The new Apple iPad is kind of a paradox: At the same time it's both the best possible tablet you can buy, and yet, it's a disappointment. It retained the crown with an incremental performance bump.
Waah, poor us: saddled with a piece of technology so well-executed in its first two iterations that the current generation is a letdown by virtue of not being Earth-shattering. We took a timeout from our tears to wonder: What would make a new iPad truly different, and even amazing?
It's not about specs. A5X doesn't mean anything to most people outside the circles of gadget nerds like us, our blogs' comment sections, and the labs of the people who make the A5X. Ask someone who loves their iPad why they love their iPad—it has nothing to do with numbers. And it shouldn't. Nobody's life should have to tilt at the whim of a Tegra processor. The iPad has altered people's daily routines because it lets them look and literally touch things—ideas and people—like never before. That's fun! But it's a couple years old now.
Apple needs something that fundamentally changes the iPad. It needs something that makes the iPad a different, better sort of object, rather than just a refined one. Look, everyone's a critic. We're trying some constructive criticism—a wish list of ideas for a new iPad that actually feels new. So how about some (or just one!) of these?
Ten hours is none too shabby for a powerful processor tucked behind a giant, bright, sharp screen relaying WiFi goodies. But 10 hours still puts the iPad inside the bounds of gadget I need to remember to charge regularly. When you have to keep your eyes on a power bar that might be red, the tablet ceases to be a thin friend and becomes an anxiety.
Imagine if the next iPad could run for days without a charge. Imagine battery life—rather than processor bumps that won't make much difference—taking priority inside the machine. Just imagine a subtle solar cell on the iPad's back that would at least slow the battery drain while you're using it outside. Let Jonny Ive worry about making it look good. And focusing on a more efficient processor instead of a more powerful one would let Apple squeeze extra hours out of your pad—and we'll take extra hours and days of life over a few aggregate seconds shaved off app launching.
Do you get really upset when you drop your magazine on the street, or spill coffee on a book cover? No, you don't, because those events don't really make any difference. Those objects can take the abuse.
It's an unfair comparison, but one that Apple should aspire toward. If the tablet is going to someday be a permanent computer sidearm, more attached to our person than perhaps even the phone, it needs to be able to take serious licks. Waterproof it, dust-proof it, shock-proof it. It's done elsewhere—it can be done here. It's not like Apple doesn't love sealing its gadgets up tight to keep us out, anyway.
The perfect magazine—glossy, pliable, and lovely—has a design an iPad should seek to emulate. Beating a magazine at its own game might be the greatest thing Apple's ever done. Imagine an iPad as slick as a Vogue, as thin as a Consumer Reports, and light enough that you could hold it as long as you wanted without arm strain. (This one and a half pound thing isn't going to cut it, guys.) Oh, and flexible. Yeah, flexible. That's sci-fi stuff for now (sort of), but an iPad that could naturally bend and crumple and then spring right back would be astounding. And it's inevitable.
Until that inevitability, giving us the same hardware stunner we experienced when the MacBook Air floated down. That would be just as killer. Light. Thin. Light. Thin. Light. Thin. We should never feel like we're using the iPad when we're using the iPad.
A camera that matters
Way to go, Apple—you put a brilliant camera on the wrong side of the product. Nobody except clueless uncles and Spike Lee (come on, Spike) use their iPad to take photos that way. You look like an idiot. Even if you're Spike Lee. We feel confident in predicting that using the iPad as a giant camera will never take off. It will look dumb in perpetuity.
Meanwhile, the front-facing cam is stuck in the late-90s with some VGA bullshit. Yet this is the camera that stares us in the face on FaceTime, connecting us with people we care about. This is the camera that should be dazzlingly high resolution. This is the camera that should track our face no matter how we're holding the iPad or where we dance around the room. This is the camera that should make us live that scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Hell, take the camera off of the back entirely if it'll make front magic feasible. Good riddance.
Lipophobicity. Look it up. An iPad screen that doesn't just feebly "resist" fingerprints, but avoids them altogether, would be a feat of engineering, and fair tribute to that retina display.
Kill the connector
The iPad is using pretty much the same dock connector the iPod used a decade ago. That doesn't make sense. Apple promised us great things from Thunderbolt, and hasn't really delivered anything. How about a tiny, blazingly fast Thunderbolt connector for the iPad? One that could sync everything—HD movies, hi-res photos, new albums—in a matter of seconds. It can be done.
Or, hell, kill the connector entirely. Take advantage of 802.11n wireless and actually hit speeds between your computer and iPad approaching the 600 megabit/sec limit. Use inductive charging if possible, or swallow your pride, Apple, and use micro USB like the rest of the universe.
Apple knows it doesn't have to do any of this. For now. It can put out a minor upgrade every year and sell millions and millions more iPads—so why try? Because trying is what made Apple the most valuable technology company in the world.
Apple has shown that it can take its best current product (say, an iPhone 3GS), disassemble it, and put it back together as something golden and incredible and worthy of spectacle. Say, an iPhone 4. The step between those two phones was radical. The way the 4 was built, the way it felt, the screen, the camera that was like nothing else—it was dramatic. A fundamental change. After a few more years of institutional incrementalism, these iPad press conferences are going to stop justifying themselves. With enough cautious updates, the iPad will just turn into another thing you can buy. There's no magic future there. But the magic future is what we all want.