Today was Apple’s day to breathe new life into a slowly stagnating lineup of iPads that … do exactly what the original iPad did, only faster.
Going into today’s announcements, we were told we might see something new, something potentially game-changing. Rumors suggested there could be an iPad Pro (or Plus) with a 12.9-inch display. Theories about what the larger iPad would entail have varied from “not much else” to a full-on Mac OS tablet or a device that could switch between iOS and Mac OS on the fly.
Either way, that didn’t happen today. Instead, today’s iPad announcement turned out to be one of the longest, most uneventful Apple announcement in recent memory.
It was just last year that Apple introduced the new iPad Air branding to accentuate its newer, sleeker iPad. Weighing just one pound, that iPad was was 20 percent thinner and 28 percent lighter than the fourth-generation iPad. Apple states its bezels were 43 percent narrower than the previous model, too. In other words, the iPad Air was stunning and impressive because it was packing quite a bit more power in a much slimmer and prettier package.
Like most, I figured that would be the end of the weight and size reductions, at least for a while.
Wrong. Apple wasn’t finished and it took the last 12 months to apply the appropriate hardware upgrades – the 64-bit A8X chip, TouchID, an 8-megapixel camera, and a few other odds and ends – while continuing to trim away every last possible bit of excess weight and trim.
Apple made the iPad Air 2 official today, as expected. At just 6.1mm, it’s 18 percent thinner than last year’s model and, as Apple claims, the thinnest tablet in the world. It’s also 0.96 pounds (or 437g for the Wi-Fi model), compared to a full pound (469g) for the same model last year.
If you’ve used an iPad Air and compared it to any of the previous iPad models, you’re well aware how much easier the iPad Air is to hold and use for extended periods of time. You’re aware of how impressively thin it is. And the thought I wish this were thinner and lighter probably never crossed your mind.
For some reason, Apple has an affinity – no, an obsession – for amazingly thin and lightweight products. More than once, I’ve felt the iPhone 6 Plus is borderline too thin. The iPad Air and iPad mini with Retina display were plenty thin, as well. But Apple wanted to reclaim its title, to go above and beyond to create a product that is less than half the thickness of a No. 2 pencil.
Sure, that’s impressive. And it’s part of what defines Apple – going the extra mile while competitors dabble and experiment with new designs and materials to try and make their products look and feel half as nice.
The thing is, the shock value of new, thinner products from Apple has diminished over the years. It’s expected – even when it isn’t. Not to mention, there are other areas Apple could improve its products, to make its phones and tablets more valuable to customers. Slicing millimeters off the thickness and a few grams off the weight isn’t it.
Of the top of my head, I can think of at least half dozen ways Apple could have further improved the iPad Air more effectively than weight reduction: a larger battery, split-screen apps (true simultasking), double the RAM, a wacom digitizer with a Surface-like pen (gasp!), mouse support, and expandable storage. Of course some of those things will never happen – they’re pipe dreams. But let’s focus on the one improvement that could have at least been plausible. The battery.
Apple has maintained the 10-hour battery life claim since the very first iPad. It’s made some iPad batteries larger and even some smaller to continue to hit that same metric every year. In fact, the battery in the iPad Air was smaller than the battery in the fourth-generation iPad, since the 64-bit A7 chip was more power-efficient than the A6.
We don’t have any hard data on the battery in the iPad Air 2 yet – Apple doesn’t typically disclose that information, so we’ll have to wait for an iFixit teardown to see what’s going on under the hood. But the question I want to ask is: why didn’t Apple just keep the iPad the same thickness and increase the battery capacity? Rather than continuing to hit the 10-hour mark, why not exceed it?
Sure, I only charge my iPad once every few days – sometimes just once per week. The battery life of the iPad isn’t as pertinent as, say, an iPhone’s. But all this time and effort spent on making every product thinner and lighter will pass the point of diminishing returns sooner or later. If we haven’t arrived there yet, it’s not far off. There is only so much reduction that can be applied to weight, thickness, and bezels. It makes me wonder at what point will Apple begin to add true value to its iPads again, rather than subtracting everything else.
I, for one, see no point in buying any of the newer iPads. Thinner isn’t necessarily better, unless you spend a great deal of time reading and holding your iPad (as opposed to propping it on a table or lap, which seems to be the case for most users). The only true selling point is TouchID, and as much as I enjoy the convenience of not having to enter my password each time I purchase something from the App Store, it’s not enough to warrant another $100 bump in price. Neither is the A8X chip.
Point being, the iPad Air and iPad mini 2 are the better bargains this year. Those are the ones people will be getting for presents during the holidays and for birthdays. The differences between last year’s and the newly announced iPads are meager, at best. Like Jaime and I both said on the Roundtable earlier today, the only thing that would prompt either of us to upgrade to the newer models are the larger storage options.
It certainly isn’t their size and weight.
What say you, folks? Is thinner and lighter a solid selling point for you? Will you be trading in your old iPad for a newer one? Or do you wish Apple had kept the size and shape of the iPad Air the same in favor of better specifications, such as more RAM and a larger battery? Share your thoughts in the comments below!