The new iPad is here. Exactly how new is it? New enough that you should run out and buy one today? That depends. If you already own an iPad 2, there’s no need to hurry. Otherwise, I would recommend checking your supply of cash; you may be making a new purchase quite soon.
First, a word about the name of the new iOS device. It’s not called the iPad 3 or the iPad HD, as were commonly predicted. Officially, Apple refers to it as the new iPad, sometimes noting that it is the third-generation iPad. I would have preferred a simple and more distinctive name. But I don’t get to make the decision. Clearly, Apple had other ideas. They have shifted to a naming paradigm similar to the one long used for Macs and iPods — where the latest iMac is simply called “the iMac” and the latest iPod touch is referred to as the “iPod touch (third generation).” Perhaps Apple got fed up with the endless ruminations over whether or not the current iPhone should have been called a 4S or a 5.
Whatever you call it, I am confident that the new iPad will cement and extend Apple’s lead over the competition. This is not because the iPad’s new features are so extraordinary. Rather, it’s because the iPad total package, hardware and software and price, represents the absolute best tablet you can buy — and it shows no sign of losing that distinction anytime soon.
What if you have an iPad 2?
As a starting point, let’s assume you currently own an iPad 2 and are trying to decide if you should dump it in favor of an iPad 3 (err…new iPad).
The most significant new feature of the new iPad is the “luscious” and “amazing” Retina display. As I have not yet had a chance to judge the new display myself, I can’t confirm how truly spectacular it is. But I’ll take Apple’s word for it; the demos at yesterday’s media event were certainly impressive. On the other hand, the display on the iPad 2 is no slouch. When I use it to watch movies or play Infinity Blade, I don’t grumble about its poor resolution. I’m sure the Retina display makes a difference, but I’m not sure it makes enough of a difference to compel an upgrade from an iPad 2.
The same holds true for the new iPad’s speedier A5X chip. It will be noticeably faster, especially for games. But for the most common tasks that most people do — checking email, surfing the web, reading a newspaper app, looking at photos — I doubt it will make enough difference to matter.
Eventually, as current apps are upgraded to take advantage of the new features and as new apps come out that require the new hardware, the argument in favor of upgrading from an iPad 2 to a new iPad will be more compelling. For now, not so much.
The situation is the same for the other new features of the new iPad. The 5 Megapixel iSight backside camera is a big improvement over the inferior camera in the iPad 2. But how many people will ever use an iPad as an alternative to their point-and-shoot or smartphone camera? Very very few, I expect. In other words, at a practical level, the new camera will make little difference to most iPad users.
Ditto for LTE support. The demos shown at Apple’s media event made it very clear: LTE is not just a minor speed increase over 3G, it is an order of magnitude faster. This is great news if and when you can access an LTE network. For now, most people won’t be able to do so. Of course, if you buy a Wi-Fi-only iPad, the LTE support is irrelevant.
The new iPad wasn’t even given the power of Siri. The iPhone 4S remains the lone Siri provider. Instead, new iPad owners will have to be content with the less spectacular addition of voice dictation. Not a trivial addition, but not Siri.
Bottom line: If you already own an iPad 2, there is no immediately compelling reason to upgrade. Still, if you want to upgrade anyway, you will be rewarded with leading-edge features that will become more valuable over time. Also, more and more families are becoming two-tablet households. If your spouse or kids are clamoring for an iPad of their own, this can be a good time to get a new iPad for yourself and offer your older iPad as a hand-me-down.
What if you don’t have an iPad 2?
Fortunately for Apple, and despite the huge number of iPad 2’s that have been sold, the vast majority of the world doesn’t own an iPad 2. This means there is still is a huge potential market for new iPads among those who own an original iPad or no iPad at all. The tablet market is currently the fastest growing in the computer world. As pointed out at the Apple media event, Apple sold more iPads last quarter than the total number of PCs of any single PC maker.
For people considering their first tablet device, the new iPad is an excellent choice. For the same price as the iPad 2, you get a significantly better iPad. If you were waiting for the iPad announcement before deciding what to do, now is the time to pounce. Even if you aren’t wowed by the new iPad over the iPad 2, Apple has the answer: you can buy an iPad 2 for $100 less than a new iPad.
Whatever you have…
Android tablets have thus far had trouble gaining a strong foothold in the tablet market. I don’t see this changing. If anything, I expect the gap between Android tablets and the iPad to widen this year. The reason for this is not simply superior hardware. More than ever, it’s the software that gives the iPad the edge.
In this regard, Apple upgraded its iWork and iLife for iOS suites to coincide with the new iPad announcement. Pages, Keynote, Numbers, iMovie and GarageBand all have new features that make them more attractive than they were already. And they were pretty darn attractive before. But the true stunner, the top knock-your-socks-off reveal of the entire media event, was the new iPhoto for iOS. Not only is it a great translation of the Mac version of the app, it leapfrogs beyond the Mac version in almost every area. It takes full advantage a touchscreen as a canvas. The cropping tools, the brushes for spot repairs and enhancements, the new Journals feature (which is a replacement for MobileMe’s Gallery) and all the rest are, to use Apple’s deserved hyperbole, incredible. And it’s only $4.99! If you haven’t watched the iPhoto demo from the media event, do it now. I guarantee you will be impressed.
I expect that after I start using the iOS version of iPhoto, I won’t want to go back to the Mac version. I would need the Mac version if and when I wanted to create a photo book, but that’s about it. The only thing to hold me back are the thousands of photos already in my Mac’s iPhoto Library. If I could easily access those photos from my iPad, perhaps via an option to maintain them in iCloud, it would be adios to iPhoto on the Mac.
Even before the iLife/iWork updates and new iPhoto, no other competitor had anything that was anywhere close to these apps. With these latest additions, Apple is lapping the field.
Bottom line: Oh yes, Apple is going to sell tons of these new iPads. I predict they will set records. No competing tablet on sale now or likely to come out in 2012 will offer any significant challenge to iPad’s dominance. Rather than giving competitors a chance to gain ground, I expect the new iPad will allow Apple to extend its lead. And Apple is not done yet. iOS 6 should see the light of day soon. And there may be other iPad hardware announced around the holiday season.
A minor note: The other hardware announcement at the media event was an update to Apple TV. In terms of new features, this is not much here. The only significant addition (other than what you can get by updating the software on an existing Apple TV) is 1080p capability. There is no App Store for third party apps, no new ports, no new remote, no nothing. But I have a suspicion that we haven’t seen the end of television innovations from Apple for this year. Tim Cook promised that there is exciting stuff still to come in 2012. I believe him.