For a long time in 2013, as we waited for the presumptively labeled iPad 5, many observers bitched about Apple's tardiness and presumed inability to innovate. The iPad Air refutes all that silliness in spades.
The iPad Air creates a whole new kind of experience for a 10-inch tablet. Sure, you can look at the specs as "28 percent lighter and 20 percent thinner," according to Apple, but these are just numbers. You have to hold the iPad Air in your hand to appreciate the feeling. TMO's Melissa Holt described it well: "It's like a marshmallow made out of metal."
Until you have handled an iPad Air as I have and compared it to previous full-size iPads, you can't really appreciate the abstract numbers quoted above. (Jeff Gamet also evaluated this new iPad, and his full review has now been published.)
My take is that Apple performed considerable engineering work to accomplish this. The battery is two cells instead of three, according to iFixit: 8,820 mAh compared to 11,666 mAh (approximately). And yet the battery life is the same: 10 hours. That means that everything that consumes power in typical use had to be engineered to use significantly less power. The innovation comes in achieving those specifications that, in turn, manifest themselves in the outward design of the product.
To understand that is to understand innovation.
The result isn't a laundry list of industry acronyms for technologies thrown into a pot of wishes, but rather a new kind of iPad experience. What writers are saying, and I agree completely, is that the iPad Air (472 g) feels like a slightly oversize iPad mini (331 g). The iPad Air is also 0.75 inch narrower than the iPad 3/4. That makes more of a difference that the sub 1-inch number suggests.
The sensation is so astonishing that I wouldn't be surprised if vast numbers of customers were eager to sell their iPad 1/2/3/4 on the spot and buy one of these iPad Airs. It's an example of innovation that translates into customer enthusiasm and satisfaction. Maybe even a little bit of affection.
This feat of engineering vindicates Apple. The company's vision of what customers really want and appreciate is truer and crisper than pundits who aren't participants in the engineering process and vision of Apple engineers and designers.
It took a little longer, but the wait was worth it. Innovation means development and breakthroughs in areas that mean something tangible to the paying customer, and if this is the kind of innovation we can expect from Apple, I'll take it every time.
iPad Air images via Apple.