The most surprising thing about Apple’s new iPad when Tim Cook unveiled it in early March wasn’t anything to do with the technical specifications; it was the fact that Apple had dumped the idea of a suffix; the followup to the iPad 2 wouldn’t be the iPad 3, or even as some pundits had tipped, the iPad HD. Instead, it’s just the iPad, although in deference to its current status, it’s the “new” iPad, as distinct from the one released two years ago. Look long enough at the technical documentation, and you’ll sometimes find it referred to as the iPad (3rd Generation).
Whatever you call it, the demand for it was certainly on par with previous years; at launch, the queue at Sydney’s main George St Apple store stretched around the block. Which was odd, given that there were any number of other retailers selling exactly the same thing, but many came for the social experience, presumably.
All that aside, the new iPad isn’t a radical reinvention of the tablet concept; rather like Apple’s moves with its iPhone brand, it’s more of a gradual evolution. The key feature that you’ll spot right away is the high definition 2048 by 1536 pixel display screen. Apple uses the hideous marketing term “resolutionary”, as well as referring to it as a retina display, but advertising aside, the key thing that the new screen brings with it is very crisp text and visuals — on applications that support it. Put lower resolution video on the new iPad, and the higher resolution screen will make it look a little worse, in the same way that a VHS tape played back on a modern LCD flat panel looks grainy; the screen’s simply better at showing all the detail, good or bad.
As with previous generations, you can buy an iPad with only onboard WiFi connectivity, or one that can handle mobile data, but here you’ve got to be careful. Apple labels the mobile data capable iPad as the Wi-Fi+4G model, but here in Australia, the frequencies used by Telstra (and shortly by Optus) aren’t compatible with the 4G chip inside the new iPad. It’ll still connect to 3G wireless — and it’s dual channel HSPA+ compatible, so there’s some overhead there for decent speeds. But what it isn’t, and won’t be under current Australian 4G implementations for some time, is actually 4G compatible. For US and Canadian travellers, you should be able to connect there to 4G networks with an Australian iPad, for what that’s worth.
The new iPad’s internals have been beefed up as well, with a dual-core A5X ARM processor and quad-core graphics, although again Apple’s marketing rather fudges things here. The important part here is that it is noticeably faster when using processor intensive applications compared to the older iPad models. The speed difference is there, but as yet, there’s no applications that explicitly require the new iPad.
So what’s the final verdict? Apple’s still largely leading the market when it comes to tablet implementations, and it’s clearly got a lead in terms of applications for tablets. The new iPad is better than the old one, but those with an existing iPad — especially last year’s iPad 2 — shouldn’t rush out to upgrade. Those after their first tablet would be well advised to put it on the top of their shopping list.