Fellow Fool Evan Niu recently wrote up his (excellent, as usual) take on Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) latest announcements at the company's annual World Wide Developers Conference. In particular, Evan talked about how Apple is bringing split-screen multitasking -- which Apple dubs Split View -- to the iPad Air 2.
"Some will say that move is merely an attempt to sell more of the latest and greatest [iPad] models. Others will argue that there are probably some technical reasons that only the Air 2 supports Split View," Evan writes.
He finally goes on to point out that the answer is very likely "both," citing the Air 2's dramatically faster CPU and graphics performance. I agree with Evan, and would like to dig a bit deeper into both of these reasons.
Of course Apple wants to sell you more iPads
Apple is in the business of selling iPhones, iPads, and Macs, and so it shouldn't be a surprise to anybody that the company would like to give users any and all reasons to upgrade to the latest iPads. Apple has been innovating on the hardware side of things for a while, and despite some pretty solid upgrades with the iPad Air 2, iPad sales have still been on the decline.
One popular explanation is that users are simply holding on to their current iPads for quite a while, meaning that upgrade cycles are relatively long. Apple CEO Tim Cook said on the company's first-quarter call that he believes that the upgrade cycle is somewhere between that of a smartphone and a PC.
To persuade people to upgrade, new and improved hardware is helpful. However, to most customers, fast new processors and more memory probably aren't convincing enough selling points in and of themselves. That hardware needs to enable fundamentally new and useful functionality.
Do you really need an iPad Air 2 for Split View?
I would argue that Split View (in addition to the other multitasking features that Apple is bringing to iOS 9 for iPad) is an example of a "fundamentally new and useful" capability. The question, then, is whether this feature really requires an iPad Air 2.
I wouldn't be surprised if, for things to work smoothly and without performance issues, the hardware of the iPad Air 2 is required.
For one thing, Split View allows the user to have two totally separate apps active at one time. This means that both of those applications will need access to enough memory and CPU cycles to remain snappy. The iPad Air 2 features 2 gigabytes of memory, while older iPads have anywhere from 512 megabytes of memory (iPad 2) to 1 gigabyte (iPad 3 to iPad Air).
The older iPads may simply not have enough memory to support two potentially large applications running at the same time without performance and/or stability issues.
Additionally, the iPad Air 2 features a triple-core processor, and each core is quite powerful. The iPad 2 and 3 have relatively slow dual-core Cortex A9 processors from ARM Holdings (NASDAQ:ARMH) that might not be able to withstand the load of two intensive applications.
The iPad 4 has dual Apple "Swift" cores that are reasonably fast, and the first iPad Air has dual "Cyclone" cores that are faster still, and maybe these iPads might have had the CPU grunt to support Split View without a hitch. However, I'd say the limited memory on these iPads may have proved a hindrance, making this speculation irrelevant.
Apple needs to keep adding new features
Apple's job with the iPad is to keep adding useful new features that take full advantage of what brand-new, next-generation hardware has to offer. If Apple can continue to do so, then it might be able to shorten iPad upgrade cycles a bit, which could help the company's iPad business over the long term.