Thoughts on iPad Air and iPad mini with Retina Display

As expected, Apple unveiled the next generation iPad and iPad mini at its media event on Tuesday, finally putting an end to the various rumors and speculations that started last year. 

Here are my thoughts on the new iPads:

iPad Air

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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. It is also 6.6 inches in width, making it 0.71 inches narrower than the iPad 4. 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.

iPad mini with Retina Display

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When Apple launched the iPad mini last year, Apple sent confusing signals. It came without Retina Display and included components from the 18-months old iPad 2, but was priced at $329. It wasn’t clear if Apple wanted to offer a cheaper iPad to compete with cheaper and smaller Android based tablets or a smaller version of its popular 9.7-inch iPad. The components and lack of features like the Retina Display suggested it wanted to offer a cheaper iPad to go after market share, but the premium pricing contradicted it.

Meanwhile, launch of tablets like the new Nexus 7 and 7-inch Kindle Fire HDX exposed the unimpressive hardware specifications of the original iPad mini.

The launch of the Retina iPad mini suggests Apple has finally figured out what it wants to offer. It is certainly not going after market share, as it has further increased the price. However for $399, the new iPad mini has the same hardware specifications as the bigger iPad Air such as the faster A7 chip with M7 coprocessor, Retina Display, support for more number of LTE bands and faster Wi-Fi thanks to new MIMO 802.11n Wi-Fi support. So the only thing that differentiates the two tablets is the size of the screen.

The new iPad mini is also marginally thicker and heavier than the original iPad mini to accommodate the high-resolution Retina Display. I don’t think people are going to have a problem with it, the gorgeous Retina Display is going to be well worth the sacrifice.

The lack of Touch ID and any improvements to the camera system are again disappointing.

The $399 Retina iPad mini is almost twice the cost of the new Nexus 7 and 7-inch Kindle Fire HDX ($229), so despite the latest and greatest hardware specifications it could be a tough sell for Apple.

Cost of Ownership

By offering iWorks and iLife apps worth $45 for free with new devices, Apple has further reduced the cost of owning an iOS device and should compensate to some extent for the premium prices.

This should be a worrying sign for competitors like Microsoft who has made money by selling software and also Google, which has been competing with Apple by giving away its services for free.

Wrap up

Overall, I think the thinner and lighter iPad Air and iPad mini with Retina Display and significantly faster chip offer compelling reasons to upgrade if you’re hooked to the iOS ecosystem.

The original iPad mini has been my go-to device at home, so it will be interesting to see which one will be my go-to device for the next one year, 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.

I may be reading too much between the lines, but Apple may have used the iPad Air moniker as it wants to add a “Pro” device to the iPad product line like the MackBook. There have been rumors that Apple has been working on a 12.9-inch iPad, which could be an interesting solution if it comes with an integrated keyboard and doubles up as a MacBook Air-like device.

I would love to know what you think of the iPad Air and Retina iPad mini, so please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.