iPad Air 2 vs. iPad Air: What We Know So Far

Rumors and leaks continue to suggest that Apple has an iPad Air 2 release in the works and that the device could make its debut later on this year to replace the current iPad Air. We still don’t know everything, but there enough iPad Air 2 rumors out there to make a solid, early comparison to Apple’s current version of its 9.7-inch slate.

In the months leading up to the fall of 2013, we heard quite a bit about Apple’s plans for the iPad. iPad 5 and iPad mini 2 rumors were rampant as they attempted to out hardware and software ahead of their release. Thanks to those rumors, the arrivals of the iPad Air and iPad mini with Retina Display did not come as much of a surprise.

At the tail end of October, Apple took the stage and announced its all new 9.7-inch iPad Air and its new iPad mini with Retina Display, its first 7.9-inch tablet with a Retina quality screen. The devices hit shelves in November and replaced the iPad 4 and the iPad mini as the company’s top iPad options during the holiday season.

Unsurprisingly, the iPad Air and iPad mini with Retina Display remain Apple’s top flight iPad options midway through 2014. And while they are still two of the top tablet options on the market. rumors suggest that Apple is working on replacements for the both of them.

The Apple rumor mill has been dominated by iPhone 6 rumors but we’ve seen a number of other rumors and leaks surface in the last few months. Rumors point to the arrival of a new iWatch, a new iPad mini 3, and a brand new iPad Air 2 that could very well take over as Apple’s flagship before Black Friday and the end of the year.

In recent weeks, iPad Air 2 rumors have started to firm up and here, we want to take an early look at what rumors are telling us about it and its relationship with the current model. Think of this as an early guide for those that might be in the market for a large-screen tablet and an iPad in particular.

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Design

The iPad Air looks and feels a lot different than its predecessors. This is thanks to its compact, aluminum design that is both lightweight (478g) and thin (7.5mm). It makes it a whole lot easier to carry around. From our iPad Air review:

The iPad Air is a larger version of the iPad mini in pretty much every way. Apple slimmed down the bezels on the sides of the iPad Air to offer a narrower width and thanks to the weight reduction it is more comfortable to hold in one hand.

The iPad Air’s back is made of aluminum like most Apple products. Unlike the iPad 4 and iPad 3, the edges curve up swiftly and the device is thinner than previous versions. It also steals the chamfered edges of the iPad mini and iPhone 5s.

It’s a beautiful design and one that we didn’t expect to get kicked to the curb immediately. Apple tends to keep its iPad designs around for at least a few years before offering some massive changes. So, it shouldn’t be surprising to learn that iPad Air 2 design leaks hint at some minor changes but a similar form factor overall.

No major differences show in this mock up iPad Air 2 vs iPad Air photo.

No major differences show in this mock up iPad Air 2 vs iPad Air photo.

We’ve already seen several alleged iPad Air 2 photos leak. All of them showcase a design that is similar to the original iPad Air’s. The latest photos emerged in a gallery of iPad Air 2 vs iPad Air photos on ascii.jp. This iPad Air 2 mock-up was designed by a case maker to test the fit of cases ahead of a release. It is designed based on rumors and leaks, so things could change. However, it adds up with previous leaks.

The iPad Air 2 mock-up on the left looks very much like the iPad Air on the right. They both employ similar bezels and appear to be roughly the same size. Of course, there are some differences.

A iPad Air 2 vs iPad Air comparison shows a slightly new design.

A iPad Air 2 vs iPad Air comparison shows a slightly new design.

Notice the Touch ID sensor in the home button. Many rumors back up TouchID support in the iPad Air 2 and the new iPad mini Retina update for 2014. With enhanced iOS 8 Touch ID support, including third-party apps, this is a feature we expect to see on all of Apple’s mobile products this year.

The photos do show a slight difference in thickness. The description is that the new iPad Air is about a millimeter thinner. A penny is 1.5mm thick, which may help you visualize the difference. Although 1 mm sounds small, on a device that is already 7.5mm thick, that is a big difference.

The iPad Air 2 may be thinner than the iPad Air.

The iPad Air 2 may be thinner than the iPad Air.

On the right side of the iPad Air 2 mockup we see volume buttons that are longer, thinner and recessed into the device. There is also no physical switch on the side of the iPad Air 2. The switch on the iPad locks orientation or mutes the iPad and it could be that Apple removes this switch and forces users to rely on Control Center inside iOS.

All in all, besides Touch ID, these appear to be only a few minor differences between the iPad Air and iPad Air 2 designs.

Display

iPad Air 2 rumors suggest that there won’t be any changes to the device’s screen. The new iPad Air is expected to feature the same 9.7-inch Retina Display that is found on the current model. All of these iPad Air 2 leaks point to a similar size for the next iPad Air and at the moment, it’s looking like the device won’t offer a significant upgrade in this area.

iPad Air Outdoors

Not that that is a huge deal. From our iPad Air Review:

The iPad Air features a 9.7-inch Retina display that offers a 2,048 by 1,536 resolution. This is higher than most HDTVs, and packed into a very small screen. In turn the pixels are so close that they disappear during normal use resulting in text that is incredibly sharp and photos and videos that look great.

Camera & Processor

While we may not see huge upgrades with the design or the display, consumers should expect there to be some differences between the two models, differences that are typical of an incremental Apple upgrade.

iPad Air 2 rumors point to a brand new camera sensor to replace the 5MP rear sensor currently on board the iPad Air. Well respected KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo and ETNews suggest that the iPad Air 2 specs will feature an 8MP camera. The specifics of the camera are unknown but we would not expect it to be on par with the camera found on the iPhone 6. Instead, we would expect it to be on par with the 8MP sensor found inside the iPhone 5s.

iPad Air Review -  3

We have not seen any rumors regarding the front-facing FaceTime HD camera so it’s not clear if there will be any significant changes regarding the iPad Air’s other camera.

The iPad Air, like the iPad mini with Retina Display and iPhone 5s, features an A7 64-bit processor with an M7 co-processor. These help the iPad Air to deliver fantastic performance in areas like gaming, battery life and multitasking. iOS 7, after all, was built with a 64-bit processor in mind.

Apple is known for upgrading its chips every year and rumors point to the arrival of a brand new processor, and co-processor, inside the iPad Air, iPad mini with Retina and the iPhone 6.

iPad Air Review -  2

9to5Mac’s Mark Gurman believes that the processor will also feature an M8 co-processor that could feature new sensors. This new A8 chip will supposedly be an incremental upgrade from the A7 and will be focused on overall performance and battery life in particular. So, we could perhaps see a faster iPad Air 2 with better gaming and better battery life.

Software

The iPad Air will get the iOS 8 update later in this year and as of right now, it looks like it will get the full version of the software. That means the changes to the Notification Center, that means changes to the Camera application, and that means the split-screen multitasking feature that will apparently be heading to the iPad with iOS 8.

The feature, which can be seen in the video below, will allow users to run multiple applications on the screen at the same time. It’s unannounced which means that there is a slight chance Apple could reserve it for the iPad Air 2.

Newer devices typically get the full feature set though at the moment, the only differences that we can mention here pertain to the Touch ID sensor that is almost certainly coming aboard the iPad Air 2.

One thing of note: The iPad Air 2 should, based on Apple’s history, get at least one more iOS update than last year’s model.

iPad Air 2 Release Date

All signs point to an arrival this fall alongside a number of new products. The timing makes sense given that iOS 8 won’t be out until the fall.

While iPad Air 2 release date rumors point to the fall, they also suggest that the arrival could come a little earlier than last year’s November release. It’s not clear how much earlier but with Apple rumored to have launch dates in both September and October, it doesn’t look like it will be coming much sooner than last year’s model.

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It’s also not clear what Apple will do with the current iPad Air model should it release another. Last year, the company slotted the iPad Air in at $499 dropping the iPad 4 to $399. While this is speculative, it would make sense if the company put the new iPad Air 2 at $499 and kept the iPad 4, which doesn’t boast the same design, at its budget $399 price point.

Quick Advice

All signs point down the same road. It’s looking like Apple will release an incremental upgrade to the iPad Air with Touch ID, the A8 processor and the camera the focal points of the next-gen model.

If you care about these three features, the added security of Touch ID, the potential of the A8 and improved photos and video, it might be worth the wait. For many others, the current iPad Air will work out just fine. Just make sure you get a deal on it, this is a device that is closing in on its first birthday.

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