This was supposed to be a bigger deal.
You have to, as I did, turn on the iPad New to tell the difference. Granted, it’s a big, spectacular difference — the screen is breathtaking. Similarly, evidence of other changes can be found deep inside the iPad New — in the chips, the camera, the cellular radios. All good, worthy updates, but none of it says ‘fundamentally different.’
The other product highlight? An Apple TV that, just like the iPad New, looks exactly the same as its predecessor (it adds 1080p support).
All this sameness has me worried.
pple making an event out of a couple of upgrades is not without precedent. We need only look back to last October’s iPhone 4s launch. There was another very well-thought-out product update that maintained all that was good (even great) about the first iPhone 4, but made it significantly better — without changing anything about the chassis.
The iPad New is the exact same kind upgrade. It even uses the iPhone 4S camera, not that there’s anything wrong with that. iSight, as Apple is calling the upgraded camera (and as it used to call its peripheral webcam) brings excellent, high-quality photography and 1080p videography to the iPad platform. Those images look lovely on the so-high-def-you-can’t-even-perceive-it-retina display.
Not So Different
Apple wasn’t even willing to completely swap out the CPU. Instead of an A6 chip, we got an A5X. The update is necessary — there’s no way you can run 3.1 million pixels and some of the cinematic effects I saw today onInfinity Blade: Dungeons without quad-core horsepower.
I wonder if Apple decided it would confuse people if they used a brand-new CPU while leaving the rest of the iPad in incremental upgrade land. Not that the A5X processor isn’t new. It’s certainly better than the A5, but you signal “new” with a new name. I see it as an update, or perhaps, a re-architecting.
The sad truth is it’s becoming increasingly difficult for Apple to live up to the hype surrounding any event or product unveiling. I can see how that’s unfair to the world’s most valuable company. No one could ever live up to those expectations.
That said, it’s been a while since we’ve seen completely new hardware or a product redesign from Apple (iPad 2 launched in January 2011). In the interim, I’ve attended two Apple product events that make me wonder if we’re seeing some sort of strategic shift. Have we come so far in technology, especially industrial design, that Apple has no choice but to slow down?
It’s obvious to me that most tablet manufacturers are running out of ways to differentiate their products. A good number of the tablets I saw in Barcelona at Mobile World Congress were indistinguishable from one another. At least the iPad New is recognizably, uniquely Apple. Perhaps Apple’s next iPad design is so radical that it can’t be accomplished in a year.
And what if dramatic change is what I want to see, but not necessarily what I want to use?
What Do I Really Want?
Prior to the Apple event, people had all sorts of ideas about what the new iPad would look like. It was going to be thinner, have an edge-to-edge screen, and, possibly, eschew the start button. Obviously, none of that happened.
In a way, I’m glad. I love the iPad’s home button and think the iPad 2 is already thin and sleek enough. On the other hand, I was happy with the original iPad design and didn’t know how it could get better until Apple showed me. I rely on Apple to surprise me with industrial design feats I never before imagined.
Instead, we have the iPad New (the iPad 4G is another reasonable name). It’s a device I want to hold just as much as the iPad 2, but not more. The screen is a wonder, and that raw power, which I saw on display with the iPhoto app — and even more so with the Autodesk Sketchbook Ink vector drawing program — is very, very attractive.
But part of the appeal of any new Apple gadget has always been the take-your-breath-away looks.
I don’t consider today a complete disappointment. As I said, the iPad New’s updates are smart and on-target and Apple has already proven that you can have monumental success with an upgrade (I hold up iPhone 4S sales numbers as exhibit A). Keeping the price the same is savvy and repricing the iPad Old…er…I mean 2, is perhaps, for competitors, most noteworthy.
A $399, an iPad 2 with 16GB of storage is starting to move into Amazon Kindle Fire territory. If it weren’t for the startling success of that 7-inch device, I bet Apple wouldn’t even have bothered to continue the iPad 2 at any price.
Speaking of 7-inch, that was another wild guess that didn’t pan out. At least on that score, I agree with Apple. If you like the iPad, you really don’t need a smaller one. What I did need, though, was a little more of something truly brand new.
Come on Apple, dazzle me again. Maybe with the iPhone 5?