I have some sympathy for folks who bought 3rd-generation New iPads over the past six months and are now complaining they’ve been hard done by with Apple releasing the 4th-gen iPad. Some sympathy…but not a whole lot.
I’ve been there, and not. In March, 2009, I bought a then-current late 2008 model unibody MacBook, reasoning Apple would not release a major upgrade for another half-year or so.
I was wrong.
Two months later, Apple released a major upgrade of that machine, with faster processors, a FireWire 800 port, and a SDCard slot, relaunching it as the 13-inch MacBook Pro. I was not amused, particularly because lack of FireWire I/O was my main complaint about the MacBook.
On the other hand, that MacBook has proved to be one of the best Macs (possibly the best Mac) I’ve ever owned, so the sting has faded.
Last March, my iPad 2 Was just nine months old when the New iPad was released, but I’d expected that, and was relatively serene about no longer having the latest iPad hardware (although that’s never a particularly big deal for me anyway). I wasn’t about to upgrade from a machine less than a year old, and would indeed bridle on principle at replacing even a two-year-old device that was still working fine. It of course didn’t hurt that I had (and have) mixed feelings about the Retina display, and because of the ultra high res panel’s prodigious appetite for processor resources, the iPad 2 remained the fastest iPad in some benchmarks despite its A5 system-on-chip not having the quad-core graphics processor of the New iPad’s A5X SoC. Also, the iPad 2 remained the thinnest, lightest iPad, and it runs cooler.
That changed last week when Apple unveiled (along with the new iPad mini) a 4th-generation iPad with an Apple in-house designed A6X SoC that’s been claimed (and apparently proved) to be twice as fast as the 3rd-gen iPad’s A5X chip, and is cooler-running and more economical in power consumption. That’s a serious performance improvement, so it’s understandable why iPad 3 owners are feeling some buyers’ remorse. I have to wonder if the truth is that Apple wanted to use the A6X chip in the 3rd-gen iPad last spring, but it just wasn’t ready in time, obliging them to go with the 45nm process A5X SoC to tide them over.
When Apple announced the iPhone 5 in September with its A6 SoC and new Lightning dock port, I wondered how long they would allow the flagship iPad to languish running yesterday’s silicon, connecting through the old 30-pin dock. Now we know. The iPad is once again Apple’s fastest and most powerful iOS device.
The operative question now is whether there will be a 5th-generation iPad come spring. I’m cautiously doubtful, but not with any strong confidence. For one thing, they’d get another batch of users who ponied up for the 4th-gen iPad mad at them for releasing another new revision after five or six months. There’s also the possibility that Apple is migrating iPad version updates to the lucrative fall back-to-school and pre-Christmas sales from late winter/early spring as they’ve done with shifting the iPhone 4S and 5 to fall release dates.
On the other hand, distinctions between the 3rd-gen and 4th-gen iPads consist of the A6X SoC, the Lightning dock connector, a new front-facing FaceTime HD camera, a claimed-by-Apple twice the Wi-Fi performance boost compared with previous iPad models, and support for more LTE wireless carriers worldwide. So, the A6X speed bump is the only really substantive upgrade, making this latest iteration more properly an iPad 3S rather than an iPad 4. That means if Apple were to wait until October, 2013, to release the next iPad version, it would be 17 months between major revisions, which is a very long time in the context of this sort of product.
We’ll have to see. In the meantime, A6X power eliminates several of my reservations about the Retina display iPad as a reasonably substantial upgrade from the iPad 2.