How do you improve a product that is already great? One approach is to add new features. For example, Apple improved upon the iPhone 4 by adding Siri to the iPhone 4s, then added a larger screen to the iPhone 5, and then added the fingerprint scanner in the iPhone 5s. New features are nice because they stick out; they provide an easy answer to the question "why should I upgrade?" Another approach is to simply make the overall experience better — an approach that lacks a sound bite, but can result in a product that is far more delightful. For example, the iPhone 3G (my first iPhone) was fantastic, but often demanded your patience. The iPhone 3Gs enhanced the iPhone 3G by making everything faster and more responsive. The device felt the same, except that it was more pleasant to use.
Yesterday, Apple used both approaches, one with each of the members of the iPad family. The 2013 iPad mini has lots of improvements but a single marquee feature: a Retina display. The 2013 full-size iPad doesn't have a bold new feature, but instead seeks to provide a better overall user experience. Both new iPads will be available in November — the iPad Air on November 1, and the iPad mini later that month.
The iPad Air
I love using my full-size iPad (I use the third generation iPad), but if I were to complain, my first complaint would be the weight. My law practice is about as paperless as it can be, so I am constantly working with documents on my iPad — whether it be an opposing party's brief, a case I downloaded from Westlaw, or a transcript that I am annotating in the Transcript Pad app. My iPad is far lighter than a computer and is easier to hold than a binder full of paper, but my hand does suffer some fatigue after holding an iPad up for a long period of time. Indeed, the weight of my iPad is often a reason that I reach for my iPad mini, but while the iPad mini is great for many tasks, reading documents is far better on the larger (and retina) screen of a full-sized iPad.
Thus, I'm thrilled to see that the new iPad is lighter — 1 pound versus the 1.3 pounds of a third generation iPad and the 1.4 pounds of the fourth generation iPad. To emphasize that it weighs less, Apple came up with a new name for the product: the iPad Air, a nod to Apple's successful MacBook Air computer. It achieves that reduced weight not only by being thinner then the prior model (7.5 mm versus 9 mm) but also by having a much smaller bezel around the screen. Apple says that as a result, "we were able to drop close to a quarter of the volume of the previous-generation iPad."
How noticeable is the difference in weight? I'll need to try it myself to reach my own conclusion, but the initial reports from the folks who were at Apple's presentation yesterday and got to try one out are that it makes a big difference. I frequently see people saying that the iPad Air feels more like the old iPad mini than like the old iPad. For example, David Pierce of The Verge writes that the iPad Air "deserves a new name: it feels completely different than the full-sized iPad once did. Apple's clearly trying to turn the iPad Air into a full-size device you're willing to take outside your home, and based on our first impressions we'd happily throw one in our backpacks today." MG Siegler of Google Ventures says: "The iPad Air is incredibly thin and light. Feels far more like the mini than previous iPads." Brian Heater of Engadget writes: "And while the new tablet is, in fact, around 20 percent slimmer than its predecessor, it's not immediately apparently until you put the iPad up against its older sibling. What is apparent, however, is the weight."
My other complaint about my third generation iPad is that it doesn't feel zippy, especially compared to the iPhone 5 and 5s. I decided against upgrading to the fourth generation iPad that came out a year ago even though that model was faster, but I'm definitely looking forward to the new speed of the iPad Air. The iPad Air uses the same A7 chip in the iPhone 5s, and as a result, Apple says that it is considerably faster than prior iPads, up to twice as fas as the fourth generation iPad.
I've never had a complaint with the Wi-Fi speed on my iPad, but any time that you can download a large file or even load a page in Safari faster, that is good. The iPad includes two Wi-Fi antennas and can use both of them at the same time using something called MIMO (multiple input multiple output) which Apple says will result in up to twice the 802.11n Wi-Fi performance.
I'm also happy to see that the new iPad Air has dual microphones to do a better job hearing you, which should make Siri work even better. I frequently dictate emails on my iPad.
Put all of this together — smaller overall device but the same screen size, lighter and faster without sacrificing battery life, faster Wi-Fi uploads and downloads — and the end result seems to me to be a device that does everything that the prior iPad did but is much more enjoyable to use. The iPad is an important part of my law practice, and I look forward to upgrading so that every time I use the iPad, I have a better overall experience.
The iPad mini with Retina display
The iPad mini is a great device because it is small and easy to hold and carry. You can even sometimes put it in a pocket, depending upon the size of the pocket on your jacket or your pants. But the one major drawback was the lack of a Retina display. Ever since the iPhone 4 was introduced in 2010, we've all seen how text and graphics look so much better when you have smaller dots on the screen. Having words look so crisp that they could have been in a high quality magazine makes the reading experience so much better. For those of us who are attorneys and thus are constantly reading words, that makes a difference. Moving from my iPhone screen to my iPad mini screen is often jarring because the screen simply doesn't look as nice.
The solution seemed simple and obvious – add a Retina screen to the iPad mini — but of course nobody wanted to sacrifice the other advantages of the iPad mini such as the small size and long battery life. The 2013 version of the iPad mini adds a Retina display, and instead of the original iPad mini's 1024 by 768 pixels, we now get 2048 by 1536 pixels in a screen of the same size. This makes the iPad mini the sharpest iPad ever because it has the same number of pixels as a full-size iPad, but the pixels are as small as those on the beautiful screen of the iPhone 5. Fortunately, Apple was able to keep the battery life the same as the original iPad mini, although Apple did have to make some slight compromises on the size — the new iPad mini is the same height and width, but it is slightly thicker, 7.5 mm versus 7.2 mm, and about an ounce heavier. (The weight varies depending upon whether you get the lighter Wi-Fi only version or the heavier version with built-in 3G LTE.)
The new iPad mini is also faster. Last year's iPad mini used the A5 processor, the same one that Apple used in the iPad 2 released in 2011. The new iPad mini uses the same A7 chip as the iPad Air and the iPhone 5s. Apple says that this will be up to four times as fast as the 2012 iPad mini. Also, and like the iPad Air, the new iPad mini has two Wi-Fi antennas with MIMO support and dual microphones.
Although I own both a full-size iPad and an iPad mini, most people choose just one. If forced to pick just one, I'd opt for the larger screen. But I know of many attorneys who value portability and weight over a larger screen, and for them, the new iPad mini with Retina display sounds like the answer to a lot of prayers. As Tampa attorney Katie Floyd tweeted yesterday: "Retina...and sold."
I'll admit that I have so quickly gotten used to the fingerprint scanner on my iPhone 5s that I had hoped to see it added to the iPad as well. Perhaps we will have to wait another year for that feature. Regardless, there is still a lot that lawyers will love in the 2013 versions of the iPads. I myself am really looking forward to the overall better experience that the iPad Air will offer, and I plan to get one. I probably won't get a new iPad mini this year, but I know that many attorneys will consider an iPad mini with a Retina screen to be the perfect device.