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“Significantly Hotter”

When the iPad 3 brought Retina to the iPad family for the first time, I was blown away. (Most of us were — that was the biggest high-DPI screen that most people had seen at the time.)

That screen was so good that it temporarily blinded me to the iPad 3’s major compromises: it was noticeably thicker and heavier than the iPad 2, it had lopsided performance,1 and it ran noticeably warm even under normal loads. I forgave all of those, and even made fun of Consumer Reports for trumping up the warmth.

After a few months of using the iPad 3, it really did feel like a big, heavy brick, the warmth was actually annoying (much like on the original iPhone), and it was a pain in the ass getting Instapaper’s pagination to be fast enough on its underpowered CPU. But we wanted a Retina iPad so badly, and the screen was so great, that most of us (myself included) overlooked its flaws on launch and raved about the screen.

Many initially great-seeming products have obvious compromises and shortcomings in retrospect, and modern Apple devices aren’t immune to this. The first MacBook Air was painfully slow. The original iPad didn’t have enough RAM. The iPhone 4’s camera was very slow, its proximity sensor was flaky, and its home button wore out easily. And the iPad Mini’s screen resolution was embarrassing for a late-2012 midrange tablet.

At the other end, some products strike an amazing balance, are executed extremely well, and make significant progress from their predecessors while having no major drawbacks. Apple tends to make a lot more of these than most tech companies. I think the strongest examples among each Apple product family in the last few years as being noteworthy for the time and fantastic in retrospect are the 2010 13” MacBook Air, the iPhone 5, and the iPad 2.

But if I had to pick runners up, it would be tempting to pick three of Apple’s newest products in the respective families: the latest Retina MacBook Pro (both sizes), the iPhone 5S, and both new iPads. This is a very good time to be a fan of Apple hardware,2 and this says a lot about Apple’s product status and leadership — I’d rather have just a perfect iPhone than a half-assed iPhone and a half-assed watch.

If I had to make one nitpick about the new iPads, with the caveat that I haven’t used the new Mini yet, it would be the lack of Touch ID. Getting accustomed to Touch ID on your new iPhone, then not having it on your new iPad, is like installing a soft-close toilet seat on just one of the two toilets in the house — once you’re accustomed to Touch ID, it’s disruptive and subtly annoying when it’s not on both devices.

Otherwise, by all accounts, and my own playing with my wife’s new iPad Air, the new iPads are so good that they’ll almost certainly belong on that amazing-devices list. It’s just a little early to say.


  1. Its A5X had more GPU power to drive the increased pixel area, but it had the same CPU cores as the iPad 2’s A5. So, while most purely-GPU operations performed decently, any CPU-bound operations on pixel data could perform much worse, as they were processing data for four times as many pixels with the same CPU power.

    For developers, the iPad 3 remains one of the hardest iOS devices — possibly the hardest — to support for games and custom animations. 

  2. Well, it’s a very good time to be a fan of iOS devices and laptops, at least. The desktop world is still uncomfortably waiting to go Retina. 

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