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iPad 5 – Advancing the state of the art, or too much compromise?

Sections: Features, iPad, iPhone/iPod touch/iPad, Opinions and Editorials, Originals

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Rumors about the fifth-generation, full-sized iPad form factor and engineering specification have remained pretty consistent for months, and with Digitimes’ Max Wang and Joseph Tsai reporting this week that upstream ODM suppliers have mostly finished preparing for production of the new 9.7-inch iPad—keeping Apple is on track to announce the iPad 5 in September—we have a reasonably good idea (broad strokes anyway) of what it will be like.

It’s expected the 5th-gen form factor—after staying consistent enough through the second, third, and fourth generation iPads so that most cases and accessories would work with any of those three versions—has undergone a radical redesign and downsizing for the iPad 5.

According to the rumor mills, Apple’s new full-sized tablet will feature a slimmer enclosure, thinner bezel, and rounded corners similar to that of the iPad mini (shown), scaled up in order to maintain the screen dimensions of previous generations in a device with trimmer overall measurements and lighter weight. The screen itself is rumored to utilize Sharp’s IGZO (Indium Gallium Zink Oxide) display technology which has much greater electron mobility (it uses much less power) to manipulate the pixels of the screen.

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Digitimes’ Lee and Tsai say that according to their insider sources in the supply chain, the number of LED panel backlight tubes has been reduced from two to one, and that Apple has managed to improve battery runtime despite the smaller and less capacious housing. The latter is no small feat considering Macworld UK’s Lily Walker reports KGI Securities analyst and Apple-watcher Ming-Chi Kuo (who is often right about such things) has predicted the 5th-gen iPad will be 25% lighter. It’s also rumored to be powered by an X version of the 7th-generation of Apple’s ARM-based but in-house-designed A-series system-on-chip.

The iPad 5 is one of those instances when I think I’ll have to wait and see before deciding whether I want one. This isn’t always the case. For instance, I was sure I didn’t want to upgrade to a third generation iPad from my iPad 2 from scanning the specs. The press release and the early reports indicated it offered no computing performance improvement to speak of compared with the Gen-2 model, with the added resources of the quad-core graphics processor in its A5X sysrem-on-chip pretty much entirely soaked up by the New Retina display. While the high-res panel would be nice to have, I don’t deem it enough compensation for more weight, more heat generation, and substantially longer battery recharge time with no speed bump.

Apple relatively quickly fixed the value-added deficit with the fourth-gen iPad half a year later by swapping in a much more powerful A6 SoC (as well as the mixed blessing of a new proprietary Lightning connector port). I would’ve preferred them to stick with the well established 30-pin connector, but that’s not a deal-breaker, and the iPad 4 remains pencilled in at the top of my iPad upgrade shortlist pending confirmation of whether I think the 5th-gen iteration represents progress or regression once it’s landed.

I’m not enchanted by the prospect of a smaller form factor, mainly because of the hassle and expense of replacing cases and some accessories, I like to have a bezel margin to hold on to, and I’m from Missouri—as the saying goes—on the promise of improved battery life in a smaller form factor (although I can appreciate how going from two to one backlight and IGZO should significantly diminish power consumption). On the other hand, lighter and more compact does have obvious advantages so long as panel size is maintained, and that A7X chip sounds intriguing.

We’ll have to wait and see.

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One Comment

  1. Agree, less bezel to hold a 10″ inch display (even with 500-560g weight) isn’t a great idea. A6X wasn’t a huge jump in performance and the promise of longer battery life (12-14h ?) is only a marginally different experience. “Lighter, faster, longer” and more pixels is obviously better but I still hope it’ll have something else additionally (price drop for 128gb model).

    ICrazy