using a sliding scale or a series of brush tools to repair pictures, remove red eye, saturate and desaturate, lighten, darken, sharpen or soften pictures.
A photo with too much darkness or shade can be completely revamped to look brighter and sharper, for example.
Another nifty feature of iPhoto is the new sharing capabilities which I suspect will make their way through the entire iOS family. You can post your photos directly to a blog, to iTunes, send by email, beam to another device, print by AirPrint, send to Twitter, Flickr or Facebook or conduct a Slideshow on a Mac or Apple TV.
I couldn’t wait to try this out and I have to say I am very impressed. To switch on voice dictation just go to the settings menu and keyboard and switch it on. After that, in any app where the keyboard pops up – be it Notes, Safari, Calendar, etc – just look for a little microphone symbol, press it, say what you want to say, press it again and voila! – out comes the text of what you just said.
The voice dictation is effectively a stripped-down version of voice-activated search feature Siri – think of Siri without the database or web-search functionality – and you have it. This could be very useful for composing letters, simply searching for things, etc. That said, Siri being on the new iPad is only a matter of time.
Connectivity – to LTE or not to LTE
Apple’s heralding of 4G has gotten it into trouble in countries like Australia, where it has had to make refunds, and countries like the UK and Sweden may jump on the bandwagon.
Basically, the 4G component of the new iPad will work in the US and Canada, where LTE is already available, and perhaps some European countries, where they have their act together on spectrum. Ireland and the UK have still to auction wireless spectrum before investment in LTE can take place.
Apple says that with LTE, the device will provide 4G LTE connectivity with speeds of up to 73Mbps. It also offers HSPA+ connectivity of up to 21Mbps and DC-HSDPA connectivity of 41Mbps. From my own usage so far as part of a test on SpeedTest.net, I have been able to get download speeds of around 7Mbps and upload speeds of around 5Mbps on 3G. Having trialled LTE at the recent Mobile World Congress where I got speeds of up to 50Mbps on a tablet device, I say roll on 4G.
To really understand Apple in 2012 I think you’d be wiser to look beneath the surface. It is adding a density and complexity to products that requires its hardware, design and software units to act in concert. iPhoto’s arrival in conjunction with the new iPad I think illustrates this.
So if you are just looking at things on the surface, the device is slightly bigger, slightly heavier and the Retina display, 5-megapixel rear camera, A5X chip and voice-dictation capability are the real changes here.
The brighter, sharper screen grows on you and really it becomes quite hard to put the new iPad down. The Retina display really is a game changer and it puts Apple once again leagues ahead of the competition.
My only quibble with the new iPad is the battery. Charging seems to take longer than the first iPad or the iPad 2. That said, the battery holds its own quite well, so power hasn’t really been an issue … yet.
So who will buy the new iPad or should you trade up? Apple quite wisely kept the price of the new iPad consistent with previous launches, with 16GB, 32GB and 64GB models ranging in price from €479 to €799. In tandem, it has reduced the price of the iPad 2.
It was moving to think that 3m new iPads were sold within the first three days – it took the first generation six months to do that – and a fortnight after launch around 60m have been sold worldwide.
The usual refrain when Apple launches a new device is ‘oh my God, I feel sorry for anyone who just bought the older model’. I don’t. In fact, I think if you have an iPad 2 it is a perfectly good product to stick with for some time to come. It has a decent screen and can do the majority of things the new iPad can do.
Really, it is the first-time iPad buyers or people who are trading up from the first-generation iPad who are likely to snap up the new product in droves.
Retina and 4G are the obvious factors that push the new iPad well ahead of the competition. But I think something subtle and interesting is happening under the hood and predict the iPad ecosystem is going to be a lot more about productivity in the not-too-distant future.