We live in a world of perceptions. This often plays out when Apple rolls out a new product and folks line up to buy it.
Now don’t get me wrong. Like many if not most of you, I simply assumed the iPad 3 was better than the iPad 2. But sometimes it makes sense to go back and consider that newer doesn't necessarily mean better. Remember, like many corporations, Apple has gone through cycles where the new version of a device simply wasn't as good as the old version.
What got me thinking about all this was a note I received from a reader a few days ago. He said he bought the "new" iPad, took it home, compared it to the old one and concluded the iPad 2 was better.
After he explained why, well, I'll be damned if I didn’t agree with him. Of course, this is far from the first time I’ve felt an older Apple product was actually better.
Past Apple Experiences
Remember the iPad Nano and Shuffle? The Nano got chubby one year, while the Shuffle became so small Apple was forced to put the controls on the headphones which meant aftermarket (read better) headphones wouldn’t work. Fortunately, the next iteration of the Shuffle was slightly bigger.
As you may recall, the second iPhone looked slightly pregnant and the third was plagued by major battery problems - leaving the 3GS as the clear winner. Cupertino then moved to the iPhone 4 with all its antenna and battery problems, subsequently redesigning the 4S to correct various issues and make it a better phone. Looking back, the smart iPhone buyer would have bought the first handset, keeping the device until the 3GS debut, and then hanging onto the smartphone until the 4S hit the streets. The less savy buyer would have bought the iPhone 2, 3, and 4.
Think about it: Car, appliance, and personal technology companies don’t get every product right - and we certainly know that movie franchises have their ups and downs. Remember Batman Forever? Well, I wish I didn’t.
iPad 3 vs. iPad 2
The iPad 2 was a nice improvement over the first iPad - lighter sleeker, with optimized performance. Plus, I don’t recall many complaints other than the typical Apple Wi-Fi problems. By the way, here’s a hint: The best home access points for Apple products are actually Apple access points and they work fine for PCs too. So if you are having Wi-Fi issues, just pick one up you’ll thank me in the morning.
But back to the iPad 3, whose key feature is a very high resolution screen. Yes, it is gorgeous, but weighed down by some major downsides. For example, the Retina display requires more data to push all those pixels so, file sizes and streams are much larger and eat up data plans much more quickly, prompting users to inadvertently max out their data plans in a few days. Frankly, I see no real point to 4G data if you can only use it the first two or three days of the month, or if it costs a small fortune to use it on a continuous basis. In effect, the new bandwidth requirements remove the 4G benefit.
There are also (disputed) reports that the iPad 3 is running hot, but we can just leave those aside for the moment. Simply put, this issue is manageable - either by not laying the thing on your bare legs while gaming or just not running high-res games. However, there is a real issue with the weight of the new iPad and its battery life, as the screen consumes quite a bit of power. Essentially, the iPad 2 gets 8.5 hours while the iPad 3 runs just under 7 hours using a video loop and full screen brightness. (I actually have Ultrabook notebook computers that boast more battery life than the iPad 3).
Yes, the iPad 3's camera is clearly superior to the one found in the iPad 2, but I'm still struggling with the notion of using something as large as the iPad as a camera - particularly when I have a perfectly good camera on my phone. So while it is an improvement, much like a better trailer hitch on a sports car, it isn’t one I’d actually use. This reminds of when Sony came out with a tiny notebook computer with a nice camera on it a few years back. I used the camera for one day, but the glare off the large screen just made it impractical. So yes, the iPad 3 has a better camera, but I’ll bet few folks use it all that much.
Now onto the iPad 3's whopping big battery. There are definitely some drawbacks here, namely, the battery takes twice as long to charge (this reviewer also had issues with the heat). In fact, one reviewer went on record as saying that iPad 2 owners would likely regret purchasing the newer model.
Let's take a minute and return to the above-mentioned heat issues which were highlighted in various reviews and by Consumer Reports. One of the more dubious theories attempts to blame ongoing litigation with Samsung as the corporation's motivation for striking back at Apple. Personally, I kind of doubt this myself, but suing a major supplier generally doesn’t exactly inspire loyalty.
In terms of weight, the iPad 2 was 15% lighter than the iPad 1 but the iPad 3 is nearly 10% heavier than the iPad 2. In grams, that is 680 for the iPad 1, 601 for the iPad 2, and 644 for the iPad 3. When it comes to tablets, weight is obviously king.
Wrapping Up: The iPad 2 is Better
Granted, there were folks who believed the iPad 2 didn't offer enough of an improvement over the original device to justify the purchase. I didn’t agree then, but with the 4G data limitations and the file size, power, and weight issues connected to the new display, well, I simply don’t see the iPad 3 as a better tablet - just different. It is also worth noting that a number of iPad 2 owners told me they ended up returning their iPad 3 because it wasn't all that much of an improvement.
In the end, and this isn’t just about Apple, from time to time a vendor may hit a level of perfection they can’t easily beat. When that happens it is best to keep what you have and hope their next attempt better hits the mark. Clearly, if you are an iPad 2 user you already have the better product.