October 27, 2014

iPad Air 2
Thoughts on the iPad Air 2

I’ve been using the iPad Air 2 for a few days now, and I’ve got some thoughts. I’m coming from using both the original iPad Air (still available), and the iPad formerly known as iPad mini with retina display, now just plain iPad mini 2.

To me, iPad Air 2 is the perfect iPad. That’s because I create as much as I consume on my (primary) iPad. I picked up the iPad mini with retina display last year to question this, because the iPad Air felt unnecessarily big when reading. Granted, the iPad mini form factor is lovely, superior even, for reading, and I do that quite a lot. But I write a lot too, and edit texts, and although I often rely on external keyboards, there’s still a difference thanks to the screen size.

But I digress. This piece is about the iPad Air 2. It’s also about how the device is reviewed, sort of, without turning into too much of a meta review.

First, some bullet points about what I think, in general.

  • Bloody hell, this thing is thin! It’s not shockingly so when you compare it to last year’s Air, but when you’re handling it, you feel it. It weighs about the same though, the difference is minimal.
  • I love TouchID, and I’m stupid enough to pay extra for it. If I was still on the iPad mini track, I’d buy the iPad mini 3, despite owning the predecessor. The only real difference between the two is TouchID…
  • The iPad Air 2 feels fast, but I can’t tell if it’s faster than the previous one. There’s more memory though (2 GB RAM), so it doesn’t reload web pages as often. I never thought of that as a particularly big problem with modern iPads though.
  • The screen is better and feels closer to your touch, which is true, literally. It’s less sensitive to outside light sources, less glare, but it’s not a huge improvement. This is an area where glass screen tablets are struggling, still. I won’t be reading on the iPad Air 2 in the sun.

The New York Times nails it, I think.

Let’s get this out of the way first: Apple’s new iPads are the best tablets on the market today. The iPad Air 2, the company’s new top-of-the-line device, is substantially faster than its predecessor, which was already more powerful than just about every rival. It sports a terrific minimalist design, almost a millimeter and a half thinner than last year’s pretty skinny iPad Air.

Granted, there are a few high-end tablets I’ve yet to fiddle with, but honestly, the operating system alone makes this true for last year’s iPad Air too, still.

I also agree with Jim Dalrymple regarding the sleep button and its placement.

There is one really odd thing that I found when using the new iPads. Since I started using the iPhone 6, I got used to pressing the sleep button on the side of the device. Now, I’m doing that on the iPad, except the iPad’s sleep button is still on the top—it hasn’t changed. Instead of putting the iPad to sleep, I turn up the volume.

It’s a small thing, I know, but it’s an annoying lack of consistency across the product lines. I almost feel like the Sleep button will become my new nemesis now that the iPad has Touch ID.

I also miss the mute switch on the side, something I’ve used a lot in the past to avoid disturbing my immediate surroundings.

Some reviews struggle with, well, a lot. The Verge’s Nilay Patel decides that an iPad is for sharing, which I find ludicrous to say the least.

It’s for sharing.

Every single one of Apple’s other devices pulls you into a bubble — from the on-my-body Apple Watch to the always-with-me iPhone to the my-life-is-on-here MacBook. I don’t want to hand any of those things to anyone else; they’re mine. But every time I hold an iPad, I’m eager to show it to someone, to pass it off, to share the experience with the people around me. Tablets are social in a way that no other device except the television is social, but there’s nothing about the iPad or iOS 8 that recognizes this essential fact. It’s time for Apple to start pushing the iPad forward again; not just in hardware but in all the places it should fit into our lives.

While I certainly appreciate the sentiment, I think this is against what people are using iPads for. Perhaps Mr. Patel doesn’t have his email account on his iPads. Maybe he’s not an avid Twitter or Facebook user, thus not putting those on there. I think he is, but no matter what – those are not apps that makes you want to share your device. That’s obviously his point, hidden in the “tablets are social” narrative, which in itself is somewhat flawed, in the same sense that laptops are social. All these devices, from smartphones to HDTVs, are social if we control what they display. You can’t leave your phone, tablet, or computer logged in for anyone else to see, assuming you’re even remotely private. I don’t think you want to, really. The tablet isn’t social, people are, and the device they’re using is less of a point.

All that said, I do agree that a multi-user feature, much like the one in Macs, could be useful. I don’t see how it’s useful for Apple, they want everyone to have their own private iPad, driven home by the Family Sharing feature in iOS 8, but I can see the consumer benefit of the feature. I don’t see it working well on a device meant to enable productive tasks, because that’s where the iPad fits in long-term. If you’re suddenly out of storage because your kids downloaded a ton of free to play games, and you need to get some work done, then the multi-user sign-on is a bad idea. And I think that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

No, the iPad is a personal device. Come one, you’re using it on the crapper, and you still want to share it with others? I think not.

Let’s talk about storage. My advice is to never buy the small iPad and iPhone models, because they won’t cut it if you want to do anything other than reading, writing, and browsing the web on your device. The 8 GB iPhones are a joke, and 16 GB for a device such as the iPad is almost as bad.

John Gruber on the matter:

Apple should not be selling 16 GB iPads. The starting tier for typical consumers should be 32 GB. There’s just not enough usable space on a 16 GB iOS device to do the things Apple has worked so hard to make easy to do. High-def slo-mo video? Panoramic photos? Console-quality games? Those things all consume large amounts of space.

Gruber also touches the education angle – 16 GB is more than enough – in his piece, among other things. I get that, but that’s not a particularly interesting use case, because they shouldn’t be picking up iPad Air 2 models anyway. There are iPad Air models still available, that’s more than enough for most users, and ridiculously overpowered for anything done in education that isn’t pertaining to game development, or possibly the world’s most forward thinking music and/or video editing class. Said class would still do just great with last year’s Air model… While all that is true, it’s also true that Apple should can every iPad model below 32 GB, because the lack of storage will ruin the experience, thus hurting the brand, as it’s essentially a lesser product.

This brings us to wether you should consider an iPad Air 2 or not. That decisions depends on what you’ve got today. Walt Mossberg, writing for Recode, sums up the Air vs. Air 2 situation quite well:

The problem was this: I couldn’t tell the difference between the Air and Air 2 while doing these things. The new model didn’t seem faster or smoother while running all my apps, perhaps because — like most people — I don’t use my iPad for the most demanding video-editing apps or high-end games. It registered pretty much the same network speeds as my Air.

The Air 2 didn’t allow me to hold or carry the tablet longer and more comfortably than the Air. Its weight of 0.96 pounds isn’t discernibly lighter than the Air’s weight of one pound. And its thickness of 0.24 inches is a barely noticeable reduction from the Air’s 0.29 inches.

If you got the iPad Air, don’t shell out for the iPad Air 2, unless you like to spend money on incremental updates of course. I did, and it’s the best iPad ever, but the Air 2 isn’t outstanding compared to the original Air, mostly because that’s such a great tablet in the first place. Now, that might be less true in six months, if there are apps that utilize the extra power that lurks in the Air 2, but I sort of doubt it. This is much like the s upgrades for the iPhone. It’s a bump, and you have to decide if you’re on the initial generation release, or on the bump s release, but it’s doubtful if there’s a point to upgrade on a yearly basis.

Unless you’re mad, like me. Then you buy all the new things, compare them, and write about it on the internet.

Thoughts? Let @tdh know on Twitter, or find me elsewhere. There is also a newsletter.