Who Will Save The Tablets?

Shortly after I had bought the iPad 3 on release day in March of 2012, I wrote:

There are other advantages to the iPad that made the two previous version worth owning. However, the sublime display in the new iPad really finishes the job. It’s hard to think where Apple will go with the next iPad — besides lighter and thinner. My bet is on software.

I felt this way for about six months, before I put down the iPad and hardly ever used it again. By then, only my three year old son and my wife were using it for the occasional game and education app.

Yet, this wasn’t my first iPad. I had had an iPad 2 before, which I used almost daily over a nine month period. I had sold it one month prior to buying the newer one, for the sole reason of upgrading to the rumored retina iPad.

So what went wrong, why did I stop using my iPad 3?

I believe my reasons were a combination of factors:

  1. It was thick and heavy at 9.4mm and 650g. It wasn’t at all comfortable to hold, even when sitting on the couch. This is worsened by the fact that I would feel its heat in my left hand after a short while of use. I never thought of the iPad 2 as thick and heavy, yet it was 0.8mm thinner and 40g lighter. But as is typical with such things: once you become used to them, it is hard to go back. And the iPad 3 definitely felt like a step back, even if you consider that display.

  2. It was underpowered to comfortably drive its high resolution display. Animations and scrolling would stutter at times and the display suffered from a wave effect when scrolling text in portrait. Apps didn’t launch as fast as before and they would install slower because of the much larger retina graphics. The tablet was constantly pushed to the edge of its performance, which was evident by the amount of heat that it produced.

  3. Its battery-life was slightly shorter than the iPad 2 but still acceptable. Yet the time it took to fully charge shot up 50% to about 6 hours on a wall charger, and it doesn’t charge when in use —it even discharges slightly. Charging an iPad required planning when you used it as often as we did.

All of these issues resulted in a product that had lost its magic to me. The iPad as a device was conceived to fade into the background and become the app you were using, or the content you were reading. Instead, this iPad didn’t fade away: your hand and arm felt it was there, your eyes could see it struggle, and you had to be mindful of when it needed charging. Apple knew it too: a short eight months later they released the iPad 4 which solved the performance issues by means of the new A6X processor.

So, to come back to my quote, I had it wrong. The retina display didn’t finish the job. It made a good product worse and it wasn’t until the iPad Air, 1.5 years later, that most of my issues with it were fixed, or reset.

But that isn’t the complete story. The iPad had performed a job that I wasn’t going to use my laptop for. With nothing to replace it, I probably would have kept on using it. Yet, in the fall of that year something happened that eased my transition away from the iPad.

Apple released the iPhone 5. I bought it on day one to replace my aging iPhone 41. The iPhone 5 was lighter, thinner, faster, it had a bigger screen, double the RAM, and longer battery-life than my iPhone 4 it replaced. It wasn’t a perfect substitute for the iPad in every way, but it was good enough.

Today, we are on the verge of one or two —depending on which rumors you believe— bigger screen iPhones. My iPhone 5 is ready for an upgrade, if only to replace the 4 I handed down to my wife.

Come fall, will I still have a need for my iPad Air? It seems that phones, tablets, TVs truly are becoming just different sizes of glass. It might just be that phone-sized glass suits me the most.

  1. I imagine this must seem like an expensive year, but I got a pretty good deal from my 9 months old mint-condition iPad 2.