There you have it, folks. Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) has just taken the wraps off the latest and greatest iPad. The customary flurry of supply chain leaks and rumors had already tempered our expectations of what to expect, and Cupertino delivered a package that was mostly in line with my personal predictions with no major surprises or "one more things."
The only aspect we didn't really know was the official moniker, and Apple surprised everyone by simply dubbing it "The new iPad," instead of the "iPad 3" or "iPad HD" that most (including me) were expecting. Let's go through the upgrades and see what's changed.
This is probably the most important upgrade, and it was practically a lock going into the announcement. Apple doubled each screen dimension from 1024 x 768 to a 2048 x 1536 resolution. This cranks up pixels per inch, or ppi, from 132 to 264, which is still short of the 326 ppi on the iPhone's Retina Display. Despite the lower ppi, though, Apple is still marketing it as a Retina Display (where the naked eye can't distinguish individual pixels) since the iPad is typically read at a further distance than the iPhone.
Those dimensions quadruple the number of pixels on the screen to more than 3.1 million, and it tops many HDTVs on the market today that have fewer pixels packed into larger screens. That's an awful lot of pixels that require an awful lot of horsepower, which brings us to ...
Cupertino made an interesting move (although not entirely unexpected because of the rumor mill) with the custom ARM Holdings-based chip inside. Instead of bumping up to a quad-core A6 CPU, Apple stuck with a dual-core processor but jumped up the cores inside the graphics processor to four.
This chip is dubbed the A5X, and as fellow Fool Eric Bleeker points out, it dampens the quad-core narrative that's being led by NVIDIA (Nasdaq: NVDA ) this year with its Tegra 3 as the only mobile quad-core CPU currently on the market. In comparison, the Tegra 3 has a 4-plus-1-core CPU and 12-core GPU. Apple even went as far as to compare the A5X directly to the Tegra 3, claiming four times the performance.
Apple will still probably come out with a quad-core A6 soon enough, potentially in this year's iPhone, but it shows that the migration isn't particularly urgent.
Apple has improved the backside-illuminated image sensor found in the iPad, and the rear shooter (now called an iSight camera) sports 5-megapixels, while the front VGA camera appears unchanged. There's a chance that sensor maker OmniVision Technologies (Nasdaq: OVTI ) is back in Cupertino's good graces and may have won the spot after losing the juicy iPhone 4S camera win to Sony last year.
This iPad carries improved optics like the iPhone 4S, but we'll have to wait for the teardowns to come in before the image sensor's origins are identified for sure.
As expected, the device comes in 4G LTE flavors compatible with domestic wireless carriers AT&T and Verizon. One of the biggest drawbacks to the technology has always been its merciless drainage on battery life, but the Mac maker has been able to impressively keep battery life for the iPad at 10 hours, which slides just to nine hours when using 4G.
This is the first Apple device to feature this next-generation connectivity, but it probably won't be the last. Apple boasted that the iPad "works with more [frequency] bands than any mobile device ever," which is more evidence that this do-it-all baseband from Qualcomm (Nasdaq: QCOM ) is probably lurking inside.
Pricing on all the new models stayed put, contrary to dubious rumors that Apple might tack on an extra $80 to each model. The prices stack up at $499 / $599 / $ 699 for 16GB / 32GB / 64GB, respectively. Adding 4G LTE to any model will cost you an extra $130, just as it did with its 3G predecessors.
The iPad 2 has seen its price cut, and while Apple didn't go as low as a $299 8GB model, which would have promptly extinguished Amazon.com's Kindle Fire, it did keep 16GB of storage and is now available for $399.
Here's a comparison of a few specs:
The New iPad
||Dual-core A5X (with quad-core graphics)
||2048 x 1536 Retina Display at 264 ppi
||1024 x 768 at 132 ppi
||Rear: 5-megapixel. Front: VGA.
||Rear: 0.7-megapixel. Front: VGA.
What didn't make it?
I was surprised to hear that Siri didn't make it into the new iPad. Instead, Apple touted Voice Dictation, which is simply mere hands-free transcription as opposed to the various tasks that Siri assists with. Looks like Nuance Communications (Nasdaq: NUAN ) is going to have to wait before taking its complex relationship with Cupertino to the next level.
Apple continues with improving its streamlined global rollouts, and the new iPad is set for an aggressive launch starting just a week from Friday, on March 16, with preorders starting today. The iPhone 4S was the fastest global launch yet, and the new iPad should see similar treatment.
The only remaining question is how many will move on launch weekend.
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