iPad (3rd Generation)
Issue: 10.4 (May/June 2012)
Author: Marc Zeedar
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IN BRIEF Product iPad (3rd Generation) Manufacturer Apple Price $499-$729 (depending on memory and cellular access) Contact Info http://www.apple.com/ipad/ Pros Retina display is best screen anywhere; blazing fast; more RAM for better multitasking; much improved rear camera; great battery life; still the best tablet by a wide margin. Cons A hair thicker and 50 grams heavier; gets slightly warmer with heavy use; takes longer to charge because of bigger battery; battery life comparable but not quite as good as iPad 2; less fixable than previous iPads. Rating (1.0-5.0): 4.7
They say there isn't a tablet market, only an iPad market. One might assume Apple would rest on their laurels and not dramatically improve the device for their third version, but Apple is clever in the way they make changes. The new iPad looks identical to the previous generation—the improvements are all internal and mostly invisible. Only after using the new iPad for a while do you truly begin to understand what a revolutionary device it is.
Apple is famous for making technology standard. For instance, the company was the first to ditch serial ports and go USB-only on the original iMac. USB had not had much success prior, because PCs always had serial ports so peripheral manufacturers had little incentive to move to USB.
Apple did the same thing with built-in WiFi in laptops, and with the new iPad Apple is doing it again with something that doesn't seem that radical, but I predict will set the course of computing for the next decade. That feature is the new iPad's "retina display," which features four times the pixels in the same physical space as previous iPad screens. This results in a high-DPI display that is barely distinguishable from print. Photos show gorgeous detail, such as fine hairs and grain, and text is a joy to read even at micro sizes.
At first glance, the retina display is wonderful, but it may not seem a radical departure from the iPad 2. But use the new iPad for a few days, read a novel on it, and soon not only with old iPads look crummy, but even your desktop and laptop displays. Now all my old equipment looks like it has a sheet of plastic wrap over the screen.
I did a great deal of reading on my old iPad—web pages, emails, and even books—but I'm doing far more on my new iPad simply because the new display makes reading effortless. Web pages don't need to be resized because you can read even microscopic print. Ebooks are wonderful, with all the quality of printed paper yet all the advantages of digital. I used to prefer my grayscale Kindle for novels, but now I read those on my new iPad because the text looks so much better than e-ink. With my original iPad I didn't like to read on it for more than an hour or two, because my eyes grew tired. On the new iPad I have read for several hours straight without any discomfort at all; in retrospect I realize the fuzzy text on the previous generations limited my use of the device.
What's fascinating about the retina display is all the extra work Apple had to do to make it happen. Not only is manufacturing such a high resolution screen incredibly challenging, but it requires significantly more electricity to power it. That meant Apple had to nearly double the battery size in the new iPad and reduce the size of the other components to make room in order to keep the overall size and weight of the device comparable to the previous models. Four times the pixels means a lot more for the processor to do, so in the third generation iPad Apple has put in a quad-core graphics processor, and increased the RAM on the device to a full gigabyte. They did all this while keeping the price the same, too.
That's a lot of expensive engineering for what may seem at first glance a modest improvement. "Clearer text, so what?" you say, but trust me: after using the new display you cannot go back to anything else. It really is a revolutionary step forward. The new display sets a standard and soon all devices, desktop and mobile, will have retina displays. All our equipment will have to become more powerful to accomodate so many more pixels, but just as standard definition television looks hideously bad after years of high-def, HD will be the new norm.
So should you buy the new iPad? If you own a first generation one or haven't bought one at all yet, there's no question. It's a worthy upgrade featuring better cameras, faster processors, and more memory for better multitasking. If you recently obtained an iPad 2, the choice is less clear. If you can sell your old iPad and get the new one for not much money it may be worth it to you, especially if you enjoy reading. As a developer, another reason to get it is for testing retina-sized graphics and apps.
On the other hand, the iPad 2 already has cameras and a fast processor (compared to the first iPad), and you know in a year Apple will have yet another iPad version that will be even better. Unless you're used to the new retina display you'll find the iPad 2's screen to be just fine. Just stay away from friends with a new iPad!
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