The secret to Apple’s success (and its nearly $600 share price) is that they always leave their customers wanting more. They’ve mastered the art of incrementally upgrading their most popular products, but leaving out just one little feature that becomes a must-have in the next version.
Apple did it again this week, releasing an iPad that improves upon last year’s version with a new display that is vastly improved over the prior two iterations.
Apple claims to have sold 315 million iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touch devices from 2007 through the end of 2011, undoubtedly many to existing owners. Apple certainly got me. An inventory this morning reveals I apparently own 9 Apple mobile devices, with a 10th sold on Ebay last year. Anyone want an old iPhone?
When the iPad 1 was released less than two years ago, many tech pundits questioned the lack of a higher resolution screen, its inability to run applications written in Adobe’s flash, and its larger size and weight as compared to Amazon’s kindle. But once consumers started to play with the device in one of Apple’s retail stores, the utility of it became immediately apparent. Apple sold 1 million iPads in only the first month, and 15 million in the first year.
Then along came the iPad 2. It addressed the size and weight issues, added a considerably faster processor, but still had the same low resolution screen as the original. That did nothing to slow sales, with the iPad 2 selling as many units in just the last quarter of 2011 as the first generation device achieved in an entire year.
Two weeks ago Apple announced the latest iteration, what they call the “new” iPad. It fits within roughly the same form factor of the iPad 2 and weighs about the same, but comes with a super high resolution screen.
The new display is remarkable. The resolution and pixel density of the new iPad exceeds every HD television on the market, and rivals all but the highest end desktop computer displays. Apple managed to pack 4 times the number of pixels into the same size screen, making text and images appear as though they’re printed on. It’s really that good.
In order to drive that display and still retain a fluid user interface Apple had to add some additional processing horsepower. The new iPad retains the snappy dual core microprocessor of the iPad 2 but also introduces a quad core video processor to keep performance in line with the prior version. It also has a gigabyte of memory, double the amount of the iPad 2 which was already twice that of the first version.
All of that extra hardware added additional power requirements, so Apple has nearly doubled the battery capacity. That doesn’t result in longer battery life compared to older versions but it does ensure it’ll at least retain the 8-10 hours of life the current devices get while taking longer to charge. The battery isn’t anything revolutionary – Apple made the new iPad’s case slightly thicker to accommodate the larger power source.
So is it worth the upgrade? Of my 9 Apple mobile devices the only iPad in the bunch is the first generation one I purchased on launch day in 2010. The jump from iPad 1 to this new one is considerable. It feels like a much more mature product that’s noticeably faster, more fluid, and and far less prone to crashing when using apps and websites that push the hardware.
Display aside, owners of the iPad 2 will feel like the new device is more of an incremental step than a substantial upgrade. Performance is comparable and it looks and feels the same. The new device does feature an upgraded rear camera (the same camera as the iPhone 4S), supports faster 4G networks on AT&T and Verizon, and adds speech to text dictation.
Having now delivered (and profited from) many of the features users demanded it will be interesting to see what Apple will do next. Rumors are strong that they will likely begin applying technology developed for the iPhone and iPad into other consumer electronics products. If past experience is any indication these devices will be must-haves with just a few things missing that we’ll undoubtedly be upgrading again, and again, and again.