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Opinion: A Critique of the “New iPad”

Apple has yet to fix any of my core disagreements with their products, so I will not be buying it

Let’s get started, I’m not in love w/ the new naming system for the iPad. “New” should never be in any products name, let alone a real piece of technology (will the next one be New New? or New and Improved iPad?). Ridiculous. That said, Apple has certainly upped their internal standards (as the iPad 2 was showing its age and limitations in a few aspects).

Apple’s Upgrades

The first huge upgrade is the screen. While I still disagree with the 4:3 aspect ratio, Apple has quadrupled the pixels to a ridiculous 2048×1536. At 1536p it certainly is beyond 720p or 1080p (hd resolutions) but will this be a positive in the long run?

The second upgrade is the CPU/GPU pairing. Apple has implemented a dual-core CPU with a quad-core GPU, claiming better speed and performance than the current king on the block – NVIDIA‘s Tegra 3 architecture. I do not buy these blanket statements (and am sure benchmarks will be available that repute and support these assertions), but the Tegra 3 is over a year old (and NVIDIA is somewhat new to the mobile graphics game).

The camera’s upgrades are huge, and make the tablet a great shooter. Many disagree with ever using tablets to take pictures, but Apple added all the advancements from the iPhone 4S, and they will make using the tablet as a camera far easier (and more productive). Enhancing the camera is a small feat technically, but it adds a great deal of value and will be much appreciated.

The modem upgrades are strong. Apple added LTE to both the AT&T and Verizon versions. They have 3G, high speed HSDPA and LTE modems (in AT&T version) while CDMA-EVDO and LTE modems (in LTE version). If you’re on the grandfathered in unlimited iPad plan, you’re in luck the upgrades have made it even easier for you to pull down data; however, if you are not, you’re more likely than ever to go over your monthly data allotments. That said, I would not suggest purchasing this device on a Verizon plan, I’ve found AT&T’s HSDPA+ to be far more reliable and fast than CDMA, while using less battery.

Concerns

The upgraded screen; however, creates a whole bevy of issues. The extremely high resolution (higher than most computer monitors) will greatly limit the 3D graphics capabilities of the tablet. Part of the reason that graphics of the XBox or PS3 look so good (and have kept up ) is the lower resolution they are held to (usually just 720p). The second is the standardized platform. Developers know the intricacies of the hardware, and can push the capabilities with tricks garnered over years of experience. Apple is giving up the low res screen, and the known hardware for an extremely high resolution screen with new technology. While the development curve shouldn’t be too much, the screen will certainly tax the processing capabilities of the GPU (for instance, the PSP Vita has the same GPU, but a far lower resolution screen - 960 × 544).

The screen resolution offers another key issue - incompatibility with common video resolutions. Video in the US is created in either 480p, 720p or 1080p formats. At any of these resolutions, the iPad will have to upscale video to fit the screen. This process will tax the computing power to provide quality video, or offer lower quality images. In a world in which streaming Netflix and more are the standard, how well will their streaming videos show up on this high resolution screen?

Apple left Siri off of the iPad as well. As one of their biggest (only) selling points for the iPhone 4S, you’d certainly imagine that it would be available for the latest and greatest iPad. Would not voice command be more useful on a tablet than a phone? It seems that while Apple is claiming to offer a unified (read: non-Android) ecosystem, every device they release further fractures their ecosystem – features work on one device, not the other, but you still need to buy them all.

Concluding thoughts

The “New iPad” is a big step from the iPad 2. I always though the low resolution the iPad 1/2 offered was silly, but did it need to get this big (if you insist on 4:3, wouldn’t a maximum of 1920 pixels horizontally make more sense for video?). Apple often marches to their own beat (and with a $500B market cap can afford to), yet I think several missteps have been made here.

Apple has yet to fix any of my core disagreements with their products, so I will not be buying it. That said, this device will sell, and probably sell more than the 15M Apple sold of the iPad 2 last quarter. Any device Apple creates will sell, despite their limitations and the design limitations. Just do me a favor, if you buy the 4G variety, stick to AT&T, because you’ll be hating either battery life or speed on Verizon.

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Bob Gourley writes on enterprise IT. He is a founder and partner at Cognitio Corp and publsher of CTOvision.com

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