The New iPad: Has The King Returned?

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The new iPad looks set to further establish Apple’s tablet rule. Can rivals usurp the king?

The simply named new iPad, Apple’s third incarnation of the ultra-idolised, much-hyped tablet computer, was released today in 10 countries around the world.

Fans in the UK, US, Switzerland, France, Germany, Canada, Singapore, Australia, Japan and Hong Kong will finally get their mitts on the device after hours or even days of queuing outside stores.

Tablet domination

As with the launch of the iPad 2, this latest release will likely reinforce Apple’s dominance in the tablet market, laying down the gauntlet to the likes of Samsung, Asus and Amazon. IMS Research estimates Apple’s share of the market will rise to 70 percent this year, up from 62 percent in 2011. In addition, approximately 70 million iPads are expected to be shipped this year.

Since the introduction of the initial iPad, it has been extremely difficult for rivals to snatch any chunk of the market away from Apple, largely because the device was, and still is, broadly seen as the most appealing and functional tablet available. Is the new iPad still king?

At Apple’s announcement on 7 March, many expected a revolutionary makeover of the iPad that would reassert its position as the only tablet worth buying. Rumoured features included a quad-core processor, doubled storage capacity and an eight megapixel rear camera, amongst umpteen others.

Unfortunately, none of them arrived. Even rumours that the device would get a sparkly new name like the iPad 3 or iPad HD were false. The new iPad does however boast four major upgrades from its predecessor, even if two of them may be of little use to most consumers.

The upgrades

The most highly publicised of the bunch is the Retina Display, which crams 264 pixels into each inch of its 9.7-inch (diagonal) LED screen. With a resolution of 2048 x 1536, Apple boasts that the display is four times better than the iPad 2 and that you will not be able to see pixels at a normal viewing distance.

Apple claims the Retina Display shows “razor-sharp text” and “richer colours” to enhance the iPad experience. Developers will take time to create applications best suited to the new screen, but the results should be very impressive.

Powering the tablet is Apple’s A5X dual-core system-on-chip, which it claims will deliver graphics performance four times better than Nvidia’s Tegra-3 processor. The chip is a direct upgrade of the A5 used in the iPad 2.

Customers in the US and Canada will be excited to hear that the new iPad integrates 4G LTE support. Customers almost everywhere else in the world will be less so. While 4G trials are ongoing in the UK, the spectrum auction will not occur until later this year, with a full roll out some way away. This renders LTE support in the new iPad relatively useless for a year or thereabouts over here, though the tablet will support faster 3G networks in the meantime.

The last of the notable upgrades will be equally useless for most of the device’s users, though not due to network issues. Apple’s five megapixel iSight camera, capable of shooting 1080p video, is impressive compared to the weak camera in the iPad 2, but still requires a high embarrassment-threshold to use in public. Does anyone really use iPads to take serious photos?

Other minor changes include a marginally improved battery, capable of keeping the iPad going for 10 hours while using Wi-Fi, watching video or listening to music, or nine hours while browsing using a mobile data network. The battery life is the same as in the iPad 2, but enhanced hardware is needed to support the more power-hungry device.

Additionally, both 4G and Wi-Fi versions of the new tablet are about 50 grams heavier and 0.6 millimetres thicker than their second generation equivalents.

All-in-all, the new iPad has shaped up to be a very good device with some attractive upgrades from the iPad 2, which will remain on sale at a cut price though only in the 16GB version. The device’s success is virtually guaranteed, with one analyst predicting a million iPads will be sold today alone.

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