Ticking a lot (if not quite all) of the boxes the industry was hoping for and delivering price cuts in the bargain, Apple has launched its next-gen tablet, simply dubbed 'iPad'.
We thought it might be called the iPad 3, or perhaps the iPad HD, but Apple, ending months of hype, rumours and leaks, has finally launched its third-gen tablet, and the result is simply dubbed 'iPad' -- a little confusing perhaps, but also clawing Apple out of an unwinnable arms race with regard to its own successive product naming.
And while the new iPad doesn't quite bring everything to the table that industry watchers were expecting or hoping for, the third generation does manage to deliver a solid round of feature upgrades (most significantly new HD 'Retina' graphics, a more powerful A5X processor and 4G connectivity) while simultaneously dropping prices across the iPad line
: an impressive feat which will no doubt reinforce Apple's tablet stronghold for 2012 and provide stiff ongoing competition to the Android tablet field desperately angling for a bigger slice of the action after a lacklustre 2011 (re: market share, not the products themselves).
In terms of physical dimensions and appearance, the new iPad (starting at $539, more on pricing below) is for the most part largely unchanged from its iPad 2 predecessor, but as was expected, the new HD graphics capabilities (outlined in further detail later) have brought with them some extra weight and girth.
It's rather un-Apple of the company to take a design step backwards, but the new components have nevertheless ensured that the new iPad is both thicker and heavier than last year's iPad 2. Height and width are unchanged at 241.2mm and 185.7mm respectively, but the new iPad is 9.41mm thick (compared to the iPad 2's 8.8mm) and weighs 652g (or 662g with 4G) compared to last year's 601g/613g with 3G. Not exactly deal-breaking adjustments, but worth noting. Rumours of Apple removing the sole front-facing Home button for a seamless front facade (as per devices running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich) turned out to be unfounded; it's right where it always was.
The new iPad's defining new feature upgrades are its new HD 'Retina' display, A5X processor, 4G connectivity and 5MP iSight camera. Front and foremost among these is the Retina display, which manages to provide a crystal-clear 2,048 x 1,536 resolution, essentially outputting four times as many pixels as the iPad 2 (1,024 x 768) and supposedly reaching the granular limit of what a human can perceive: when held at a 'normal distance', you won't be able to detect individual pixels on the screen. It's a substantially higher resolution than a Full HD 1,920 x 1,080 TV, which is pretty impressive given that the iPad only measures 9.7 inches diagonally (as compared to the lower-res 50-inch displays many people now have in their living rooms). Colour saturation is also said to be 44 per cent greater, so it's a visual upgrade all-round.
To drive all those extra pixels, the new iPad runs on Apple's new A5X chip (not the full-upgrade A6 some expected). Apple doesn't provide the exact spec of the A5X, but we know that it's a custom dual-core CPU with quad-core graphics (the iPad 2 featured a 1GHz dual-core A5). Importantly (from a user's perspective) Apple claims battery life is unchanged from the iPad 2's spec: despite all the extra intensive processing required by the new graphics capabilities, you should still manage to eke out up to 10 hours of use from a single charge.
While the new iPad is marketing itself on its 4G LTE credentials (as compared to the iPad 2, which only offered 3G connectivity), it's unclear at this point whether the device will achieve 4G speeds on Telstra's 4G network due to the spectrum particularities of what's on offer from our only current 4G provider. Expect more to be announced with regard to this issue, but until more becomes clear from Telstra or Apple, it would be advisable to hold off upgrading solely for this feature.
One of the standout disappointments of last year's iPad 2 was its dismal rear-facing camera. Even though taking photos with a tablet is not exactly a high-priority feature for most, the poor results the iPad 2's camera delivers are a noticeable eyesore and seem out of place considering Apple's noted photographic successes with its iPhone 4 and 4S. Well, the company has corrected this with the new iPad's 5MP iSight camera which is also capable of recording HD video in 1080p; Apple didn't disclose the megapixel resolution of the iPad 2, but its video recording only went up to 720p. Disappointingly (and somewhat bafflingly considering Apple's focus on FaceTime and display excellence in other areas), the front-facing camera is still a sub-par VGA-quality.
So, how much does it cost and when can you get your hands on it? The new iPad will be available in Australia from next Friday (March 16) and it's available for pre-order now from Apple's web site. As with the iPad 2, there are two product streams: iPad Wi-Fi and iPad Wi-Fi + 4G. The iPad Wi-Fi costs $539 for the 16GB model, $649 (32GB) and $759 (64GB), while the iPad Wi-Fi + 4G fetches $679 (16GB), $789 (32GB) and $899 (64GB). On the whole, each SKU is approximately $40 to $50 cheaper than last year's equivalent iPad 2, making the pricing on the whole quite attractive. The rumoured 128GB capacity model failed to materialise.
Finally, for those only seeking a cheaper device (and who don't need all the bells and whistles unveiled today), Apple is wooing the bottom end of the market with a reduced-price iPad 2 offering. The 16GB Wi-Fi model has dropped a whopping $150 overnight, now available for $429, while its 3G counterpart sells at $569 ($160 cheaper, and larger capacities of both are no longer available).