We bought a new iPad the first weekend after it was introduced – surprised that one was readily available, despite all the reports they would be sold out for weeks.
We used it for a few days. We returned it. We had to stand in line behind other people also returning their iPads. We left the store, walking through a crowd of people waiting in line to buy their iPads.
We hope their experience with it is better than ours, and that it does a better job of meeting their needs. But it was a big disappointment to us.
What, specifically, didn’t we like?
1. Poor Reception – Have you seen those Progresso soup ads? The ones with people talking on soup cans via a string? That’s about the quality and strength of an iPad’s connection to WiFi, 3G or LTE. Line up an iPhone 4S, a MacBook Pro and an iPad, and see what kind of reception each gets, when looking for a web connection. In my tests, in various locations, the MacBook picked up an average of eight nearby signals. The iPhone picked up two. The iPad picked up one, or two, but the signals it was receiving were so weak, it was barely able to connect to either one – and then it kept dropping the signal, and we’d have to try to reconnect. The iPhone wasn’t much better, but usually it could hold on to a signal, even if it only showed one or two bars of signal strength. The MacBook, meanwhile, grabbed a hold of signals, and didn’t let them go; usually it showed a full four bars on the same signal the iPad could barely manage one. Without the ability to connect to, and stay connected to the web, the iPad is just an expensive Game Boy.
2. A 5-Megapixel Camera- Five megapixels?!? You’re kidding, right, Apple?
How many “point-and-shoot” cameras ago did anyone have a 5-megapixel camera? Does anyone even sell one anymore? Apple does, and they get away with it, because it seems they’ve convinced everyone their inexhaustible supply of obsolete iPhone 4 iSight cameras can be re-cast as the latest and greatest optical instrument in the consumer electronics market. The “Reality Distortion Field” lives! The pictures the new iPad takes don’t look too bad, because they are blown up to 5 x 8 enlargement size (or a little more) and their color saturation has been dialed way up. Of course, they don’t look too bad. Plus, the retina display has a higher resolution than the photos, which makes them look better than they are (the display has better resolution than the camera). Try loading a photo from your 8-megapixel iPhone 4S onto your new iPad (if you can figure out the work-arounds necessary to overcome the iPad’s limitations around loading content from another device); you’ll quickly see the significant differences in clarity and resolution. Before the new iPad was released, rumors suggested the third-generation iPad would get a high-resolution camera; speculators were hopeful of a 13-megapixel camera – which is do-able (the iPhone 4S 8-megapixel camera was certainly a proven commodity). But the announcement of a 5-megapixel unit seemed like a huge blunder – until Apple turned on its RDF. Sounds like Apple is feature-rationing again; keeping a few cards up its sleeve to get you frothing at the mouth to buy an iPad 4 next year.
3. Battery Charging – Battery life is long. But the new iPad takes more than six hours to re-charge. Unbelievable. That’s how long it takes to re-charge a Nissan LEAF electric car.* We had the new iPad plugged into a car charger for a couple of hours, while a passenger tried to work on it (unsuccessfully) as we drove. Although the battery meter said it was charging, we had a lower state of charge after two hours than we did when we started. An iPhone 4S will fully recharge on a car charger in less than an hour. Same with a MacBook. We finally unplugged the iPad and didn’t use it in the car anymore, because we worried it was such a huge drain on the car’s electrical system, it might cause damage.
4. Data Hog- We signed up for a 2-gigabyte Verizon cellular data plan for $30/mo.
“You won’t use that much in a month, unless you download a lot of videos or movies,” the Apple Store employee assured us. The full allotment was used up in less than a week – and only with occasional use. And the really frustrating part was that we used up the allotment on pages that wouldn’t load, data that would never download in a timely fashion, and trying to reconnect when it lost a signal. As a personal, portable hotspot it was a failure too, as the devices we tried to connect to it had the same trouble maintaining its weak signal strength. Plus, when the iPad went into sleep mode, the hotspot connection kicked us off.
5. Rushed to Market – There is no shortage of indicatorsthat the new iPad was rushed to market, before it was truly ready.
Some early buyers reported screens turning yellowish because the glue that was used to affix the glass to the unit didn’t have enough time to cure properly. Reports have surfaced since launch that Apple had hoped to use a more advanced Qualcomm processor, but it wasn’t available in time for Apple’s aggressive launch target date; units coming out later in 2012 will have that chip – so for people who must have the new iPad, it would seem to be smarter to wait until the better chip is available. It is supposed to run cooler too. Consumer Reports said the initial models ran as hot as 116 degrees to the touch.
We have other issues with the third-generation iPad besides these, including the fact that its processor is better, though not necessarily faster, as some tests have indicated; despite increased resolution, which increases the sizes of everything from files to apps, there was no commensurate increase in storage capacity (loading one HD movie, for instance, can eat up a quarter of a 16 GB unit’s memory); while the unit relies on cellular connections for data, it still can’t be used as a phone; and where is SIRI? (And would a USB port be too much to ask?)
In just about every parameter measurable, the iPad is a “second-class citizen” in Apple’s lineup. (The retina display is the best thing about it; in fact, it is better than the rest of the device!) Other Apple devices get better wi-fi connections, better cameras, more storage, more features and more flexibility (retina displays and gorilla glass are reportedly due on the next MacBooks). All the iPad gets – so far – is compromises.
And maybe that’s the strategy: The third-generation iPad is guaranteed to make you drool over the prospect of an iPad 4. Wait a year, and Apple may offer a fourth-generation iPad with an improved wi-fi connection, a telephone function, more storage, and that 13-megapixel camera that has been teased.
All those features, and more (3D?) were probably available this time around. But Apple chose not to offer them. Perhaps feature-rationing is the secret to how Apple keeps customers coming back for more?
[Footnote: When we called Verizon to disconnect our cellular data plan, after we had returned it, the rep told us Apple had reported it "lost or stolen". Odd. Is this how you keep down the numbers of returned iPads that you have to report?]
March 29, 2012
* Using a Level 2 charger.