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iPads – Then and Now (with a bit of Pro)

As a Professional IT Engineer, technology is at the heart of what I do. Over the past few months I have been working with our Enterprise IT Architects on a range of mobile device management (MDM) solutions. These are often used by large companies/enterprises to manage the mobile devices of workers. During this time I have had the privilege to road test a number of “cool” handsets/tablets and other “Corporate IT things”.

Putting the latest iPad Air 2 next to my third generation iPad (the first with “retina” display) it got me wondering how much has actually changed in the past three or so years. How much of this change is technology and how much of it is adoption/people/culture?

The Technology

A quick Google on the history of the iPad wouldn’t be complete without the obligatory visit to Wikipedia. The very first iPad (back in 2010) is probably worthy of a place in a musume now. The first generation iPads shipped with iOS 3.2, however, like most Apple products, this was upgraded over the devices lifetime. The maximum iOS version for a first generation iPad is iOS 5.1.1 which is now well over three years old. This means many of the User Interface (UI) upgrades since iOS5 won’t have been applied to your iPad. Cast your mind back, do you remember the “rain coated window” background and all the “glossy/3D effect” icons – yep, that was iOS5.

Second Generation – A good refinement (with camera)

So, what about the second generation iPad (shipped March 2011 – March 2012 (32/64GB) / 2014 (16GB) )? The second generation iPad introduced the camera to the iPad. Not many people relaise that the first generation iPad didn’t even come with a camera (let alone facetime – introduced in iOS7). The second generation iPad really fixed many of the things which were missed off the first iPad, such as the camera. It also had small upgrades on RAM and processors but nothing exceptional.

Third/Fourth Generation – How many pixels?!?!

This is the era when the iPad started to look as good on the screen as it did in the flesh. The third generation iPad was the first to have a “retina” display. This quadrupled the number of pixels on the screen to the current 2048 by 1536 pixel displays found on all models since the third generation. With the increased resolution the iPad started to come into its own (and critically distinct) market for managing high resolution content such as photos, media and immersive games.

The fourth generation added the now standard “lighting” connector in favour of the 30 pin dock connector. Other improvements were made to the processor, memory and connectivity.

The introduction of Air (and Air2)

Comparing the third generation device to the latest iPad Air 2, the overarching difference is the physical form factor. The iPad Air range (currently on its second iteration) significantly reduced the form factor of the device. The original iPad compared to the last “non-air” version (the iPad 4) showed a slight reduction in size (although the second, third and fourth generations were all 9mm thick), however, it was the first iPad Air which radically reduced the physical form factor. The removal of the wider bezel makes holding the iPad a more refined experience offering a lighter, more direct feel.

The iPad Air 2 has a raft of “minor” upgrades around processors, cameras and memory however, it is still very similar to the original iPad Air. One additional point of note is the inclusion of a barometer. This additional sensor opens the iPad up to a range of new applications which have yet to really take off. Putting aside the obvious data security/privacy points, it does raise the interesting thought of “crowd sourcing” weather forecast data. Rather than relying on set weather stations, why not use the data from millions of devices which are reporting on a local measurement at a given street corner?

The People/Culture (and the Apps)

When the first iPad debuted, many people asked what was the point of a large iPhone. With the benefit of hindsight, look what happened from the iPhone 4 to the current iPhone 6 (let alone iPhone 6 Plus), the trend for large devices looks set to continue. The other thing that has changed in step with technology is the acceptance of technology. With improved hardware, more applications have emerged which can leverage this platform. As these applications have flourished, people have come to use, accept and love the apps they now take for granted. This in turn has helped to drive the adoption of technology which has only “added fuel to the technology fire”. Rather than being considered a niche technology (or a large iPhone), the iPad is now as common amongst the tech savvy as it is amongst the silver surfers.

With the explosion of applications tailored to the high resolution, multi touch tablet form factor, iPads have worked their way into the culture of the office. Whilst it might still be a rare site in “day to day” meetings, many board meetings are now paper free events, instead relying solely on the use of iPads (or similar). Once the initial hurdle around device hardware costs can be overcome (either through wider adoption of BYOD or the general decline in technology costs), iPads will start to leave the boardroom and become more common across all levels of the business.

The “Now”(?) – Pro?

With the launch of the iPad Pro, there were echoes back to the first generation iPad launch – what was the point? Having played/worked with an iPad pro for the past few weeks, I can start to see the point of it, however, would I spend £1000 on my own one (including the case/keyboard and pencil) – the answer would be no.

The iPad Pro is just a larger version of a normal iPad. The addition of contacts on the side to connect a keyboard is clever, however you could pair a bluetooth keyboard with the standard iPad for a good number of years. The larger screen means photos, films and other digital content looks fantastic. This is great if you are working in this sort of industry, however, for most “average” consumers it isn’t going to add much.

It wasn’t until I picked up the Apple Pencil that things started to make sense. Until you have a play with one (inside an app which supports it range of features) it is hard to understand how good it actually is. Writing on the screen feels totally natural. Brush strokes work well and the tablet really feels like it is coming alive. Sadly, in my case, it is the person holding the pencil which lets down the whole performance. Until there is an app for humans which can add some artistic skills, I don’t think I am going to get the most out of the pencil.

All that said, if you are a graphics/artistic professional, the iPad Pro must surely be a welcome tool. Maybe the addition of Pro to the title was the obvious choice, but actually, it is very fitting. Much like other “pro” things (racing cars, skis, kitchen knives, complicated software and technology), unless you are a true professional you are not going to get the benefit (or value) of the technology.

Conclusion

If I had to suggest an iPad for the average user it would be a simple recommendation – the iPad Air 2. If you already had an iPad the question might change to “should I upgrade”. If you have the first generation iPad Air then there is little to be gained. However, if you have an older “original” range of iPad then the reduced form factor (with superior battery life) makes the latest Air model a real step up. Finally, I would only consider the iPad Pro if you consider yourself a graphics/artistic professional in need of true professional grade tools (with attached price tag).

 

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