Apple's latest iPads hit new high and new low

Apple has reached a new high and a new low with its latest iPads.

Let’s start with the high points. There is a pretty strong consensus emerging this week that the iPad Air 2 is the fastest tablet.  Bar none.

Early scores from Geekbench – the most cited benchmark for device performance – is showing the Air's performance topping any mainstream tablet out there.  Faster than “any other iOS or Android device ever sold. It’s about as fast as the Macs that Apple was selling as recently as 2011,” according to a review in the New York Times this week.

Indeed, many reviews of the Air 2 that came out this week gush about its performance, particularly on games.

All that speed means Apple may be preparing the processor chip inside the Air 2 – dubbed the A8X – for products beyond the iPad, according to Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research, a high-tech research and consulting firm based in Arizona.

“I could see it being used in a future version of the MacBook Air.  Products like the A8X are equivalent to many PC-class processors,” McGregor said.

The Air 2 is also Apple’s thinnest tablet to date, at 6.1 millimeters versus 7.5 mm for the original Air.  So, it’s not a trivial achievement to fit a faster chip into a thinner chassis.

“There's no denying that this new tablet is a feat of engineering that again pushes the limits of what makes a premium slate,” wrote TechRadar in a review on Wednesday. 

That review, like many others, also raved about the display, which is less reflective and looks brighter and more colorful than the original Air’s.

But enough of the high points.

There are other, less brilliant iPad firsts too, as revealed in reviews this week. The iPad Mini 3, Apple’s update to the second-generation iPad Mini, appears to be the most inconsequential iPad update ever.

“I think Apple is either being very lazy, or it's throwing the iPad Mini under the bus,” Sebastian Anthony, senior editor of ExtremeTech, told

Apple is putting its technological and marketing muscle into the Air 2 and the iPhone 6 Plus and basically leaving the Mini alone, Anthony added.

“The most likely reason is…[it’s] trying to create a bit of a gap between the products. There's now a clearer [separation] between the iPad Air 2, iPad Mini 3, and iPhone 6 Plus,” he said.

But he was less charitable in his writeup about the Mini 3, voicing his surprise that Apple “would so brutally eviscerate” the Mini line.

Another reason often put forward for the underwhelming update to the Mini is that the large 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus obviates the need for a Mini.  The 6 Plus is, in effect, a small tablet, a category sometimes referred to as a phablet.   That makes the iPad Mini an increasingly irrelevant tweener product: heavier and less portable than the iPhone 6 Plus, but with less screen real estate and slower than the iPad Air 2.

“The Mini 3 is a very modest update because Apple recognizes that larger smartphones like the iPhone 6 Plus are likely to cannibalize the iPad Mini,” said Bob O'Donnell Chief Analyst of Technalysis Research, a marketing research firm in California.

But Steve Jobs is probably the most famous authority on this subject.  Back in 2010 during an Apple earnings conference call he said small tablets are not a viable category.

“The 7-inch tablets are tweeners, too big to compete with a smartphone and too small to compete with an iPad," Jobs said.

Apple did not respond to a request for comment.