Every time Apple holds a media event, it delivers a pithy, upbeat spin on its new hardware and software—sometimes omitting good and bad details that prospective customers would want to know. Today’s iPad event was no different, as there were some interesting details left out about both the iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3. Here they are:
(1) One iPad To Rule Them All. It didn’t happen with the iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus, but Apple’s cellular engineers pulled it off for the iPad Air 2: there is only one iPad Air 2 cellular model with all LTE bands across all foreign and domestic carriers. In other words, if you buy any iPad Air 2 with Wi-Fi + Cellular, you can use it with LTE anywhere in the world, assuming you have the carrier’s SIM card. This is unfortunately not true for the iPad mini 3, which still comes in separate versions for different territories.
(2) Apple SIM. Apple released a SIM card today called Apple SIM. We discuss it more in this article, but it’s currently being pre-installed in U.S. iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3 units — except for Verizon — and UK units sold by EE. The Apple SIM card lets these iPads select from multiple carriers while in these countries, and quite possibly others in the future.
(3) The iPad mini 3 Is Very. Modestly. Upgraded. Gold option. Touch ID. No 32GB model (but price drops on the 64GB and 128GB versions). That’s apparently it. Apple appears to have kept everything else inside the iPad mini 3 the same relative to the iPad mini 2 (nee iPad mini with Retina Display), including the old A7 chip, old cameras, and old wireless. This means the $100 price premium relative to the mini 2 seems somewhat steep.
(4) There’s No NFC Hardware In The New iPads. This means you won’t be able to use the Touch ID iPads to make in-store payments — no great shock — and also suggests that Apple truly has no interest in supporting third-party NFC “tap to pair” accessories that have become popular over the past two years.
(5) The iPad Air 2 Has A Familiar Footprint. Although it’s lighter and thinner than the iPad 2, the iPad Air 2’s height and width are identical, which means that old iPad Air Smart Covers will work on the new model — but not cases.
(6) The Side Switch Has (Finally) Been Removed. Apple hates unnecessary buttons and switches, so it’s been something of a mystery that iPads have continued to include the two-position switch originally introduced as an orientation lock back in 2010. An iOS software update quickly offered users the ability to turn the lock switch into a mute switch, making locking a software feature. Now, the switch has been replaced with one of two relocated microphones, which were previously found on the iPad’s top and top back. The other mic has been moved, iPhone-style, next to the rear camera.
(7) The iPad Air 2 Camera Isn’t Up To Snuff With The iPhone 6’s. Although the new Air is thinner than the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, Apple didn’t need its 8-Megapixel camera to protrude out from the aluminum rear housing, which initially seems odd. Scanning the specs, we noted that it doesn’t have optical image stabilization, nor does Apple make any claims about phase-detect autofocus, as it did with the new iPhones. It also has a slower lens (f/2.4) than the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus (f/2.2).
(8) Apple Shrunk The iPad Air 2’s Battery. The iPad Air 2 (27.3WH) has a markedly smaller battery than the Air (32.4WH), which probably accounts for some of the thinning and weight reduction in the new model. Although the company is claiming the same “10 Hour” battery life as before — “9 Hours” for cellular use — we’d be willing to bet that there will be some real-world differences in run time relative to the past model, particularly under heavy CPU/GPU strain.
(9) What About H.265? Though this isn’t a huge omission, Apple isn’t saying anything about H.265 support for lower-bitrate FaceTime calls when you’re using the iPad Air 2. It conspicuously mentioned this as a new feature for the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, enabling video calls to be smoother under bandwidth constraints.
(10) An Even Better iPad Air 2 Screen? Apple is promising some additional improvements to the iPad Air 2’s screen. In addition to the anti-reflective coating it discussed during the event — a claimed 56% reduction in glare — Apple also says that the iPad Air 2 will have “more vivid colors and greater contrast” than before. Another promise is that screen sensitivity has been improved, notably for better finger-tracking accuracy when making quick gestures. This widens the gap even further with the iPad mini 2, which was originally (and incorrectly) claimed to be just a smaller version of the iPad Air, but turned out to have a markedly less colorful screen.
There are some other little details about these new iPads—you’ll find them in our reviews of the iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3, coming soon. Stay tuned!