Apple iPad Air 1 full review
Welcome to our iPad Air review. Apple has announced the iPad Air, its fifth-gen full-size iPad (but it's not called iPad 5 as we expected). Our hands-on iPad Air review on the previous page included: everything you need to know about the iPad Air, the Air's specs, features and physical design, and whether it's worth upgrading from your iPad 2, 3, or 4. (Catch up on everything that happened at the iPad Air launch event here). On this page: our original preview of the iPad Air, for your amusement. Yes, we thought it would be called the iPad 5.
iPad Air (formerly iPad 5) preview
The name iPad Air came as a bit of a surprise - we thought Apple would simply call it iPad 5, or possibly new iPad. Read on for our preview of the 'iPad 5', in which you can see what we got right, and what we got wrong.
The iPad 5 is strongly expected to launch tomorrow, on 22 October; Apple has sent out invitations to a press event on that date, although the topic of the event hasn't been confirmed. With the iPhone line-up newly refreshed, evidence points to new iPads, with the iPad 5 and iPad mini 2 expected to feature.
But what form is the iPad 5 likely to take? Will it have a Touch ID fingerprint sensor, like the iPhone 5s? Will the processor be replaced, and could Apple offer a range of vivid colour options, as it did with the iPhone 5c?
In our iPad 5 preview, we'll discuss likely developments, and the pros and cons of various approaches, with one day to go until the iPad 5 is unveiled.
While we await official announcements, check out this video, in which Macworld reporters discuss likely news about the iPad 5, iPad mini 2, new Macs, Mavericks and more.
New iPad 5 preview: When will the iPad 5 come out?
The iPad 5 launch date hasn't been confirmed yet, but Apple has confirmed - and sent out invitations for - a launch of some kind next Tuesday, 22 October. All the evidence suggests strongly that new iPads will be unveiled then. The invitation is pictured above; feel free to draw your own conclusions from the design.
If it is unveiled on the 22nd, the iPad 5 itself would then go on sale around 10 days after that. (The iPhone 5s was announced on the 10 September this year, then went on sale on the 20th.)
It's possible that Apple could focus on the new Mac Pro and OS X Mavericks instead, but the iPad lineup is due for a refresh; the iPad 4 was unveiled on 23 October last year, and was itself only a minor upgrade on the existing iPad 3.
New iPad 5 preview: New features
Apple often alternates between major and minor updates to its iOS devices; it would certainly be unusual to see two consecutive refreshes to a product line that were what we call 'iterative': that's to say, gradual refinements, generally making logical increases to certain components but not really changing anything. This is the kind of update that undeniably improves a product but rarely captures anyone's imagination.
The iPhone 4s was the last iterative upgrade to an iPhone, and many critics denounced it as unimaginative, bumping the camera and processor specs without dazzling with new features. (There was Siri, mind you, but this might be better credited to iOS 5 and wasn't a popular inclusion anyway.) The next iPhone, though, was the iPhone 5, which changed the screen size for the first time and was generally a lot more interesting for people to talk about.
All of which is a roundabout way of saying that after the iPad 4, the iterative upgrade to end all iterative upgrades ("faster processor, Lightning connector... we're good to go"), it would be a major surprise if the iPad 5 didn't include some fireworks. After what we saw at the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c launch, favourites include:
Touch ID fingerprint sensor. (Above) The iPhone 5s's convenient USP, allowing users to unlock the device instantly. Some concerns remain over privacy and data protection, and of course hackers found a way through almost straight away, but it remains a decent security measure with massive potential. Chances: Extremely likely.
New colour options. iPads have always been monochrome: you can have any colour, as long as it's black (or white). But surely that's all about to change. So will it be garish greens, reds and yellows like the iPhone 5c, or the understated (!) bling of the iPhone 5s's 'champagne' gold colour? Maybe both, if Apple decides to split the iPad line down the middle - an iPad 4s and an iPad 4c, perhaps - but our money's on the gold. 'Space grey' also looks probable, based on leaked photos. Chances: Likely (champagne and space grey); a long shot (bright primary colours).
Faster processor. Boring, yes, and certainly iterative, but a quicker chip does provide future-proofing; as apps get more complex - the graphical ambition of Infinity Blade 3, for instance - they will make more demands on the hardware. The four iPads have been equipped with an A4, A5, A5X and A6X chip respectively, each faster than the last; an A7X, again quad-core but faster-clocked than the A6X, would be the logical next step. Or it could go with the iPhone 5s's A7 chip. Chances: Extremely likely.
Infinity Blade 3: not for the faint-hearted or slow-processored
Improved camera. Yes, but improved in what way? Instead of simply throwing megapixels at the problem, Apple may focus on colour balance and correction: four Apple patent filings published in April add further evidence to that theory. More pertinently, an upgraded camera is always a popular inclusion, and there's room for improvement here. Chances: Fair.
Slimmer & lighter chassis. Apple's iPad 2, iPad 3 and iPad 4 were all based on essentially the same physical chassis, which makes a change overdue. Indeed, the iPad 5 will be smaller than the iPad 4, if a video from Chinese parts supplier Sw-box.com is accurate. The video compares what the firm claims is a prototype iPad 5 with an iPad 4, and concludes that, while the iPad 4 measures 241.2mm x 185.7mm x 9.4mm, the iPad 5 measures 239.2 mm x 169.5mm x 7.2mm.
The iPad 5 weighs almost half that of the iPad 4, according to Sw-box. The iPad 4 weighs 0.146 g, and the iPad 5 weighs 0.092g, the company claims. Chances: Fair.
Here's the video:
New screen size. Like the first five iPhones, the full-size iPad has stuck with its 9.7in screen through thick and thin. Could the iPad 5, like the iPhone 5, finally change the policy and add a bit more screen space? It's possible, but we don't think so. The old 3.5in iPhone screen could be described as cramped, but you'd never say the same thing about an iPad 4's display, so we don't see the screen expanding; and the iPad mini covers the mid-size screen market.
Aside from this, creating yet another screen size is a headache for app developers, a group who have been key to Apple's success. Chances: An extremely long shot.
Higher-resolution screen. Yes, the iPad 4's Retina display has such a high pixel density that the human eye theoretically can't pick out individual pixels at normal range, but why not ratchet up the resolution even further? Let's make it so you can't pick out pixels in super-close-up!
Well, it's true that Retina is a flexible term and the iPad display isn't as pixel-packed as the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c. But we're at the point where raising the resolution any further is going to provide almost no appreciable difference, while making additional demands on the poor overloaded battery. I don't believe that the Retina display concept truly represents the end point of screen development - there's always room for improvement - but right now Apple will be weighing benefits against costs, and this just doesn't add up. Chances: Not happening.
Inductive Smart Cover. This Apple patent suggests that a new iPad 5 Inductive Smart Cover will contain its own battery; the charge will be sent wirelessly from the Smart Cover to the iPad as you carry it around. The Smart Cover could either have its own Lightning connection, or take charge from a plugged-in iPad and then send it back in the other direction when you use it. This will extend the battery life of the iPad.
Sounds nice, but Apple patents concepts all the time, which then don't appear for years, if at all. On a practical level it seems like this would make the Smart Cover a lot heavier, which effectively makes the iPad heavier, but we're not engineers and perhaps there's a way around this that we're not seeing. Still, we'd be surprised. Chances: A long shot.
Flexible iPad. We're really getting into the leftfield ideas now, I see. We reported some time ago that a patent filing and job listing suggest that Apple is interested in implementing flexible components in future products, which could include a bendable iPad. But again, patents aren't firm evidence for imminent releases, and we just can't see the benefits to this sort of an approach. Chances: Not happening.
All of our iPad Air coverage: