5 Features the Next Generation iPad Air and mini Should Have

| John Martellaro's Blog

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.

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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.

Fine.

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?

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10 Comments Leave Your Own

skipaq

The number one change on my list is bumping up the memory while maintaining the prices. Touch ID would be nice, better sound too. But memory is just such a basic need that it outweighs the others.

geoduck

Upping the base memory. YES! 16GB is essentially useless when most Retina apps weigh in around a GB, especially games. I suspect the idea is that we will use the cloud more but there would need to be a quantum level improvement in WiFi availability and/or reduction in cell data plan costs for this to work.

Touch ID. Meh. But then maybe I just don’t worry so much about security on my iPad.

Stylus. Meh. I’ve tried a couple and it felt like weird. The iPad just cries out to work with a finger. Actually multiple fingers. I found that out when my wife got me a set of touch screen gloves. Turned out that only the index was conductive so I couldn’t use any multi touch gestures. Same with a stylus. I’d start using it, and then have to type, or use a multi touch gesture, i’d put it down and not pick it up again. This surprised me as I really thought I’d want to use a stylus.

Better speakers. YES! Not all of us use headphones or external speakers regularly. I often have the internet radio playing at night. Headphones in bed would be asking for trouble and my old iPod boom box isn’t compatible with more current devices.

Improved WiFi. Not a bad idea.

Matt Lew

There is actually a lot of evidence (including historical adoption of the latest technology - especially in wireless connectivity) that Apple did not upgrade the iPads or iPhones to 802.11ac because they didn’t want to pay extra for the latest broadband chips - Apple, if you didn’t already know 10x over, is notorious for squeezing every ounce of profit out of its hardware and typically only moves to new technology when that new technology does become part of the consumer decision-making process. For example, Apple waited until the very end to bring LTE to the iPhone, and did not move to the latest Qualcomm chip (which supports LTE-A) because it didn’t want to pay the extra licensing fees. I think 802.11ac is becoming a decision-making factor on a laptop (hence Macs have it), and that’s why that product lineup is using it already.

Another example is NFC. Apple has not moved to NFC for a number of reasons - it’s likely that they are developing / democratizing other technology (e.g., iBeacons) AND because nobody makes a smartphone buying decision on whether the phone has NFC or not - at least nobody I know. If NFC did pick up massive traction (which has about 0.1% chance right now), then Apple would move to adoption.

They’re rarely the first to the show and like to observe before picking which “horses to ride”.

Scott 2

RAM is the #1 “Feature the Next Generation iPad Air and mini MUST Have”.

That RAM isn’t even mentioned on this list is beyond puzzling.

Samir Shah 1

I want all of them. Stylus’s time has come. iPad Pro will have a stylus, so why not iPad Air and iPad mini.

John Martellaro

Scott 2: Have you identified a performance issue that you can tell us about such that the solution is more than 1 GB of RAM?

This iPad Air review has some favorable performance measurements.

http://www.wired.co.uk/reviews/tablets/2013-11/apple-ipad-air-review

 

webjprgm

(3) Speakers - How many customers are influenced by this? I’m guessing Apple’s position is that audiophiles use ear pods or some 3rd party headphones or speakers while normal people don’t care. Personally I don’t see (hear) the problem. I watch YouTube videos on iPad 3rd gen and iPad mini regularly.

(4) Agree. For desktop PCs the workaround has been to buy minimal RAM from Apple and get upgrades for free. (Yes I know Flash storage does not equate to RAM in desktops, but Apple uses the same pricing model for the two, so I am comparing them.) I would prefer having a similar third-party solution rather than always hoping Apple ups the storage capacity when I want them to.

(5) Stylus tech is still changing. Apple won’t likely introduce broad support until it settles down or unless Apple makes their own stylus. It’s easier for them to let everyone else try many ideas first.  I agree that stylus support should eventually be part of iOS SDKs.

ibuck

Martellaro: that makes a 16 GB iPad an anachronism.

Sixteen gigs has gotta go! New iPads must come with 32GB and, if not Touch ID, secure folders or some way to secure email, address book and other confidential data.

And these improvements must apply to iPod Touch, as well. And the new Kindle-killing iPod Super Touch with 6” screen, Touch ID and a plastic (easy to hold) case with wider bezels, yet fit into jacket pockets.

mhikl

All round good points. My iPad 3 has 64GBs and I use a little more than 32 and could clean up enough to live with the middle number. But I agree: the 16GB sounds a little mean and awfully limiting.
Speaker, for sure. The rest yup. I like to draw and if the pen worked well, what the hell.
The weight gets a little tiring and I have my eye on the next mini version, & though the scrooge in me is intimidating, I think I would use the lighter version with better speakers more.
ibuck’s points on the iPt might just save that line if the size was larger,  then I could wait a little longer on the mini. Music and lists is about all I use my iPt for but larger in size, I might return to using one as my main book reader.

BruceL

Though this is not an iPad Air and mini feature, but iOS7 really needs to allow switching between apps when a bluetooth or other keyboard is attached with ⌘ (command) + Tab.

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