The new iPad and the new Apple
I've watched the new iPad event twice now. They hit most of the notes most of us expected -- including the Retina display, LTE 4G networking, and iPhoto for iOS. The way in which they hit those notes, however, and some of the notes they didn't hit, were just as interesting and revealed as much about the new iPad as they did the new Apple.
This is a subset of a much longer, more involved, more interesting discussion I had with Georgia and AppCubby's David Barnard earlier tonight on iPhone & iPad Live. We'll post that show tomorrow, but here's the gist:
Tim Cook remains solid as an event anchor. He's measured, methodical, and supremely knowledgeable about Apple and their products. That sounds obvious, but many CEOs don't come off that way. He's an operations guy, not a product guy, but he's better than 99% of the keynote speakers out there, and if anyone knocks him it's only be he's taken over from the best keynote speaker in the history of the industry, the late Steve Jobs. That stage was owned by Jobs. He was infectiously engaging yet, at the same time, looked as though, at any moment, he could spin around and end you with a glare. That's an impossible act to follow. That Cook turned in a solid performance, that Phil Schiller remained affable and informative, that Eddy Cue brought a little bass, was not only commendable, but given the circumstances, phenomenal.
That Scott Forstall wasn't on stage was as notable as iOS not really being on stage. After the longest beta cycle that I can remember, iOS 5.1 was announced by Tim Cook as being available immediately. There was no GM (Gold Master) build for developers to test out, and apparently none needed since there were very few new, customer facing features. The original iPad release in 2010 had Forstall on stage showing off iOS 3.2 and the new iPad interface itself -- how the built in apps had been re-built to take advantage of a 1024x768 9.7-inch display. With the iPad 2 in 2011 Forstall showed how iOS 4.2 unified the platform and brought everything from multitasking to folders to the iPad. With the new iPad this year, nothing. iOS was less keynote and more footnote. (No doubt iOS 6 will be the star of Apple's WWDC this summer.)
Same with the new Apple TV. It did get a new interface (which I'm not wild about -- more on that in the review), and a new model that is software-identical in every way with the exception of 1080p video support. However, the new Apple TV wasn't even announced as peripheral to the iPad, but as peripheral to the 1080p video. The original Apple TV got the full Steve Jobs treatment during the original iPhone keynote no less. The 2nd generation Apple TV got similar treatment during the 2010 iTunes and iPod event. This one got an "if you also want." That's going from "hobby" to "aside". Whether that's a sign the living room is still in a holding pattern for Apple, or it's the calm before an Apple television storm is hard to say.
Either way, it's more than the iPod touch got. The iPod touch now the only iOS device that hasn't received an update to the latest generation hardware specs, and the iOS device that's gone the longest ever without receiving an update -- since fall of 2010. Once positioned as a gaming platform, it briefly enjoyed a processor that out-clocked even the iPhone. Now two generations behind when it comes to internal architecture, stuck on the A4 to the iPhone 4S' A5 and the new iPad's A5X, it's hard to see where it fits in Apple's plans beyond "cheapest gateway to the App Store". Starting at $199, it's competitive with budget tablets, even if half the size, so maybe that's enough for now.
And yeah, Apple went with the A5X system-on-a-chip, which we heard would be quad-core but turned out to be dual core for the CPU and quad-core for the GPU. Apple stressed the quad-core and the GPU, and touted the graphics performance far more than the raw processing power, but the proc itself is dual. (At least that may explain the divergent rumors.)
Maintaining 10 hours of battery life with the denser, Retina display screen is impressive. Maintaining 9 hours of battery life with a 4G LTE radio is flabbergasting. Speaking of which, one 4G LTE model to support AT&T, Rogers, Bell, and Telus, and another to support Verizon, and no word on Asian, Australian, or European 4G LTE is likely to frustrate people outside North America. It's a hell of a radio, though, with HSPA+ 42mbps support as well, and the most bands ever according to Apple. That will no doubt make it tough for some to decide which network to go with.
Tethering is a huge plus as well.
Keeping the price point identical the iPad 2, given the sheer amount of new technology in the new iPad was most impressive. Those panels and those radios can't have lowered the bill of goods. Keeping the iPad 2 around at a $100 discount was just as impressive. It lowers the price differential between the cheapest iPad and the $299 budget tablets, and it makes the platform more accessible than ever to schools and Enterprise that don't need or don't want all the bells and whistles. For cash-strapped consumers, deciding between the $399 iPad 2 and $499 new iPad might be just as tough.
Glass shelves in iPhoto for iOS show skeumorphism is alive and well, perhaps more so than ever with all the faux brushes and other effects. It wasn't the more graceful Aperture-like experience I hoped for, and the user interface isn't as elegant as Apple achieved with GarageBand for iOS. It does complete the iLife package (iWeb and iDVD are dead, thank you very much), however, and pushes the iPad further into the content creation space.
Siri didn't get any iPad user interface love at all. The idea of moving Siri over to the bigger iPad screen was a challenge to begin with. As Alex Heath postulated, they went with a subset -- voice dictation rather than something more ambitious or nothing at all. That eases one of my text entry pain point, but it means Reminders will remain an app I populate solely via Siri on the iPhone 4S.
Now the name. "The new iPad". The logic is sound -- it's not MacBook Air 3, after all, it's just MacBook Air. In theory it's cleaner and stronger branding. At least it would be if "The new" didn't squeak every time it turned around too fast. It's also a little awkward if a first time customer walks into a store and sees an "iPad 2" on the shelf next to an "iPad" and the "iPad 2" is the older, less-good-but-cheaper option. In a couple of generations, when the iPad 2 is a memory and it's been just "iPad" for years, it won't matter. But it does feel out of place right now. (And yes, Leanna predicted the next iPhone would be simply the "iPhone" so kudos to her for the concept, even if Apple beat her to the timeline.)
(Technically, like iPods and Macs, Apple refers to "the new iPad" as iPad (3rd generation) on product order and support pages, and it has an internal model number of iPad 3,x, so you can still be precise if you ever need to be.)
Phil Schiller was quoted rather broadly as saying the new name was a sign Apple didn't want to be predictable. That sounds like when the brilliant head chef has left the restaurant and the apprentices finally have direct access to the spice rack. It's no longer all saffron all the time, exactly the way they're told. There's more variety, more individuality, more nuance. Sometimes refreshingly so, sometimes head-scratchingly so. It may not always be as perfect, but it's even more exciting.
That rather neatly sums up both "the new iPad" and the new Apple.