Apple took the wraps off its latest iPad tablet on Tuesday, and surprised the world with a new name, the iPad Air.
As the name might suggest, iPad Air is thinner, lighter and more powerful than the existing full-size model. It sticks with the 9.7in Retina display seen on the previous version, but weighs in at just 469g, measuring a slimline 240x169.5x7.5mm - 20 percent thinner and 28 percent lighter than the fourth generation iPad, which weighed 652g and measured 241x186x9.4mm.
Apple has also added its A7 processor chip, which debuted on the iPhone 5S, to the iPad Air. This is said to to double the performance while maintaining the 10 hours of battery life, and also delivers 64bit support.
The display is at 2048x1536 resolution, meaning text will be sharp and images well defined, but the bezel is 43 percent smaller meaning the Air is slightly smaller than the existing iPad.
The iPad Air also includes the M7 coprocessor, designed to gather data from the accelerometer, gyroscope and compass to offload work from the A7 for improved power efficiency.
However, when we tried this feature out on an iPhone 5S running iOS 7, seeing if the turn-by-turn navigation could tell we’d switched from driving to walking, it didn't work. We will be interested to test this on the new iPad Air to see if it works properly now.
Apple said it has improved mobile support via dual wireless antennas and has more 4G networks covered.
These hardware upgrades don’t represent a huge departure for the iPad over previous versions. The extra performance on offer from the A7 chip will be welcome, but current iPads have always given a smooth and fast experience when browsing, watching video or downloading apps so this probably isn't a major area of interest for potential buyers.
A key issue Apple could have in persuading those new to the tablet market could be the move to iOS 7. There have been numerous complaints about the new mobile platform, ranging from dislike of the flatter, plainer user interface, to annoyance over the removal of features like daily calendar views. However, Apple has gone some way to assuaging these concerns with the iOS 7.0.3 update, released on Wednesday, which reinstates features like universal search and fixes bugs in iMessage.
The remaining criticisms over the interface overhaul are unlikely to stop existing Apple fans from buying one of the new iPads, but it might make tablet virgins more likely to consider Android or Windows tablets like the new Nokia 2520 or Microsoft Surface Pro 2 over the iPad Air running iOS 7.
For business users, there’s not a huge amount to recommend the iPad Air over existing tablets. Apple has thrown in the iWork suite of apps for free, so you can get hold of the Pages, Numbers and Keynote apps to create and edit documents, spreadsheets and presentations via your tablet. The firm has also boosted support for sharing and collaborating on work documents with others via iCloud.
One missing feature is the fingerprint scanner that was added to the iPhone 5S. We're also still waiting for an updated keyboard accessory to make it a more versatile productivity tool rather than just a media consumption and browsing device. Apple chief Tim Cook pointed out that Apple has the lion's share of the tablet market, but the iPad Air isn't likely to help the firm put more distance between itself and its competitors based on new features.
But overall, the iPad Air is another premium tablet from the Apple stable, and the weight and size differences could prove a key selling point for upgrades and potential new buyers. Where Apple has given itself potential for growth is by bringing the iPad Air to China at the same time as the rest of the world, as this is much more of an untapped market for the US computer giant.
The iPad Air goes on sale at 8am on 1 November in the UK and the US, along with various other countries. It will cost from £399 for the 16GB WiFi-only model, and from £499 with 4G.
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