It's official. The rumor mill can slow down; we can return to our everyday lives again and order a new iPad.
Apple announced the new tablet with enough superlatives to blanket every other tablet press release for the remainder of this year. However, the new features can be summed up in a few sentences, may not be as revolutionary as they sound and, given the expectations we have in Apple, just be barely good enough.
Reading through Apple's "New iPad" announcement sends your mind spinning. (Yes, it's not an iPad "3" in an apparent attempt to reduce perceived fragmentation and user envy.) It is a textbook example of how to write an announcement of a product you are either extremely proud of, or a textbook example of a product that fell short of what it should have been and requires plenty of words to wrap around a few new features. I admit that it does not really matter, since we know that this thing will sell like hotcakes anyway. The few truly new features announced, most notably a 2048x1536 pixel retina display as well as 4G LTE support and a processor that is promised to blow Nvidia's Tegra 3 out of the water, are enough to keep the iPad ahead of the competition. I am not sure about you, but the reasons to buy this tablet essentially boil down to the display. Compared to the average 10-inch tablet available today, the retina display has more than three times the resolution (2048x1536 = 3,145,728 pixels versus 1280x800 = 1,024,000 pixels) which should look good, especially on a 9.7-inch screen.
Still, Apple had an opportunity to do more. Here is what I would like to have seen.
Layered 3D display and gesture expansion
In January of 2010, Apple filed a patent that described a layered 3D display. This specific patent was apparently targeted at desktop displays, but 3D for the iPad with an option of layered menus is the far greater opportunity that makes a lot of sense. The idea is to use transparent OLEDs in the front and the middle as well as a common LCD in the back to achieve a physical 3D effect of objects shown on the screen. So far, no one has figured out how 3D can be explained as a technology of value to consumers. It might take Apple to help the technology to succeed in the mainstream. Perhaps 3D just isn't mature enough, but I would love to have seen that in the iPad. The fact that there is no 3D display also means that there is no evolution of the basic user and gesture model, which is a good thing. On that note, there have been rumors that Apple may introduce a touch-sensitive bezel that would eliminate, for example, the physical rocker for the volume adjustment. The bezel appears to be a huge area of wasted space that can be used for additional gestures, as well as touch input.
No quad-core CPU
This one is difficult, as even the established application processor makers are in a disagreement as to whether four cores make sense at this time. Intel has only one core; most manufacturers have dual-cores. Only Nvidia has a quad-core with an additional power-saving core. One hurdle to move to four cores clearly appears to be power consumption. If we look at today's dual-core application processors, we have to admit that they are way too power hungry already. Five years ago, my dumb-phone lasted two days on a charge. My LG Optimus 2X can't even compete with my antique Motorola M301 from 1996 in terms of battery time. So Apple may have a good case as to why it stays with a dual-core chip, the A5X, which includes "quad-core" graphics that help the iPad reach a "console-like game performance." However, had Apple found a way to transition to four cores and do so responsibly in terms of power consumption, Apple would have been ahead of most other tablet makers and would have eliminated the bragging rights on that front. I admit that this is a personal preference, and it is difficult to gauge the benefits of a quad-core chip in today's tablet world. Also, it may not matter to iPad buyers anyway. "Good enough" has always been good enough in Apple's world. There is no sign that this will change anytime soon.
Where is my cheap iPad 2?
Apple's launch event also held the message that the company has no intentions of competing in the $199 tablet market. Instead, the iPad 2 will remain what it is, but will now cost $399 (16 GB, Wi-Fi) and $529 (16 GB 3G), which is still rather costly – especially for a last-generation tablet. There is no 7- or 8-inch iPad. Apple has a huge opportunity to use its brand and reputation at least for a $299 product, which I would predict will arrive next year. Similar to its iPhone strategy, I am pretty sure that Apple can shave off another $100 when the next new iPad arrives. For now, however, Apple is leaving that market to Android makers, which may be a strategic mistake, given the immense leverage the company has right now. Keep in mind, we are promised to get Tegra 3 tablets for less than $300 this year. Those tablets are likely to come with a fully-equipped hardware feature list that provides full access to Android Market. Tablets costing $350 and below may be the segment that Android makers can seize for themselves this year, shutting out Apple, if they devise some compelling hardware and software products that appeal to those who can't afford to spend $500 or more on a tablet.
A 5MP camera?
Since the first iPhone in 2007, the camera was a problem for iOS devices. Lately, they have been generally labeled as good enough, but a decent 8MP camera is pretty much standard today. Admittedly, megapixels aren’t everything (even if I'd claim I'd rather have more than less), and we know that some higher-resolution CMOS chips deliver less quality than some lower-resolution chips. However, I must admit that Nokia's recent 41MP phone camera announcement has left a lasting impression. I am wondering how those pictures would look with the iPad's retina display. Not that I would ask for a 41MP, but I am sure that the current camera module, which seems to be the same, or at least similar to the one in the iPhone 4S, will not exploit the capabilities of the stunning display. This may have been the reason why Apple promoted only high-res 12MP DSLR pictures during its iPad presentation. I am sure, if you are buying the high-end 64GB 4G LTE iPad for $830, you would expect a slightly better-than-5MP camera.
I am not sure if anyone can answer the question whether 64 GB of storage space is enough. The answer highly depends on your usage scenario and the way you employ your applications. In the future, we may use cloud applications extensively. However, a complete transition to cloud that reduces our need for local storage is not quite feasible as long as carriers believe nose-bleed tiered data plans are the way to go and as long as they can charge $20 for a 1 MB download when you are outside the borders of the U.S. So, in cases of users who intend to replace their PC with an iPad, 64 GB of storage space may not be enough, and an 80 GB or 120 GB option would be desirable. With 64 GB of storage space, there is still a market that Apple (and other tablet makers) cannot touch. However, that market may be shrinking as cloud services become more popular. I would assume that Apple would have introduced such a tier if it saw a need for it, which leads me to believe that the share of 64 GB iPads being sold is rather small. Personally, however, I would like to have seen a 128 GB version that can hold most of my digital stuff, even if it was offered at a substantial premium.
To be fair, the new iPad is a solid improvement over its predecessor, but it is not disruptive enough to send you into a depression if you spent $500 or more last Christmas on an iPad 2, which may not be such a bad thing after all. However, I wonder about the expectations that are raised by Apple's CEO Tim Cook, who told the audience at the presentation that Apple has the "most innovative" employees in the world. Realistically, some of the features in the iPad are just catch-ups, some are behind the competition, and one is considerably ahead – the retina display. Did Apple meet the expectations? I leave that up to you to answer, but I have to say that I had hoped for a white rabbit that Cook would pull out of Apple's hat. That rabbit wasn't there.