On the outside the new iPad looks just like the iPad 2. The shape and size haven't really changed. In fact, if you’re a Starbucks poser, you may be disappointed that the person at the next table won’t necessarily know to be envious that you are using the third generation of the iPad.
On the inside, well, that’s a different story.
The new iPad includes a better display, faster performance, better camera, and a snappy new operating system. Those may seem like small steps in the tablet space. But having used the new iPad for the past week now, I can tell you it's a giant leap for connected mankind.
That said, if you got an iPad 2 for Christmas, don't feel bad about being a generation behind. The iPad 2 is still leaps and bounds ahead of the competition, in my opinion. But if you’ve been waiting to get a tablet until now, is this a good time to pull the trigger? Heck yes!
The new iPad is easily the best tablet I've ever seen -- and here's why:
The Retina Display: At the risk of sounding like Billy Mays, I'll say this of the retina display: You have to see it to believe it. “Retina display” is Apple's way of describing the resolution of the screen, which is now 2,048-by-1,536 or 3.1 million pixels. Think of it this way: The HD TV in your living room is only 1,920-by-1,080. So simple math tells you that this is more, packed into a smaller space. It makes text on the screen simply astonishing, and the Internet has never looked so good. It's quite simply the best screen for reading I've ever seen.
To test the experience I read hundreds of news articles and a new novel by Elmore Leonard; the text looked as though it were sitting on top of the screen, like newsprint. When I flipped through my photos, it looked as though I were holding 10-inch glossy prints in my hand. Games and graphics have never looked so good. And video? Amazing.
Speed! Hello LTE! Where have you been all of my life? Apple is rolling out two models of the iPad that operate on the next-generation 4G LTE wireless networks -- one for AT&T and one for Verizon. I used the AT&T version. (No word on a Sprint-compatible model just yet.)
I was doubtful that there would be that much of a difference. I was wrong.
Think of it this way: Loading webpages using the iPad 2's 3G speeds was like using dial-up service at home; loading them with the new iPad’s 4G speed is like finally getting DSL or cable or even FiOS. Gone are the days of waiting for a video to buffer.
Battery life: Apple says the new iPad has a battery life of 10 hours, which is the same as the iPad 2. I had quite a bit of business travel last week with South by Southwest, so I couldn’t stop to charge the device often. Thankfully I didn’t have to.
I loaded and read dozens of news articles, downloaded and watched a full-length film at full brightness ("Submarine" -- if you like great filmmaking and the movie "Rushmore" you'll love it), read one third of a novel and an entire issue of The Wall Street Journal, watched three TED talks, downloaded and listened to the new Andrew Bird album, played games for an hour, and sent dozens of emails -- and I still had 11 percent of the battery left.
In fact, I opened the new iPad last Wednesday and didn't need to charge it at all until the following Sunday.
Camera: The rear camera is now comparable to the iPhone 4's 5-megapixel unit but with 1080p HD video recording built in. It has auto-focus, face detection and image stabilization. It's a nice camera and the photos I've taken look great, but I can't imagine I'll use it much in a real-world setting. If I'm traveling and want to snap a quick picture of a sunset, I'll pull my iPhone out of my pocket, not my iPad.
Photo quality wasn’t very good on the previous iPad and holding such a big device to snap pictures just feels awkward to me. But if iPad photos are important to you, you'll be happy with the improvement.
The front camera, on the other hand, is great for FaceTime video chatting. I also enjoy flipping from the front to the back camera when my toddler does something cute that I want to show my mom over FaceTime. The improvement in camera quality will be much appreciated by far-away grandparents.
Hotspot: The new iPad can act as a hotspot, which means it can share its 4G connection with other devices, allowing them to get online. This is a very cool feature -- especially if you're forking out extra money for a monthly 4G plan and want to get your laptop online while you’re on the go.
This will be free if you're a Verizon customer, but AT&T isn't allowing the feature just yet and there's no word when the company will. If you're wondering which iPad to buy this may tip the scales for you. You’ll potentially get more use out of your Verizon 4G plan because of it.
The new iPad does have room to grow, of course. I had been hoping Siri would work on the device, for one thing, and it does not. Siri is the voice-command assistant that is available in the iPhone 4S. Why was she (yes, she) omitted from the new iPad? I asked Apple, but I couldn't get much of an answer. Maybe they don’t think it is necessary? Who can know for sure.
That means the new iPad will not auto-schedule my meetings or know to text my wife when I leave the office. But it can do voice-dictation in text fields, so I can dictate emails and messages. That's something I will use extensively, to be sure, but if I want to ask the iPad to search Google Maps for the nearest pizza joint, I’ve got to type in that search myself.
When the iPhone 4S launched, analysts were quick to declare their disappointment; it wasn’t called the iPhone 5 and it looked just like the iPhone 4. That phone has sold like hotcakes and been an enormous hit, even for a company that makes impressive upgrades to its marquee products year after year.
The same will be true of the new iPad.
Sales will not be disappointing and users won't be disappointed either. This is the iPad we’re talking about, after all. The new model is a strategic and incremental upgrade to the already dominant tablet, and given that pre-orders sold out in a matter of hours, it's obvious that customers don’t care much about the name. New iPad it is. But I wonder what they'll call it next year. The newer iPad?