What Apple Needs to do to Stay Ahead with the iPad 4

Patrick Moorhead / March 27th, 2012

Apple once again delivered a high quality experience with the “new” iPad, aka iPad 3. Like phones, Apple has again managed to deliver enough to stay ahead as they did with the iPhone 4s. The new iPad didn’t deliver a knockout blow to Android, but certainly eliminated many gaps that could drive many premium ($499+) tablet buyers away from the platform. While the new iPad will sell exceptionally well, I’d like to discuss what Apple will need to deliver in the “new-new” iPad, aka iPad 4 to keep their leadership position.

Change What Broke Moving from iPad 2

As I said, the new iPad will sell extremely well, but there were some steps taken backward that need to be addressed:

  • Weight– 51 grams or 8% heavier (652 versus 601 grams) doesn’t sound like a lot, but when it comes to some usage models, it is. The weight increase is noticeable primarily while reading and playing games. If you don’t believe me, play Real Racing 2 or Air Supremacy for a few hours with the new iPad and then the iPad 2. Then read a few hours in bed with the two tablets. You will notice the difference, albeit a small number.
  • Battery Life– Even though the new iPad increased the battery a giant 70% to power the Retina Display, it actually stepped back in battery life according to Anandtech The iPad has always had good battery life but Apple needs to reverse the 49 minute, 8% reduction and get back to 10 hours in real battery life. As software is one of the biggest influencers of battery life, Apple could potentially drop a new iPad software image and help this.
  • Heat– I never saw this as a safety issue as Consumer Reports insinuated, but some usage models could be an inconvenience. First is outside use where even iPad 2s heat up and shut down. This can easily happen in the car or even using outside on the back porch. Anyone who has an iPhone or iPad can relate to this. It’s better that it shuts down than burning up, but is annoying. One point I need to make here is that many consumer devices heat up when they are used. This isn’t something unique to the new iPad.

Light Bike 2

Improved Scalable Graphics

Today, if a consumer wants to display some (not all) of their iPad content on a larger external display like a modern monitor or TV, issues exist. If they connect to an HDTV or to a modern-day monitor that is 16:9 there are huge black bars to the left and right that are not only ugly but limit the amount of data that a user can see on the external display. This is something that even RIM solved with the PlayBook and is primarily a matter of graphics drivers. Microsoft has enabled this for over a decade and Apple should too. This is more of an issue of software drivers and taking on a bit more complexity. If it’s a dev issue, then Apple needs to improve their tools to help developers do this easier.

Improve Wireless Display

The current Wi-Fi “n” is OK for web surfing but not for acceptable for wireless mirroring or displaying to an HDTV via AirPlay using an Apple TV. When playing games or displaying video the current implementation just isn’t quick enough. I and others I respect have had issues with stuttering. This can be solved by upgrading Wi-Fi to 60 Ghz. and adding support for WiFi Direct. This combination not only speeds up the connection significantly, but also removes the latency of the wireless router.

Improve Gameplay Even More

The current crop of games for the new iPad is impressive when compared to the iPad 2 but unimpressive when compared to game consoles and personal computers. Neither the CPU nor the GPU has enough horsepower to deliver this kind of experience. Real Racing HD, Modern Combat 3, Air Supremacy, and Infinity Blade 2 are nice for the new iPad’s 9.7″ display but to move up the food chain to challenge consoles and PCs in more graphically oriented games, they have a long way to go. I’m not saying that iPad won’t take sales away from today’s consoles, because they will, but those who want the highest gameplay reality with the use of technical graphics features of tessellation (better geometry, more real) , more textures (more real), physics (more real), AA (anti-aliasing to remove “jaggies”), and consumers are better off with a PC. To move all those frames around, Apple will also need to move to an ARM A15-based solution. I expect NVIDIA to keep their leadership role in tablet gaming and Apple needs to assess whether they continue to build or even consider using NVIDIA’s Tegra line. Apple won’t be able to keep pace as NVIDIA already has the intellectual property to deliver 100X the performance of what is shipping, albeit on much larger and power hungry designs.

Improve Safari Multitasking

Multi-tab browser multitasking is still painful and unproductive on the new iPad. Just open up 5-10 tabs and see what happens. First, when resources have maxxed out, iOS flushes the tab of data and the user needs to reload the entire tab when they return to it. The user returns to a blank, white tab. Secondly, iOS has a difficult time downloading items in different tabs at the same time. This is most likely the result of low memory bandwidth and a weak CPU. The new iPad uses the A5X which includes a dual core ARM A9-based processor which just isn’t up to the task. I’d like to see Apple use either NVIDIA’s Tegra line or even Intel’s Medfield to help fix this. If Apple wants to roll their own silicon, they will need to go to ARM-based A15 architecture, dual or preferable quad.

Complete iCloud

The current iCloud is incomplete as I point out here. Apple, at least for productivity, needs to complete the solution. Today, users need to go through gymnastics to sync their docs between the phone, tablet, and PC/Mac. There is a seamless link between iOS devices but breaks when it comes to the PC and Mac. Files do not automatically appear and update in the Documents folder as they should. Instead users need to open the document from iCloud in the web browser, edit on the PC/Mac, then copy back to the iCloud on the web This is suboptimal and Apple knows it and I expect this to be fixed at least by the new-new iPad. (Note: Technically these aren’t changes need to be made to the iPad, but the Mac and PC software.)

Convertible Configuration

As I sit and write this on my iPad with the Zagg keyboard, I really would like for Apple to take the convertible configuration more seriously as opposed to throwing it out to the peripheral makers. While better than nothing, the Zagg implementations and others are very clunky, and are, well….. peripherals and not well integrated. Apple should take what Asus has done with the Prime and Slider then perfect it. I can imagine a $699-799, 12mm thick iPad slider configuration. When the user wants a keyboard they slide it out and when they don’t need the keyboard, slide it on and use as a slate. Apple, while currently the tablet leader, cannot get caught sleeping as Microsoft with Windows 8 convertible designs.

This convertible configuration would benefit Apple in many ways:

  • fills $699-799 clamshell price hole Ultrabooks occupy
  • maintains MacBook premium positioning at $999 minimum
  • given Apple could add more battery in the keyboard, could outlast Ultrabooks by as much as 10 hours active use.
  • sets the stage for iOS and OSX operating system unification which then positions Apple to take more PC market share

Face Login that Works

Imagine how much time we waste logging into our devices. I am dumbfounded that this hasn’t been solved yet but understands the challenges, mostly technical. You see, to have accurate results, two elements are required. First, you need to upgrade the camera (s). Higher resolution, stereoscopic cameras could be used to capture a 3D view of the head and face. Those cameras should be higher resolution to capture skin and hair details. This helps to keep from someone fooling the device with a photograph of a person or using a mask. Finally, the new-new iPad would need enough “burst-mode” processing and memory bandwidth to do all of this in two tenth of a second. This wouldn’t impact battery life as it only maxes out the CPU, GPU or DSP for a very short time.

This same technology could be used to turn the iPad into a better multi-user, coffee table appliance that all the family members could share. For example, when my son grabs the iPad to play a game (which he often does), I don’t want him to get access to my client emails and accidentally delete one.

Anticipating the new-new iPad

The new iPad, aka iPad 3 will sell in droves, potentially twice as many as the $499 predecessor in the same timeframe. The fact that it will sell well doesn’t make it perfect by any stretch. It can and must be to continue its dominance at the $499+ price point. If the past is a guide to the future, Apple is making some of the final design and capability decisions right now on the new-new iPad and Apple knows better than everyone that they must continue to have at least “triples” to stay ahead of Android and Windows 8. The competition is more focused and more experienced and I expect a much tougher for Apple with Windows 8.

Patrick Moorhead

Patrick Moorhead was ranked the #1 technology industry analyst by Apollo Research for the U.S. and EMEA in May, 2013.. He is President and Principal Analyst of Moor Insights & Strategy, a high tech analyst firm focused on the ecosystem intersections of the phone, tablet, PC, TV, datacenter and cloud. Moorhead departed AMD in 2011 where he served as Corporate Vice President and Corporate Fellow in the strategy group. There, he developed long-term strategies for mobile computing devices and personal computers. In his 11 years at AMD he also led product management, business planning, product marketing, regional marketing, channel marketing, and corporate marketing. Moorhead worked at Compaq Computer Corp. during their run to the #1 market share leader position in personal computers. Moorhead also served as an executive at AltaVista E-commerce during their peak and pioneered cost per click e-commerce models.
  • “I expect NVIDIA to keep their leadership role in tablet gaming”
    What leadership role do they have?
    Benchmarks: according to Laptop Mag, Anandtech, and Slashgear the A5 performed better in graphics benchmarks, and the A5x improved on that.
    Exclusives: There are tons of iOS exclusives, you mentioned two in the article. I can’t think of a single Android exclusive game. And that doesn’t even account for popular iOS titles that come to Android eventually, but only come after several months of waiting.
    Marketshare: There’s no hard numbers on Tegra powered tablets, but at last official count the number of iOS v. Android tablets was 55m to 12. Thats the beginning and end of that.

    “I’d like to see Apple use either NVIDIA’s Tegra line”.
    Again, won’t happen because they already have a more powerful GPU, and once they go A15 with the A6, they will have a more powerful CPU as well. Take a look at the first commercial A15 benchmarked, the Krait from Qualcomm. It already is running circles around the Tegra 3 in dual-core configuration, and theres no reason to think Apple won’t deliver similar results with the A6. Going Medfield or Tegra would be a step down in performance once Apple goes from A9 to A15 cores.

    And for the convertible aspect, that flies in the face of what has made the iPad successful. Job’s metaphor of cars/trucks rings true because its accurate. There is no need to make iPad more computer like because thats not what consumers want it for. If they want to do more traditional computing tasks they will simply go to the computer. The iPad and tablets in general are for light computing and heavy entertainment consumption. How do I know this? Look to the Android side. As you pointed out Asus has gone full force into the convertible space. How has this worked out for them? According to Andy Rubin not too well as the Galaxy Tab, the most iPad-ish of Android tablets is the top seller amongst Android tablets. So consumers want to use their tablets in the native form factor, not as mini-netbooks.

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  • mhikl

    Just a trip into Wonderland, M Moorhead, but I wonder if Apple could have done a lot more “tweaking” of the new iPad but is always weighing the pros and cons of too much iteration at one time. This is a Christmas sock it will not empty quickly.

    The first iPad was so very well designed that it changed the focus of all tablet makers. (Remember MicroSoft’s two piece tablet rumination which it abruptly withdrew after the iPad 1’s intro? The shock waves to MS was atomic; such aghast at the Apple bomb could be felt that a sensing person as myself had to feel pity.) The new iPad is enough of a coronary maker to keep the wolf packs in disarray in their mad, blind scramble. Apple may have plenty of grenades to toss, enough to keep the competition eager but not totally disenchanted to tears or suicide.

    I suspect this is a poker game in which Apple gets to choose the cards it knows are going to win each round, but only plays the tricksters that enables it to wither the funds and fluster the others to keep them off guard.

    Cat and mouse comes to mind.

    PS. Some interesting points to ponder from both your article and posters, M Moorhead.

    • Rich

      Over-dramatize much?

  • Crosscourier

    2 More things to address:

    1. Increase the storage sizes in the range – the Retina Display optimization process causes apps, magazines, photos and movies to all use up dramatically greater amounts of storage, effectively making the new iPads actually smaller in capacity.

    2. Design a “smart” universal binary installer for apps, so that owners of older devices aren’t penalized by having to download all the assets for retina optimized apps even though they don’t have the updated screens and consequently lose storage for naught. Installation should identify which device it is actually installing to and only install the assets for that device.

  • hiramwalker

    Apple doesn’t need your knee-jerk reaction advice to moronic media’s search for criticisms on iPad.

    Why don’t you give some advice to those who need it! Android tabs that need battery life, Apps, decent displays, etc.

  • ppgreat

    Fun to always imagine what comes next. However, I always get concerned when a writer’s bio is about a fourth as long as his article.

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  • Swimotel

    Some of your suggestiSome of your suggestions will decrease battery life and other suggestions will increase weight. The happy medium is often hard to find, but Apple usually does a pretty good job finding it. Unfortunately once Apple finds it other just simply copy. Apple simply needs to keep making great software like iMovie, Garage Band, iPhoto for the iPad and they will stay ahead. What Apple should do is bundle their software

  • neutrino23

    Probably many of your concerns will be addressed next year. As technology improves the battery will improve, the display will require less power, the GPU will advance a generation, the CPU will advance to at least a dual core Cortex A15. All of this will reduce the weight of the iPad and increase its responsiveness.

    I’d like to see the hardware improved as just described. I’d also like to see a pressure sensitive screen, maybe just with a stylus as an option. I’d like to see the responsiveness of the digitizer improve to make it easier to take notes. I want handwriting to be as quick as writing on paper.

    I don’t think it will happen next year, but I’d like to see something like the Finder. Maybe they could release it as a downloadable app so that 90% of the users wouldn’t even know about it while the rest of use could put it to good use.

    I’d also like to get Siri on the iPad and better dictation. Maybe they could allow for training for those of us who want to use it for longer documents.

  • lrd555

    I really think the title of this article should have been: Which companies are going to survive in the wake of the iPad 3? And for how long?

    There’s no question in my mind, that many companies were going into survival mode before the iPad 3 came on the scene and with it, these same companies,and more, face a daunting uphill battle against Apple.

    Good luck. Many will try, and many will fail.

    PS: Apple’s iPad app store is about to break 200,000 apps in a week or so.

  • Old Man

    Patrick if your so bright, why are you a journalist, and not working for Apple? I have a hunch that your obvious lack of technical knowledge would prevent you from getting past a screening interview. Oh and one more thing, if you can’t handle the extra weight of 51 grams perhaps you need to get more exercise.

    • benbajarin

      Hi Old Man. It would be wise before critiquing people to take a look at their Bio, Pat’s is there plainly at the bottom of his columns. I know Pat’s is long but it is a smart thing to check people out first before questioning their intelligence.

      Second, the columnists for Tech.pinions are industry analysts not journalists. I encourage you to research the difference.

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