There has been a lot of speculation lately about the so-called iPad Pro, filling out the 2 x 2 matrix of MacBooks (Air/Pro) and iPads (Air/Pro). However, for right now, I have my own wish list of features for the next generation iPad Air -- including the iPad mini.
First, as I've said all along, there's little to be gained by strongly suggesting that Apple should do this or do that based on idle wishes. Secret engineering developments, engineering trade-offs, profit considerations, manufacturing issues and strategic planning all come into play, and we aren't privy to that kind of internal planning by Apple.
Even so, we can look at past developments as a template and develop some intelligent wishes about what we'd like to see in the next generation product. That's what I want to do here.
1. Better Wi-Fi. I know that many were disappointed in the fact that Apple introduced a new AirPort Extreme base station in June, 2013 with 802.11ac -- and then delivered an iPhone 5s/5c and iPad Air limited to 802.11 a/b/g/n. The most compelling argument I saw was that 802.11ac draws too much power. (More speed requires more electrical power.)
It makes sense to wait until battery technology can catch up and the legacy battery life, in hours, can be maintained when introducing 802.11ac. I hope that can happen in the next generation.
2. Include Touch ID. Apple has a tradition of introducing new technology in the iPhone and then letting it percolate into the iPads. So it seems to be going that way with Touch ID. Initially, this technology is more important in a device that one carries everywhere because the data in the iPhone is more at risk. An iPad while extremely portable is also harder to misplace and tends to stay put in homes, offices, schools, etc. So it makes sense to introduce it later on the iPad Air. Who knows? Perhaps supplies of the sapphire lens were limited.
Touch ID components. Image credit: Apple
Again, all things being equal, it would be nice to see Touch ID on the iPad. We want to see advanced Apple technologies on all our devices, become more accustomed to the use, and, thanks to sheer numbers, cause the technology to evolve and mature. The precedent is Siri moving from exclusive to the iPhone to the iPads as well.
3. Better Speakers. My current iPad Air is a lovely, wonderful device, but Apple is being too stubborn about external speaker design philosophy. It's gotten so bad that some smart case makers, like Macally, have taken to building acoustic scoops or sound reflectors into the case that project the sound forward, such as the Macally Clear Case.
The Macally Clear Case for iPad Air with sound reflectors doing Apple's job.
I'd like to see Jony Ive take one more look at this issue and come up with a typically brilliant Applesque solution so that case makers don't have to make up for Apple's failings when it comes to the sound levels, direction and stereo separation.
4. Better Storage Proposition. Okay, is Apple done gouging us for that first 16 GB of storage? One hundred U.S. bucks is a steep climb to get from 16 GB to 32 GB of Flash storage.
The issue here is gross margins and profitability. Apple knows from experience what customers have decided to buy in terms of storage over the years, and those $100 increments are designed to build in suitable profit while keeping the base price attractive.
But there comes a time when the march of technology, lower component prices and heated competition cry out for a pleasing change. What I'd like to see is the base model at $499 come with 32 GB, and then go from there. 16 GB may cut it on a lightly loaded iPhone, as is my own habit, but iPads tend to accumulate a lot of stuff: apps, movies and music that makes a 16 GB iPad an anachronism. Here's hoping ....
5. Better Stylus Support. I know, I know. The iPad's driving principle is that it is to be used without a stylus. However, if the iPad product line is to advance in terms of content creation and desirable cannibalization of PCs, a modest change is needed.
I'd like to see more attention paid to the display sensor technology that allows for the next generation of fine tip electronic styluses to be used more effectively and accurately. This will make it easier on app developers and stylus designers. Currently, they have to deal with some technical hurdles because Apple's focus is simply on the 4 mm spot and the human finger, not advanced styluses. If Apple is looking for something to hoot about, in what seems to be a maturing product, this looks like a Good Thing To Do.
The LYNKtec Apex elctronic stylus (2.2 mm diameter nib).
For a more detailed technical discussion of electronic styluses and how they have problems with the current iPad Air (and iPhone 5s), see: " A Next Generation Stylus: TruGlide Apex Uses Electronic Magic."
It's a Wrap
That's my own wish list for the next iPad Air. The goal here has been to look at precedent, be sensible about what Apple can achieve and anticipate future directions for the iPad Air -- and the even the iPad mini. Remember, innovation is often the incremental build up of technical finesse until the whole is more than the sum of the parts.
With these goals in mind, what do you want to see in the next iPad Air and mini?