Apple announced its anticipated iPad update, which saw incremental upgrades to its tablet device line, with the company also repositioning its existing tablets to give options at a wider range of price points – including a new entry level.
But a feature that was not even mentioned in the company’s presentation also piqued interest. The LTE-enabled versions of the device will ship with a “new Apple SIM”, which gives “the flexibility to choose from a variety of short-term plans from select carriers in the US and UK right on the iPad”.
This means that customers will be able to make choices when roaming or depending on the coverage available in the area they are using the tablet – which may be an appealing option for traveling users.
So far, it is being supported by AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile US as well as UK operator EE.
Forbes suggested that the absence of fanfare may well be related to the need for Apple to keep its operator partners on side. While iPads are sold unlocked, the vendor will be keen not to impact its real cash cow – the iPhone – which is generally sold by operators, with subsidy.
And presumably the Apple SIM is removable, to allow customers to select other networks (especially where Apple SIM is not supported), meaning that iPads making it into the operator channels may not include it.
IHS Technology analyst Ian Fogg hailed Apple SIM as “the biggest strategic challenge to mobile operators for years.” In a research noted he commented that Apple SIM “has a potential to fundamentally change the relationship between mobile operators and users. Making it easy for users to switch carriers and tariffs from a device user interface removes barriers to consumer switching, makes market competition more efficient, and places pressure on operator revenues and profitability.”
It had been anticipated that the company would announce a large-screen iPad in order to booster its position in the enterprise market, but this did not come to fruition. Apple has already teamed up with IBM to help address enterprise app needs.
The Touch ID support also opens the way for support of the Apple Pay service. With the tablet form factor being less suited to contactless payments than a smartphone, the company instead said that this will enable users to “make purchases easily and securely within apps”.
The previous generation iPad Air and iPad Mini with Retina display – now called iPad Mini 2 – live on, with their prices reduced. And the original (non-Retina) iPad will also stay in the line, meaning there is a new low price-point for the Apple tablet ($249).
“Everyone has something at each price point,” said Philip Schiller, SVP of worldwide marketing at Apple.
As anticipated, the company has introduced a gold version of iPad alongside silver and grey, meaning the colour palette aligns with that of iPhone.
And Apple has also changed the storage options supported. Its 32GB models have bitten the dust, giving 16GB, 64GB and 128GB options, with the last two at a slightly lower price point.
Customers can order iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 3 in 29 countries already, with availability starting from next week in multiple markets.
iPad Air 2
The main introduction at yesterday’s event was iPad Air 2, which has a new slimline form factor – it measures 6.1mm deep, compared with 7.5mm for the previous iPad Air. It also weighs less, at 437 grams, compared with 469 grams, in its Wi-Fi only form.
Apple also trumpeted an improved retina display. While the resolution is unchanged, it is now fully laminated and has an anti-reflective coating.
The rear camera has also been upgraded to 8MP from 5MP, and gains support for a “burst mode”. The front-facing camera has also been improved (although the resolution remains unchanged), with a larger f2.2 aperture to capture more light.
Slow-motion video support has also been added.
As anticipated, the Touch ID fingerprint sensor introduced with the iPhone 5s smartphone has also made its way to the iPad Air 2.
The Wi-Fi capabilities have also been improved, with support for 802.11ac added, and where supported the onboard LTE now offers download speeds of up to 150Mb/s using carrier aggregation, across 20 LTE bands – which Apple said is more than any other tablet.
And the device is the only member of the iPad line to see an upgraded processor. It features an A8X chip alongside an M8 motion co-processor, whereas the earlier devices had an A7/M7 combination.
It is a new version of the A8 chip found in the latest iPhone line. It has 3 billion transistors, compared with 1 billion in the A7, delivering 40 per cent faster CPU performance.
Prices start at $499 for the 16GB model with Wi-Fi, rising to $829 for the 128GB model including LTE.
iPad Mini 3
The iPad Mini has also seen an update – there had been speculation that this line may continue unchanged, as Apple waited to see the impact of the large-screen iPhone 6 Plus on sales of the smaller tablet.
This device has only seen one significant change – the addition of the Touch ID sensor. With the existing iPad Mini with retina display living on as the iPad Mini 2, and priced at $100 less, the new device may prove to be a tough sell for all but Apple aficionados.
Prices start from $399 for the 16GB model with Wi-Fi, increasing to $729 for the 128GB model including LTE.