Looking at the latest round of iPads, it’s easy to say we’ve come a long way.
In just under four years’ time, Apple has managed to make the latest full-sized iPad 211g lighter than the original. It’s also 2.8mm shorter, 20.2mm narrower, and almost half the thickness – 7.5mm versus the 13.4mm thickness of the original.
The outward appearance has drastically changed, as well. It’s lighter, more premium, more comfortable hold, and, well, prettier. All the while, Apple has maintained the same screen size, 9.7-inches, and quadrupled the resolution, effectively doubling the density – 264ppi versus 132ppi from before.
On the inside, the iPad Air has quadruple the RAM, up to 128GB of storage space, a 32.4Wh battery (versus the original’s 24.8Wh cell), and a major upgrade in horsepower. The CPU found in the first-generation iPad was the Apple A4, a 1GHz Cortex-A8 CPU with PowerVR SGX535 GPU. That has since been upgraded several times, and the iPad Air comes with an Apple A7, the 1.3GHz dual-core 64-bit Cyclone CPU and quad-core PowerVR G6430 GPU. In other words, the iPad Air screams while running circles around the original iPad.
On top of that, the Air has a rear-facing 5-megapixel camera, Bluetooth 4.0, LTE connectivity (depending on model), and stereo speakers, none of which came on the original model.
When you look at hardware, though the two are visibly familiar, these two tablets are night and day. The first-gen iPad was just that, first-gen hardware with a few kinks. At the time, it was spectacular. In retrospect, Apple has upgraded the hardware in a big, big way.
The ecosystem has come a long way since the inaugural iPad, as well. The App Store, for example, in March 2010 had just over 150,000 applications, with just a handful dedicated to or optimized for the iPad. At the launch of the iPad Air, there were over 1,000,000 applications available for iOS devices – over 375,000 are specifically optimized for the iPad.
The iPad is home to one of the best mobile gaming experiences available. The display is gorgeous, the performance is smooth, and the selection of games readily available for both the 9.7-inch and iPad mini models is unbelievably vast.
Apple has also since introduced iCloud, the cloud-based backup tool for all iOS devices. It made the iWork suite completely free to iOS users, added a music streaming service, iTunes Radio, and even photo sharing via iCloud.
In these two areas, hardware and ecosystem, Apple has truly developed a solid tablet with an impressive experience.
But, take a step back and gander at the software for a minute – iOS.
It really hasn’t changed. Sure, Apple has added a few features, here and there. You can now AirDrop photos and share content to those around you, with the touch of a button. Control Center and Notification Center make controlling your device and accessing missed notifications easier. And, sure, it’s prettier than before. The iOS 7 update overhauled the user interface.
But at its very core, it’s the same old operating system with the same limitations. The home screen is very poorly optimized for 7.9 and 9.7-inch devices. There is no true multitasking, only task switching, despite having ample display real estate, horsepower, and RAM for running more than one application at a time. The Web browsing experience is great, but the sharing experience is antiquated. You can only share directly with the services Apple has chosen to integrate into the system. Sharing to other services slingshots you out of the application and into another.
For what it’s worth, task switching has been made much better since the original iPad, thanks to multitasking gestures, which were added in iOS 4.3 in 2011. You can five-finger pinch to return to the home screen, four-finger swipe up to access the task switching menu, and four-finger swipe left or right to switch, chronologically, between all the most recent apps.
Most importantly, though, I think we as consumers have learned where modern tablets fit into our lives, why we need or want them, and how they can improve our workflow or multimedia consumption on the go … or even from the couch.
Apple has done a great job of pushing the tablet industry forward. But it’s greatest innovation was the original iPad itself. The subsequent models were all refinements of the first, mainly in user experience and hardware. The software, for the most part, has remained the same.
But if you ever feel the latest model iPad is only marginally better than the original, I challenge you to find an original iPad and pick it up, look at the display, and mess with it for just a few minutes. I did just a few weeks ago (when reviewing the iPad Air). It’s an impressive improvement alone, and it’s even more impressive when you consider it hasn’t even been four years yet.
Add the fact that Apple has also managed to cram all the same specifications and the near exact experience from the iPad Air down into the 7.9-inch iPad mini, and yeah, we’d say we’ve come a very long way since March 2010.