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Thoughts on the new iPad

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I’ve been living with the new iPad since its arrival on Friday. Apple has done it again. But not necessarily in the way you might think I mean. More on that later. I won’t call this a review. Simply because I think the category “review” is quickly losing its currency when it comes to talking about gadgets. Apple bears some (not all) responsibility for that as well. Again, more on that later. Instead of a review, I’m going to toss out some (still) early impressions of the new Tablet based on a weekend of testing and playing around.

First, here’s a general summary. The new iPad is a nice successor to the two previous models. I would somewhat agree with those who say if you’re looking for your first iPad or your first Tablet, this is the way to go if you want the top of the line in 10 inch Tablets. I will qualify that and say that based on what the new iPad currently brings to the table, as a device, you could do just as well with an iPad 2 and spend $100 less. That said, the iPad is still what I believe to be unquestionably the best Tablet on the market at the moment.

I keep holding out hope that we’ll actually see some real competition in the Tablet scape. I also root for number 16 seeds to knock off number 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament. It could happen. Maybe one day. But for the time being there really isn’t any. In my view, Google continues to flail and fail with the Android Tablet experience. Microsoft still is just a possible promise. Amazon’s Kindle Fire, which I own, (running Amazon’s version of Android)  may be competition for dollars spent. That’s a horse-race, certainly, but one that ultimately bears no meaning except to those counting the dollars. I can’t place the Kindle Fire and the iPad in the same device category based on my usage and the way I see others using them. Don’t get me wrong, the Kindle Fire is a great first start by Amazon and does what it does well. I like that device very much and use it often for reading and some other tasks. But it can’t compete for most of my time in the way I use a Tablet and in the way Apple is positioning the iPad.

Apple continues to do things its way. You can’t argue with the approach based on the successful track record. What strikes me as both humorous and maddening is that Apple’s evolutionary approach continues to leave so much room for competition, but no one has yet found a way to gain any traction, much less an advantage. The “we control it all” approach is certainly the winner here. However, I think the release of the new iPad may be the first real moment that focuses some attention on how Apple’s evolutionary process might begin to diminish Apple’s daunting lead.

When rolling out the new iPad, Apple selected to promote the Retina Display, the A5X Chip, the iSight camera, and LTE as the major innovations. In my early usage each of these are indeed powerful advances that make the new iPad a nice next step. Combined they serve to keep the iPad far ahead of its weak competition. But in all honesty, I don’t think any of those advances are necessarily worth the price of the upgrade, if that’s the position you find yourself in. I’ve been going back and forth between the new iPad and the iPad 2 over the weekend, and my early view is that the the evolution is, in the end, subtle enough to make Charles Darwin wince. There is though, great evidence of intelligent design.

So, let’s start with those big categories, or tent poles, that Apple rolled out in the keynote.

The Retina Display

I’ve already written a bit about the Retina display in this post. I’m taking the new iPad into the Apple Store early tonight to see what they have to say about the yellowish tint. They were very intrigued when I called to discuss this and set up the appointment. Several theories abound about this. One of which says that some displays are manufactured by Samsung and others by LG and this might account for the color differences some are seeing.

Here’s an interesting point about that. With the release of iPhoto for the iPad, Apple is holding the device up as an excellent tool for photographers. Last I looked, accurate color means something to advanced shutterbugs. Since I’m seeing reports from those who have the same issue I do and those who don’t, I’m guessing there’s something going on here beyond the adhesive issue that we’ve seen before. Maybe Apple will have to put a filter in iPhoto that specifically corrects for the new iPad yellowish tints.

There’s no question that Apple has advanced display technology with its 3.1 million pixels. But as I have already said, while I’m seeing the difference, I’m not seeing it as the wide-eyed, awe inspiring, adjectival challenging, greatest thing since sliced bread feature that others are. I will grant that since eyes are as different as the humans who sport and use them, you might see things differently than I do here.

I’ve seen quite a few say this Retina display will spoil you and you can’t go back again. With apologies to Thomas Wolfe, I’ve got no problems going home again to the iPad 2. There has always been something wonderfully pleasing and visually fulfilling about reading or viewing images on the iPad. That’s still how I feel. I just don’t feel the Retina display is as big a deal as Apple made it out to be, or as many early reviewers seemed to think it is. I’m noticing as the weekend goes on, others are saying similar things to what I am, so perhaps I’m not as blind to how I view this change as I originally thought. In fact, I think this might be a case where the hype and echo chamber created expectations that were too high. Not to mention controlled lighting and displays cranked up to full brightness in the room where reviewers got to check out the new iPad after the keynote. Note that you didn’t see comparison shots with the iPad 2 from that exercise. I can’t question anyone’s response to the Retina display, but as for me it’s nice to have, not a game changer.

I will say that I’m generally pleased with Apps that have not updated for the Retina display. They look better than I thought they would. If you want to see a fundamental Retina display difference between the iPad 2 and the new iPad, load an iPhone app on the both and hit the 2x button. Here the Retina display has a clear advantage.

Apps optimized for the Retina display do look very, very nice. One interesting note, though. Web surfers are going to notice when sites and images are low quality. Another example of this is Netflix. The home screen where tiles of movies are displayed looks gorgeous. Playing a movie though doesn’t look nearly as nice as the streaming video quality isn’t the same resolution. It’s a disappointing tease. I’m guessing Netflix will look to up the resolution but watch out for that bandwidth if that happens. If this means we’ll see more high res work on web sites and more high def video streaming then that is going to cause some friction with another of those new tent poles, high speed LTE.

LTE and Radios

I do not live in a 4G area. I do travel to areas that have it and that’s why I opted for a 4G model from Verizon. So I can’t comment on the speed or performance. I can say that in my area Verizon’s 3G suffers decidedly in comparison to AT&T’s. Others here at GBM are seeing the same thing. Running the new iPad and the iPad 2 where I live and where I work, Verizon is significantly inferior to AT&T on the iPad 2. I’ll be in a 4G area in a couple of weeks so I’m anxious to check this out on the faux 4G network. Your mileage is going to vary here depending on the service in your area.

I’ve noticed that the new iPad has prompted a resurgence of commentary on battery life and carrier ineffectualness. I’m glad to see this happen. If nothing else the new iPad will push both arguments to the forefront of conversation, and they deserve to be there. Especially here in the US where we are all victims of what looks like serious misrepresentation of the facts in carrier marketing, much less an obvious inability or desirability to produce networks that can live up to the hype.

While I’m speaking of connectivity, I have noticed that the WiFi radio on the new iPad is not as efficient in picking up a signal at my house or in my office as the previous one. It will connect readily enough, but not as quickly. I seem to have lost some range as I approach the extremes of the networks I use.

The iSight Camera

Yep, it’s better. For both video and photography. Glad to have it. But then any improvement over the camera in the iPad 2 would have been just that, an improvement. The difference is akin to grabbing a sandwich off of the shelf at a roadside 7/11 and stopping at a decent restaurant for a meal that actually has some taste to it. It will sell a lot of iPads, especially to families. I’m not one of those who think we’ll become accustomed to lots of folks holding up iPads and capturing memories though. I don’t think we’ll see people replacing point and shoot cameras with a larger device that will look more like flap and shoot. That said, if you see yourself taking video or photos with the new iPad, this is certainly a reason to purchase the newer model.

Taken with new iPad

Taken with iPhone 4S

Photos in low light show a great improvement bit are still noisy.

Taken with new iPad

 

The A5X Chip and Performance

Performance is improved here and more noticeable in some areas than others. Graphic heavy games like Infinity Blade show this off noticeably. An improvement in graphics processing needed to happen with the Retina display and it did. I also notice that opening files from Dropbox is much snappier than on the iPad 2.  Increased speed and performance is not such a jump that you drop your jaw in awe. It’s noticeable but not greatly so. Some are saying that the new iPad gets warm when you are using it a lot. I’ll agree with that. This is a noticeable, but not welcome change from the iPad 2.

Battery Life

This is also a tent pole for Apple. They set the bar with the original iPad and continued it with the iPad 2. The battery capacity is almost doubled with the new version, accounting for the increased weight and density. In case you are wondering, I do notice that increased weight and density. Of course this gives Apple room to improve on something in its next evolution of the iPad. Apple had to pump up the juice with the battery to run that Retina display and it did, basically netting a wash in battery life over previous models.

I put the new iPad through some insane and not real world testing over the weekend. We are in dress rehearsals for our next play, Greater Tuna. It is a quick change show, with actors changing costumes quicker than you’d think possible. These kind of quick change rehearsals mean that as the director I sit and wait a lot while the costume crew and the actors work out the changes. So, while doing that waiting I cranked the screen brightness up to full. I turned off Auto-lock, to leave the screen on constantly. I turned on both WiFi and Verizon’s LTE, which since I can’t get a signal in the auditorium proper had the effect of inducing a constant searching for a signal sure to hit the battery. I played some games, did some reading, and watched some video while waiting for the costume crew to be ready. I began using the iPad around 8am in the morning with heavier usage than normal. The crazy testing really started around 1pm. When I turned up the heat battery life was about 87%. After a four hour or five hour period of stressing the machine I had reduced battery life to 30%. Returning the iPad to more normal settings after the dinner break,  and using it again heavily during the evening hours with normal settings, I saw battery life around 18% before heading off to bed for the night around midnight.

The result of that heavy testing tells me that how I normally use the iPad will result in more than satisfactory results. So, I give Apple high marks here. I’d never use the iPad that way in every day life so I’m quite pleased.

Dictation

Given that Siri is still a promise waiting to be fulfilled (Beta anyone?), I’m glad Apple didn’t include it completely on the new iPad. The dictation aspect that is included does work largely as advertised in my testing. I’m pleasantly surprised at how well this works when the iPad is on my desk and quite a distance from my mouth. I’m hoping this improves with time, just like I hope Siri does as well. By the way, Apple needs to move on this sooner rather than later in my view.

Setup and iCloud

If you’re purchasing a new iPad and moving your settings, applications, and data over, I would highly recommend that you tether back up to iTunes to do so rather than using iCloud. I know this isn’t quite post-PC thinking. But, depending on your connection, this can be an excruciating time waster. If you’ve been backing up to iCloud, then before you do the setup, do a backup locally to your computer and restore from that source. Trying to download all of my Apps from iCloud took forever. I wish I had put that on the clock, but I will say the amount of time I spent watching Apps load in brought back painful memories of setting up a Windows computer. I’m also surprised at how many Apps I had to reenter preferences for after things were set up.

Here’s a tip. If you’re stuck in a cue downloading Apps and want to get to a specific App quicker, double tap the icon for that App and it will move to the front of the line and download right away.

Digital Inking

I did take some notes in those rehearsals I mentioned earlier. Apps like Penultimate and Noteshelf work just as well, if no better than they did previously.

iCloud

The promise of iCloud is still just that a promise in my opinion. You just feel like there is more to come. Let’s hope it does. While Apple continues to incrementally advance what iCloud could mean, it needs to speed up its progress here. It’s nice now that movies can work in iCloud the way songs did previously, allowing you to view them from any device tied to iCloud. It’s not so nice that documents still can’t. Perhaps when Mountain Lion rolls out, we’ll see an advance here. Let me rephrase that. That better happen or we’re going to start being reminded of the MobileMe fiasco.

Why Apple Continues to Lead the Pack

As I’ve said many times Apple set the bar with the iPad. It continues to do so. No one comes close at the moment. I’ve also said many times that as far as Tablets go, the form factors we see today are the same form factors we’re basically going to see for the next few years. The new iPad proves this like no device before it.  Some of its innovations (Retina display, LTE) unfortunately require a battery size that takes up the majority of the internal real estate making dreams of an ever decreasing size and weight for Tablets almost a delusion for the foreseeable future. For my money, that’s OK. I’d rather have the battery life than fewer ounces and thinner form factors. I do struggle imagining what other manufacturers will do on this front to try and meet Apple’s advances here. But, like I said, there is room for them to compete. If I were Samsung or anyone else, I’d be doubling down on my investment in battery technology.

But that’s the device. And that’s all well and good. Where the iPad continues to shine, and will for some time, is the user experience. To beat a cliché to death like a dying horse, it just works. While it isn’t perfect, and there is still room for improvement, Apple has more than succeeded in creating an easily and effortlessly controllable portable window that mirrors how many want to use a device called a Tablet. The great myths that were used to sell faster and more powerful computers to those who didn’t need all that power and speed are now laid to rest. We’re not quite post-PC yet, but we’re getting closer. Touch the screen and things happen the way you expect them to. What you see looks great, Retina display or no. How you interact with the device makes logical and tactile sense, and offers no compromise from thought to execution.

Others might catch up someday. Here’s hoping. But I’m increasingly beginning to believe that to do so, the competitors need to shift their thinking away from selling devices, licensing, and advertising, to creating user experiences that have a chance of making us forget that paradigm in the way the iPad makes us forget about hard drives, keyboards, and optical disks.

One More Thing

In the opening of this post I mentioned that I wouldn’t call this a review because I think that label is losing currency. Here’s why I think that. The game that is played by reviewers (both bloggers and main stream media) and manufacturers has always been about selling product. Manufacturers want to sell their gear. Reviewers want page views. (Remember the days where they wanted to sell papers?) While this has gone on forever, I’m becoming more cynical about early reviews than I ever was. And I was always cynical. If you’ve followed the review cycle for the new iPad, you’ll notice that those who got early access were universally full of praise in those beat the deadline reviews. But over the weekend you’ve seen more introspective thought start to rise above the chatter. It is still early and in a few weeks you’ll see more of that. I’m just as guilty of this as the next gadget freak. But I think the seams in the fabric are beginning to show in this process and Apple isn’t doing itself or the industry any favors in the long run. I don’t think gadget reviewers are either.

Again, I can’t argue with Apple’s incremental and evolutionary advancement. They make more money than some countries doing things the way they do. And as long as the competition continues to flag and flail like a moped trying to chase a Harley, Apple has the breathing room to do things the way it wants. But the public is a wary and weary if not always watchful beast. You can only feed it so many “bigger and better” slogans before they began to catch on, and I think Apple and those of us who cover them, are getting perilously close to the point where the pubic might just be starting to view the game with a wary eye. In the absence of real competition Apple may have a leg up, if not both legs. Problem is, I think that posture is allowing more and more of us to see up our collective skirts.

Warner Crocker is a professional theatre director, producer and playwright and also a Tablet PC enthusiast. He is also a Microsoft MVP for Tablet PCs. Send email to Warner. You can follow him on Twitter or Google+

19 Comments

  1. Joshua

    03/19/2012 at 1:24 pm

    My screen is yellowish — waiting a week or so before I exchange. I noticed it immediately upon switching from the 2 to the 3. Right now its driving me crazy. Why or why wont Apple allow a simple APP to be used in the settings for color correction. Would solve 99% of the yellow screen issues. I shouldn’t have to have my iPad jailbroken to solve this problem…but if it means going through my local Apple store’s stock of iPads until I am happy, so be it.

  2. Carlos

    03/19/2012 at 8:12 pm

    I have filled up 7.7 gb on my iPads first day, and now I have 5.5gbs left! So now I have to take my ipad back, but I dont know if I should go all the way to 64gb or go with the 32gb. Im leaning towards 32 anyways but am still open to all my options. I only have 20 apps (5 games), 90 songs, 5 music videos, 1 book, and 5 pictures! This is my first iPad! What should I opt for?

    • Joshua

      03/19/2012 at 10:32 pm

      Videos are the iPad killer. One HD movie can be 2-4gb, so depending on how many movies you want should dictate which size. If money isn’t a factor go with the 64gb model, it will have a higher resale value in the end.

    • WarnerCrocker

      03/20/2012 at 7:14 am

       If you are using iCloud you can, if this fits your style and connection preferences, delete your music and access it through iCloud via streaming. I usually don’t put music on the iPad, but using this method via iCloud makes having music available a good alternative.

  3. ken

    03/20/2012 at 12:19 am

    Yea for me i would go for the 64GB to solve the headache later on.

  4. Uncle Mikey

    03/20/2012 at 9:27 am

    I never used an iPad 2, but as someone up upgraded from an iPad (2010), I can tell you that the iPad (2012) lives up to most of its hype, especially in terms of performance improvement. The iPad (2010) had become a fairly sluggish device under iOS 5 — still usable, but definitely slow in some fundamental ways (like, getting the keyboard up and ready to accept input!). The iPad (2012) restores…well, I hate to sound too fan boyish, but it restores the “magic” of the device, because not only do things “just work”, but they work smoothly again!

  5. zuyun190

    03/20/2012 at 6:04 pm

  6. zuyun190

    03/20/2012 at 6:11 pm

  7. Bksmithers

    03/20/2012 at 7:39 pm

    For all the wonderfulness that the new iPad provides (I’ve moved up from a first generation) the issues with iTunes 10.6 have really tarnished this upgrade for me.  Outlook calendar and contacts sync has disappeared from the preferences selection (I’m still running a WinXP desktop) and even though I’ve spent hours on the phone with tech support, I won’t be holding my breath waiting for a solution any time soon.  I’m also a bit concerned about the breadth and depth of personal info Apple is collecting from my iPad and storing on their servers in order for me to use the built in dictation.  Even Nuance gave folks a opt out when it came to sharing dictation use scenarios.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the legal arena of e-discovery.  

  8. Gmichie38

    03/20/2012 at 8:46 pm

    Warner, I always appreciate your fresh take on things and your willingness to tell it like it is, whether that means praise, criticism, or a combination of the two. I’m with you on the new display: it’s nice, but come on, the way some of these “reviewers” drooled over it borders on embarrassing. You’d think they were getting a cut of sales.

  9. Smeeta Goyal

    03/21/2012 at 12:10 am

    Hi,

    Recently
    I have been hearing a lot about this Xtab A10 which is the cheapest 5point
    Capacitive, 1.5 GHz, HDMI, USB, Android 4.0 tablet @ Rs 5490 Launched by NXG
    Electronics. Can you please suggest me whether or not I should book this tablet
    for me as I am really new to this tablet world.
     

  10. BroadbandBlogger

    03/24/2012 at 7:05 am

    Well, this post somehow triggered my curiosity about the new iPad. You really went into details and even used photos to put emphasis on the iSight camera. I will definitely recommend this post  to my friends who are looking for accurate “review” about the new iPad. Many thanks!

  11. cmwilkerson

    03/28/2012 at 7:53 am

    I agree, the Retinal display is much hype. In fact, with iPad 2 and the newest iPad lined up next to each other, even my saved pictures are not really different. I’m sure they would be if I took a picture on my new iPad because of the increased resolution of the camera. I’m giving my iPad 2 to family as I have ipad1, but otherwise, the only thing unequivocally better about the new Ipad is the camera. Hopefully, in time, I will be able to appreciate the difference, although I wonder if the content bloat and increased load time, will be worth it, with the higher resolution.

  12. lywell

    03/28/2012 at 7:47 pm

    Nice review!
    Well, this is a fact based review, same here, from everything I’ve heard from people who have actually played with it, the new screen is the killer feature.  And I went to the Apple sale store tried the New iPad, I really like the the retina display and better camera.
    Im a iPad 1 user, and didn’t upgrade to the iPad 2 just wait for the new iPad, would get my new iPad soon! Hope can get much surprises and surprised with mirror playing 1080p on the TV! 
    BTW, for some cool iPad tips&Apps I found the iFunia iPad Column is very informative and useful.  

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