The iPad. It’s the computer I bring out when I’m not working. To my grandmother, it’s the only computer she can understand and use. To many people I know, it’s something they don’t think is worth $500. Its promise of being something everyone needs hasn’t crystalized yet, but it’s slowly emerging as Apple continues to chisel away at its aluminum shell. It’s a signifier of how Apple’s products are now more complicated than they once were. The iPad doesn’t have a simple tagline like a “1000 songs in your pocket”. In a way, it’s a testament to its noteworthiness. This is the personal computer we’ve been promised for the past decade but we’re just not ready to accept that yet.
Honestly, for most people, the biggest debate with tablets right now isn’t if you should get an iPad or a competing product. The debate is if you should get the iPad mini with Retina display or the iPad Air. You could argue that the iPad mini now offers the same functionality for a lower price in a more condensed package. However, I would argue that the iPad Air offers the benefits of a larger display without the weight/size disadvantages it once had.
The decision was simple for me, as I wanted a larger display to use apps like Paper. Some seem very emotional/invested in this argument of mini vs Air. I’ve already started receiving feedback from people saying that I’ve made the wrong choice. There’s no argument to be had though: I wanted an iPad big enough for sketching. Case closed.
The now called “iPad Air” is very much like the MacBook Air now. It’s insanely thin and seems to defy technological constraints. It’s magical. The name change is curious though. I think it’s a sign of a larger variety of iPads to come.
The recipe here is largely unchanged from the original iPad; a piece of glass devours the display and the back is constructed from a single piece of machined aluminum.
EDIT: I’ve been getting asked if the iPad Retina has a thinner glass than its predecessor. The answer is yes. Personally, I haven’t noticed much of a change coming from the iPad mini. It shouldn’t be a cause of concern.
What Apple has done though, is crafted their signature recipe to perfection. The iPad Air is an incredible thing to hold. Seamless, magically thin and light, and precision crafted. It's as if it has its edition numbering engraved on the back.
EDIT: To those wondering, the thinner bezel has no usability issues. Even if your thumb does touch the display, the iPad is clever enough to cancel out those accidental inputs.
It’s hard to express how light it feels through words and photos. It’s something that really needs to be held to be understood. Apple’s hardware design is now so far ahead of its competition that they’re just making fun of them at this point. If Apple isn’t getting help from extraterrestrial beings, I don’t know how they’re making this thing so beautiful.
In terms of design, the iPad Air is very similar to the iPad mini and therefore, iPhone 5(S). The design is simple and crisp, only to be garnished by a chamfered edge to catch some light.
Apple had some initial trouble with perfecting the chamfer of the iPhone 5. My first phone even had some manufacturing defects. All the kinks have now been ironed out though, and both my iPhone 5S and iPad Air have near-perfect mirror finishes. Also notice the lack of a plastic ring between the junction of the glass and aluminum – something that was first pioneered by the iPad mini.
The back of the Air is finished in a fine bead-blast like most Apple products. Not much has changed here except for that secondary mic located to the right of the camera.
I had considered going with the Space Grey iPad but bailed last moment and went with silver like I usually do. Both look great on the new design though.
A radical (if you’re a design nerd) change that has also occurred is the reversion to an inlay-style logo treatment. Apple was never able to master producing a mirror finish using chemical etching so they seem to have back peddled. Strangely, the iPhone 5S still has the old logo treatment – which I prefer in theory, not practice.
Something I don’t like about the new design is the extra bit of bling Apple threw around the camera. It’s completely unnecessary garnish and it would’ve aligned better with the iPhone if it weren’t there.
Apple has now streamlined their case/cover product line to just two products. The Smart Cover is the cheaper option ($39) offering screen protection and is made from polyurethane. The Smart Case is the premium option ($79) constructed from leather with all-around protection. I went with the admittedly overpriced Smart Case in brown.
Apple used to have a four-pane flap design on their full-size iPad cases but have now unified their cases to a three-pane construction for both iPad mini and Air.
The move to the tri-fold design was probably driven by the desire to have a larger base. The edge of the flap snaps into itself magnetically so the easel position is also surprisingly stable. It’s a massive design improvement from the original Smart Case, which I was so vocal about calling a piece of shit.
Overnight, Apple has become a master at manipulating leather. The entire exterior is constructed from a single piece of die-cut, formed leather. I would love to see how they actually make these.
Like the new iPhone case, the Smart Case has a small lip around the perimeter of its opening that snaps onto the diamond-cut edge of the iPad. Unlike the original Smart Case, the fit and tolerances are fantastic.
I love how the Smart Case is thin while offering pretty good protection. It’s taken a couple of generations but Apple has finally constructed the perfect case for the iPad.
Something that became obvious after a few weeks of use is how badly the iPhone 5S case ages. My brown case looks like garbage now, though my father’s black case is looking acceptable. My manager’s blue case is now discolored beyond recognition after a month. I was worried about the Smart Case’s durability but was happy to find out that it’s made from a different kind of leather.
The Smart Case is made from a more durable hide than the iPhone 5S case. Its rougher grain is immediately visible, which leads me to believe that it’s made from cow leather whereas the iPhone’s is made from sheep. There’s no visible discoloration after a week of use, and though it’s acquired a few scratches from me carelessly tossing it into my bag, I think it’ll age just fine.
I’ve been vocal about my dislike of iOS7. I still think it’s a mess. It feels rushed and unfinished. Followers of Apple talk about this new design language as being more “honest” but I believe that by forcing a facelift, Apple has created a less honest product than their original skeuomorphic designs.
iOS7 looks particularly bad on iPad. By bad, I mean really really bad. Everything looks like it’s been simply scaled-up from iPhone: it’s just an ugly design at a larger scale. There’s so much screen real-estate and there’s no visible effort to use it cleverly. Apple puts initial priority on iPhone, and it shows.
iOS7’s genesis needed to be from a real desire to create something better than iOS6. But nothing’s really gotten better, if anything, just worse. Like the move away from Google Maps, this tastes like a purely political/principle driven change. We’ll just have to deal with poor legibility, usability and aesthetics while they sort themselves out.
But in the end, the iPad is a great tablet to use, as it always has been. I would have honestly preferred to have seen Apple hold out on iOS7 for a year but it’s still the best mobile experience out there. With the addition of the A7 processor, lag is nonexistent and apps load faster than ever. The OS is still very buggy and I've been experiencing some crashes but it's definitly not the hardware's fault.
Other than that, there’s really not much to else talk about in terms of software. Although the latest iPads have the biggest visual change to software in history, it remains functionally the same. The Air is the same easy-to-use tablet you’ve come to love with a massive selection of apps. If you’ve never wanted an iPad and the light and thin design of the latest hasn’t sold you yet, I’ve unfortunately got nothing else to convince you with.
But what if you already own an iPad? Should you upgrade? If you have the money and own anything other than last year’s iPad, I think it’s totally worth it. I went from the 3rd generation iPad to the iPad mini and although I loved the mini to bits, I ended up wanting more screen real-estate. In my opinion, the iPad Air is the perfectly balanced iPad. It’s now more compact than ever, is super light, and still has the large 9.7” display.
This is the best iPad ever made, which is what I've said about every iPad before it. The Air is a great exhibition of Apple’s successful product strategy: to create incremental changes every year to become increasingly refined in design and function. It’s a methodology that they share with the automaker, Porsche. And just like Porsche, it’s been winning them competition comparison tests year after year. Perfection doesn't exist but iPad does.