Everything you need to know about the new iPad Air


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Apple unveiled its hotly anticipated next generation 9.7-inch iPad called iPad Air at its media event on Tuesday, October 22nd.

We briefly told you about the features of Apple’s new iPad that was announced at the event. But the devil is in the details, so we take an in-depth look at iPad Air design, specifications and features.

Design

The iPad Air looks like a bigger version of the iPad mini with its rounded edges, sleek metallic finish at the back and diamond-cut chamfered edges.

The iPad Air is also significantly lighter and thinner than its predecessor. The iPad Air weighs only 469 grams (Wi-Fi only model), making it 28% lighter than the iPad 4, which weighed 652 grams.

In terms of dimensions too, Apple has managed to shrink the size of the iPad. It is only 7.5mm thick, making it 20% thinner than the iPad 4, which was 9.54mm thick. It is exactly as thick as the iPad mini with Retina Display. Apple says that it has also managed to reduce the overall volume by 24%.

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Apple has also reduced the side bezels, which has helped in reducing the width by 0.71 inch. At 6.6-inches in width, the 9.7-inch iPad Air, is only 1.3-inches wider than the iPad mini when held in portrait mode.

Display

There are no surprises here. iPad Air sports the same 9.7-inch Retina Display as its predecessor with 2048×1536 resolution at 264 pixels per inch.

However, to be able to reduce the thickness of the device, Apple seems to have used thinner film based touch panel rather than the glass based touch panel used in the iPad 4. As you can see in the image below, it has helped Apple to significantly reduce the thickness of the display assembly.

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A7 Chip

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One of the major new features of the iPad Air is Apple’s next generation A7 chip, which also powers the iPhone 5s. The highlight of the new A7 chip is, of course, the 64-bit “desktop-class” architecture. The A7 chip is in fact the first 64-bit tablet system-on-chip, showing that Apple is way ahead of other tablet manufacturers when it comes to silicon chips. Apple says that A7 chip’s CPU is up to twice as fast as iPad 4′s A6X chip.

Apart from the CPU, the A7 also has a new GPU which supports OpenGL ES 3.0, a graphical library extensively used in games and photography apps. Earlier iOS devices supported OpenGL ES 2.0, but support for 3.0 means more detailed and complex graphics, previously seen only on PCs, Macs and consoles. A7 Chip GPU is also 2x faster than in graphics performance.

M7 Coprocessor

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iPad Air also gets the M7 coprocessor chip, which was first introduced with the launch of the iPhone 5s. The M7 motion coprocessor is a module independent of the CPU, which collects data from the gyroscope, accelerometer, and compass. This means that fitness apps can keep requesting motion related data without draining the battery or burdening the CPU.

Since you’re not going to be carrying your iPad everywhere, I’m not too convinced about the utility of including it. It appears to be something Apple has included to simplify the manufacturing process by using the same chip for the iPhone 5s, iPad Air and iPad mini, rather than creating a variant of the A7 chip.

RAM

While it is yet to be confirmed, the A7 chip that powers the iPad Air, most likely comes with 1GB RAM, same as the iPad 4.

Camera

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The biggest disappointments of the iPad Air is the camera. iPad Air’s iSight rear facing camera is the same 5-megapixel camera that was used in the iPad 4. It allows you to take 1080p HD videos and offers 3x zoom while recording videos.

Apple has however updated the FaceTime camera. It seems to come with the same 1.2-megapixel camera as the iPhone 5s, which features the next generation backlight sensor with larger pixels, which should improve quality of the FaceTime calls and selfies.

The A7 chip includes an all-new image signal processor, but it is not clear to what extent it will help in improving the quality of the photos.

Dual Microphones

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You will notice a small hole at the top (center) of iPad Air’s rear casing, which is for the second microphone. Apple says that the two microphones “work together to capture better sound by suppressing audio from the source you’re not focused on.”

It should improve the quality of the audio on FaceTime calls and during video recordings because of the reduced background noise. It should also make it easier for Siri to understand what you’re saying.

Battery Life

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Even though the iPad Air is thinner and lighter than the iPad 4 and comes with a smaller capacity battery (32.4 watt-hour vs. iPad 4’s 43 watt-hour), it offers the same battery life as its predecessor thanks to improved display technology and efficient A7-chip.

iPad Air Wi-Fi only model offers the following battery life:

  • Up to 10 hours of surfing the web on Wi-Fi, watching video, or listening to music

iPad Air Wi-Fi+Cellular model offers the following battery life:

  • Up to 10 hours of surfing the web on Wi-Fi, watching video, or listening to music
  • Up to 9 hours of surfing the web using cellular data network

Ultrafast Wireless

iPad Air offers support for more number of LTE bands than the iPad 4. iPad Air supports 14 LTE bands (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 13, 17, 18, 19, 20, 25, 26) compared to 5 LTE bands (1, 3, 5, 13, 25) supported by iPad 4. So the iPad Air will be most likely be compatible with your carrier’s LTE network.

Here’s a look at the frequency and the LTE bands that iPhone 5s will support:

  • UMTS/HSPA/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA (850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz); GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz)
  • CDMA EV-DO Rev. A and Rev. B (800, 1900 MHz)
  • LTE (Bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 13, 17, 18, 19, 20, 25, 26)

iPad Air gives you up to twice the 802.11n Wi-Fi performance thanks to two antennas to support MIMO (multiple input multiple output). With dual-band (2.4GHz and 5GHz) 802.11n Wi-Fi and MIMO, the new iPad supports download speeds of up to 300 Mbps, which is double the data rate of the previous-generation iPad.

iPad Air supports Bluetooth 4.0.

iOS 7

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iPad Air will most likely come pre-installed with iOS 7.0.3 – Apple’s latest mobile operating system for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, which comes with an all-new user interface and over 200 new features. Here are some of the major features in iOS 7:

Colors

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iPad Air comes in two colors: Space Gray and Silver.

Silver looks exactly like iPad mini′s White & Silver color. Space Gray is the same color that was introduced with the launch of the iPhone 5s. It is a tweaked version of iPad mini’s Black and White, which comes with a metallic grey anodized backplate.

Apps

Pre-installed Apps

iPad Air comes pre-installed with the following apps from Apple: Safari, Newsstand, Videos, Photo Booth, Mail, Messages, Siri, Clock, iBooks, iTunes Store,  Reminders, Game Center, Photos, App Store, Contacts, Maps, Calendar, Camera, FaceTime, Music, Notes.

Free Apps

In addition to the pre-installed apps, you can also download the following apps for free from the App Store:iPhoto, iTunes U, iMovie, Podcasts, GarageBand,Find My iPhone, Pages, Find My Friends, Numbers, Remote, Keynote, iTunes, Trailers.

Storage

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iPad Air is available in 16GB, 32GB, 64GB and 128GB storage options.

Pricing

iPad Air will be available for $499, $599, $699 and $799 for 16GB, 32GB, 64GB and 128GB Wi-Fi only models, and for $629 $729, $829 and $929 for the Wi-Fi+Cellular models.

Apple has discontinued the iPad 4 with the launch of iPad Air, but will continue to offer the iPad 2 for $399 for the Wi-Fi only model and for $529 for Wi-Fi+Cellular model.

Availability

iPad Air goes on sale in the following countries on November 1st:

US, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, China (Wi-Fi models only), Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macao (Wi-Fi models only), Macedonia, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Romania, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK

You will be able to buy the iPad Air at Apple retail stores or authorised resellers from 8am local time in these countries.

Accessories

Apple has also unveiled redesigned Smart Cover and Smart Case for the iPad Air.

Smart Cover

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The Smart Cover for the iPad Air has been redesigned to fit the thinner and lighter form factor of the device, and will be available for $39 starting November 1st.

The Smart Cover will be available in pink, yellow, blue, green, black colors as well as a special Product Red edition.

Smart Case

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Unlike the Smart Cover, the Smart Case covers the back of your iPad too, better protecting it from falls or other accidental damages. The Smart Case has a leather exterior, like the new iPhone 5s cases. It will be available for $69 for the Retina iPad mini and $79 for the iPad Air. Colors are pink, yellow, blue, green, black colors as well as a special Product Red edition.

Introduction Video

As with every new Apple product release, the company has released the following video of its executives talking about the new iPad′s new design and features:

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The first iPad Air TV ad:

Wrap Up

I was quite surprised when Phil Schiller announced that the next generation iPad will be called the “iPad Air.” If you look at the tech specs, the name is very apt. The new iPad is only 7.5 mm thick, which is 20% thinner than its predecessor, and as thick as the iPad mini. It is also 6.6 inches in width, making it 0.71 inches narrower than the iPad 4 and just 1.3-inches wider than the iPad mini. Apple has also managed to reduce the weight by a whopping 28%, and the volume by 24%.

To achieve something like that is a brilliant feat of engineering, which you will only be able to appreciate if when you hold the new iPad. One of my biggest grievances of the 9.7-inch iPad has been that it is too heavy, so I can’t wait to use the iPad Air. The thinner, narrower and lighter iPad Air should also be easier to hold.

As an iPhone 5s owner, I was hoping that the new iPads will include the Touch ID fingerprint sensor, so I was disappointed that Apple decided not to include it in iPad Air. Recent rumors indicated that the iPhone 5s supply constraints were primarily due to the Touch ID sensor, so I realized it was a case of wishful thinking, but I am so used to the Touch ID now that unlocking the device using the passcode is going to be a pain for another year.

The other disappointment was lack of any improvements to the camera. Ever since Apple launched the iPhone, it has always improved the camera in the new iOS devices, so it was surprising to see that Apple did not upgrade the camera to at least iPhone 5′s 8-megapixel camera. Here’s some perspective, iPad Air comes with a camera module that was first used in the iPhone 4s in 2011. Taking photos may not be one of the most popular activities on a tablet, but I’m seeing a growing number of people using their tablets to take photos, so it certainly deserved a spec bump.

John Gruber of Daring Fireball makes an informed guess that the lack of Touch ID and improved camera was due to supply and engineering constraints. According to him, Apple didn’t have enough time to incorporate the Touch ID or iPhone 5s’ camera in more than one device, and the supply of Touch ID sensors was enough to meet the demand for iPhone 5s.

When Apple launched the iPad mini last year, it quickly became my go-to device at home. It will be interesting to see which one will be my go-to device, will it be the lighter, thinner and narrower iPad Air with its bigger screen or the Retina iPad mini. Apple has certainly made that decision very difficult this year.

What you think of Apple’s new iPad Air? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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