Apple won't blink

A Dependable iPad

Apple is maintaining a difficult balance with the iPhone and the iPad. On one end, they appear to want to release each product yearly. The first four iPhones were either announced or arrived in early June, until the iPhone 4S was announced in early October with initial shipments two weeks later. So far the iPad debuts in the March/April time frame. This yearly cadence mirrors the fashion industry, where each year something new and beautiful to covet is introduced.

However, these devices are expensive. In the US, the carrier supported 32GB iPhone 4S is currently $299 and the 32GB iPad 2 is $599 – both prices feel well above your average impulse buy. This is why I think it’s no mistake that the two devices’ release dates are as far apart as possible on the calendar given the yearly release cycle. This gives you the maximum amount of time to forget how much money you just plunked down on the latest bright’n’shiny.

It’s a strategy that has normally worked brilliantly on me, until the arrival of the iPad 2. It wasn’t that I didn’t covet the slim stylings, I just didn’t feel like I’d yet gotten my money’s worth with my original iPad by the time the second iPad arrived. When it did, I carefully held it in my hands, drooled a bit on the black Smart Cover, and considered the question, “Is it worth it?” and discovered the answer was, “No”. Interestingly, this answer did not change over time. Perhaps a function of the iPad’s price point? Release date? Feature set? I don’t know.

What I do know is that barring an unexpected post-Steve-Jobs apocalyptic design disaster, there is no way I won’t be purchasing the forthcoming iPad 3, and following is a prioritized list of the features I’m looking forward to considering.

Features I want:

Retina display. You generally hold the iPad farther away from your face because of the larger form factor, which is why I don’t think I notice the difference switching between the iPhone’s Retina display and my iPad. But I’m fully expecting to be dazzled by the shine of Retina’s double pixel density. I believe the Retina display will be your Holy Shit moment with the iPad 3. This will be the feature you’ll be showing your friends.

Snappiness. My measure of CPU and graphical processor speed is completely based on feel. The test is, “When I perform a common action is it faster or slower?” Slightly faster is not snappy. Snappy is measured in a word: “Whoa”.

As much battery as possible. Rumors are pegging the iPad’s shell as being ~0.81mm thicker than the iPad 2. My hope and belief is that every single millimeter is being stuffed with additional battery. I’m fine with a reasonable amount of heft as long as I’m getting impressive battery life. Using the initial iOS for the iPhone 4S, it was clear that it had a shorter battery life. It’s better with later iOS releases, but my impression is that it’s still not as good as my prior iPhone. My fear is that the combination of additional processing and graphical power is going to weigh heavily on battery life. Via whatever my final usage patterns are, if I need to charge the iPad more than once a day, I’ll be disappointed.

Features I’m interested to consider:

The absence of a physical home button. My son just explained the possible appeal of virtualizing the Home Button. It’s so that no matter how you are looking at it, there’s a home button right under your nose. I use the Home Button on the iPhone all the time for a very basic maneuver: I reach in my pocket and feel for the front button on the phone. The Home Button instantly orients me to the location of everything else on the phone, whether it’s the headset jack or the camera. I don’t have the same need with the iPad, and, in fact, I like the idea that Home may always be in the same place. I would not say the same thing if the button was being removed from the iPhone unless some type of haptic magic is being deployed, which is entirely possible.

Cost. To date, Apple seems very happy sticking with their Good, Better, Best pricing structure, with the only variables being storage and 3G – pricing was unchanged for iPad and iPad 2. There are two obvious pricing pressures on iPad 3: component prices and competition.

Component price. Clearly the hardware necessary to provide the Retina display is going to cost more. Same with a new CPU and all the other whiz bang Apple shoves into the enclosure. The question really is: what’s the total cost to Apple given that existing component prices continue to come down, combined with Apple’s ability to write monstrous checks to the tune of, “We don’t want lots of that component, we want all of it… for, like, ever, and if you’re not interested, well, we’ll just go build or buy our own factory. Your thoughts?”

What’s the delta on cost to Apple? Even with all the purchasing muscle, my guess it’s still higher.

Competition. The tablet space is Apple’s. Amazon’s had a foothold with its recent impressive land grab of market share in the space, but I’m very interested to see what happens in the post-Christmas quarter where, oh yeah, the iPad 3 shows up. Will Apple competitively price the iPad 3? Absolutely, but Apple is defining this category and, as such, they are defining – not reacting to – pricing.

My only prediction: Wi-fi pricing stays exactly the same at $499, $599, and $699. If there is a going to be a price increase it will be for the 4G units, and, as you’ll see below, I’m not considering that option. Faced with increased component costs and increased competition, I don’t think Apple is going to blink.

As for my ideal price point, that’s better answered by…

Affordable storage. I’ve only run into storage issues on my iPhone primarily because of my Instagram addiction. This was mostly solved with my 32GB iPhone 4s. As for the iPad, its 32GB are fine, and if we’re putting it all in the cloud, I’m not likely to bump to 64GB (or higher) unless it’s price effective. Given my pricing guesses above, I’ll happily pay $599 for my iPad 3.

Acceptable weight. The weight of my current original iPad is only an issue when I’m in bed on my back with the device on my chest. I’m likely watching Hulu and after a couple of episodes, I begin to feel the iPad’s weight. This is the only time I’ve noticed the iPad’s weight and I’ve taken it all over the world. The iPad 2 was almost 80 grams lighter than its predecessor, and in my informal poll of friends, they haven’t complained about weight. So, close to that, ok?

Features I don’t think I care about (but could be convinced otherwise):

4G. At the house, I have a Verizon MiFi and it’s jaw-droppingly fast and also a complete power hog. I’m regularly getting 10Mbs downstream and I live in the middle of nowhere where Verizon fleeces me for crap DSL. I’ve never considered the data version of the iPad because the majority of the time I need my iPad there’s either wireless nearby or my iPhone serves whatever mobile need I have at the moment. Besides, I want that larger battery powering all those pixels and processor cycles.

Camera. The iPhone is a clear replacement for a point and shoot camera. The iPad’s is not. The use case for the iPad’s camera is FaceTime, and for me and I’m likely in the minority here, FaceTime is a classic You-Gotta-See-This-Once feature. You demo it once and never use it again. The line I draw for the cameras is “it can’t be crap.”

Siri. Sure, ok.

My final wish is the hardest to define. I am not regularly using my iPad for anything substantive in my day. I use it, but I don’t depend on it. Whereas if my iPhone isn’t within arm’s reach, I get twitchy. I don’t know what combination of features might make the iPad more attractive, but I’m certain that a dose of snappiness, a plethora of the pixels, and the three subtle details that no one will predict but everyone will love could make a difference.

(Disclosure: I own Apple stock and I worked at Apple for the better part of a decade, which fulfilled a dream I had since I was a kid.)

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9 Responses

  1. foljs 12 years ago

    The use case for the iPad’s camera is FaceTime, and for me and I’m likely in the minority here, FaceTime is a classic You-Gotta-See-This-Once feature. You demo it once and never use it again.

    Well, if you work any stretches of time away from family / s.o., you WILL use FaceTime. A lot.

    Now, for talking to your friends in the city, well, nowadays we have almost eliminated even phone-calls as too intimate and bothersome, so, F.T. won’t fly either..

  2. someguy 12 years ago

    How is a sharper screen going to make you depend on your iPad more? It’ll look nicer, but it won’t change the functionality. A high-res screen is not a revolution.

    How is a snappier UI going to make you depend on your iPad more? The iPad 2 is already faster than iOS’ UI transitions.

    4G is probably the most important feature for the next iPad. Don’t depend on open wifi for fast internet.

    There is no information of any substance in this article.

  3. Akshay Pall 12 years ago

    I can’t live without mt MacBook Pro and iPhone/Xperia Play (I switch) and I’m looking forward to an iPAd 3. Everyone around me has an iPAd 2 and they use it for work, school, everything. The only thing I believe that the iPAd is incapable of doing is video editing. the iMovie app is decent, but I’ll keep my MacBook Pro with Final Cut Pro X for that.

    Keep up the great work.

  4. Andre Gironda 12 years ago

    This article gets a C-. No mention of AirPlay Mirroring or such. Siri is not a feature, she’s a gimmick. The evolution of AirPlay is a feature train that is normally worth buying into.

  5. Wow, so many entitlement issues in the comments. Not sure where people got the idea that this post was anything other than personal opinion/expectation/desire and that it should be treated as such.

    Anyway I can definitely see the appeal to upgrade for a 1st generation iPad owner, but not really as an iPad2 owner. Even a retina display isn’t enough to tempt me at this stage as I find everything about the current iPad just right.

    Do you think that Apple’s current focus on iterative upgrades is no so much about getting everybody to buy their products on a yearly basis but getting half the population to upgrade their products every second year? Almost every article I read seems to treat it as if Apple is somehow failing if they don’t make you want a new iPhone/iPad every year, but they’re still making a bucket-load of money even with everybody upgrading every other year.

  6. I only charge my iPad once a month, because I so rarely use it. It’s excellent as trans-oceanic plane entertainment, and as a portable video playing device around the house.

    But it’s far too heavy for general use. My Kindle is more on the level of how much weight I’m prepared to hold onto without support, unless I’m sitting in some very specific – and not very comfortable – configurations. At most times, including in bed, my phone (Galaxy Nexus) is a better device for the things that I might think of using an iPad for (primarily news snacking).

  7. It’s probably an older attitude, but I still peg 3 years as being a reasonable expectation for electronic equipment to last for, whether that be home entertainment, phones or computers.

    I was late to the iPhone party, and started with a 3GS just over 2 years ago. In December 2011, I picked up a 4s, this was because the contract on the 3GS was about to run out, and the carrier was closing down. Getting a new phone was icing on the cake.

    It irks me that a new product is pushed out every year, but it looks like I’ll be on an upgrade path that lasts at least 2 years.

    I bought an iPad 2 for my wife, for Christmas. Again, a late starter, but I’ll want to be sticking to a 3 year cycle for that.

  8. Actually, there’s a growing number of people that would really love to see a better camera on the iPad: us and our video app’s users. They shoot their whole music video, no editing, all on their iOS device and the better the camera the better their end product looks.

    You can tell when they are using an iPad or iPod, especially in low lighting.

    Here’s a small sampling of vids:

  9. Hamranhansenhansen 12 years ago

    > FaceTime

    > demo it once and never use it again.

    FaceTime replaced Phone and Skype for me. I talk to family in other countries with it for free. I know many people who bought iPod touch just as a FaceTime/Skype phone. People in the US send them abroad so they can FaceTime with relatives.

    > high-res

    > depend on iPad more

    Obviously, he will do both low-res and high-res tasks on a Retina iPad instead of just low-res. Editing full frame 1080p does not require going to a Mac anymore.