iPad 3: evolution, not revolution

Friday 9 March 2012 | 11:25 CET | Background

Apple unveiled the latest version of its iPad tablet this week in San Francisco. While the device does have improvements compared to earlier versions, it is not a major rethinking of the tablet. For Apple though, this is not a big problem, as the iPad can still count a positive reception and a big advance on rival tablets.

The newest iPad, which indeed is just called the iPad despite reports Apple was considering something new, is an incremental innovation, adapting or improving the functionality of earlier versions. While not really new, that’s not a big problem. By tinkering with the hardware, Apple has added a number of upgrades in line with the latest trends and demands for mobile devices. 

Better display, faster speeds

Among the new specifications are a Retina display with a much higher resolution than earlier versions, namely 2048x1536 pixels. The first two generations of the iPad had a resolution of 1024x768 pixels. Also new is the iSight camera with a light-sensitive lens and image stabilizer, which offers photos with 5 megapixel resolution and videos in 1080p HD. The iPad 3 also has a new processor, the dual-core A5X. This is an upgrade of the A5 chip included in the iPad 2. And finally the iPad 3 supports LTE networks – in North America at least. Other regions will have to settle for HSPA+ speeds, as the iPad 3 only supports the 700 and 2100MHz bands for LTE. So, the new iPad means better images and faster speeds. This is in line with the range of Android tablets unveiled at the recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, which offered little new apart from upgrades to faster processors, clearer displays and optimized operating systems. For this last point, Apple also released iOS 5.1, a small update to its own operating system which notably adds personal hotspot support. 

Still bigger than Android 

Apple is still a case apart from Android. While Apple attracts near-religious followers, Android is still making due with a wide range of hardware manufacturers which deliver a few successful tablets and a great deal of devices unable to reach a mass market. 

The iPad has built up an advance on Android tablets. Apple has sold around 55 million iPads since the launch of the first device in April 2010, while it’s still unclear how many tablets Google’s operating system has sold. According to Andy Rubin, Google’s senior VP of Mobile, the world had 6 million Android tablets in use in October last year. During the Mobile World Congress, Rubin said this had doubled, and this year, the number of Android tablets sold worldwide should increase much more. 

Rubin’s expectations will very likely be met. The tablet market is growing so quickly that any number of hardware manufacturers are not afraid to throw their hats in the ring to get a piece of the pie. According to market researcher Gartner, the tablet market will grow to around 320 million units annually within three years. Given its dominance as an OS, Android will make up a large number of those tablets, while other operating systems launching this year, such as Windows 8 and BlackBerry 10, will also take a share. 

Positive reception 

Apple has managed to control the tablet market so far by delivering a product that can rely on a positive reception from end-users. Lines at retail outlets are only getting longer with each new product Apple releases, and distributors expect the same for the iPad 3. The company is also maintaining its momentum on the market by delivering the new version in a timely manner. This is similar to the launch of the iPhone 4S, which while not seen as a huge innovation, was nevertheless a major sales success. Also similar to the pricing strategy of the iPhone 4S, Apple has cut the price of the older iPad 2, giving it tablets at various price points to capture a bigger share of the market.  

The iPad also generates a positive response from consumers. Compared to competing tablets, the iPad scores better on size, design, weight and display quality, according to results from the Telecompaper Consumer Panel in January. Dutch consumers were asked about their experience with tablets from Apple, Samsung and other manufacturers. The survey found that consumers are in general largely satisfied with their chosen tablet. At the end of 2011, 12 percent of Dutch households had a tablet, according to Telecompaper’s research.

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