This morning Apple unveiled its widely anticipated new iPad at an event in San Francisco. At a glance, it may not look like much has changed, but indeed the "new iPad" appears identical to the iPad 2—it is a few millimeters thick and just a smidge heavier, but I held it in my hand and couldn't tell the difference.
But they ARE differences. In a 90-minute presentation, executives reeled of a host of new features and enhancements. Here are some of the most important ones in what I consider to be order of importance.
1. Retina Display
As expected, Apple quadrupled the resolution of the iPad. It now has a 2048-by-1536-pixel resolution at 264 pixels per inch (ppi) for a total of 3.1 million pixels, more than full 1080p HD. This will make a big difference for everything from photos to the readability of text. And because the bump is a simple 4X, app developers won't have to scale their apps in order to make them look good on the new iPad.
2. LTE Wireless
The new iPad will come with a built-in LTE modem with versions available for Verizon and AT&T. Internationally, the iPad will roam on 3G. LTE can reach download speeds up to 73 Mbps, making for a truly awesome broadband experience. This is notable because at this point, LTE isn't available on any of Apple's iPhones. There was no word on data plan pricing; this will no doubt be left to the individual carriers. Apple also said that a personal hotspot feature will be enabled in all new iPads, although carriers will probably charge extra for this feature as well.
3. New A5X Processor
To drive that big display, Apple upgraded its proprietary processor. Dubbed the A5X, the new dual-core chip boasts a quad-core GPU. The iPad was already a very respectable gaming platform, but with the A5X, it has the room to grow even stronger.
4. Voice Dictation
A lot of people thought Siri would make its debut on the iPad, but Siri will have to wait. Apple did release voice dictation, which should save you the trouble of tapping away on the iPad's virtual keyboard. Dictate and email and the iPad will automatically fill in the text. I didn't get to test it much, but it seems like it has Siri-like accuracy—for better and worse.
5. iSight Camera
I have long been dismissive of the iPad's camera; I just don't see many people using it. That said, the new iSight camera is now 5 megapixels and comes with advanced features like Autofocus, tap to focus, and face detection. The iPad even has built-in video stabilization. All good things, but probably not worth the upgrade by themselves.
Those are the changes, but just as important is what hasn't changed. Obviously, the form factor is nearly identical. This means all of the old cases will still work.
And the price for the new iPad still starts at $499. Apple says it will keep the 16GB iPad 2 on the market for $399, but I suspect that is while supplies last. Perhaps most significantly, the iPad's battery life will be the same: 10 hours on Wi-Fi, 9 hours on 3G/4G. Given how many new features Apple packaged in, that is quite an accomplishment.
Oh, and one last thing, about the name. As far as I can tell it is called: "iPad." So Apple launched the iPad two years ago. Last year, they launched the iPad 2. And now they are going back to the plane old iPad. Confusing, I know.
Just make sure you buy the one you are looking for.