• Price: from £399 inc VAT

  • Company: Apple

  • Pros: Retina display, much better camera, same price structure as previous generation

  • Cons: 4G features not available in UK

  • Our Rating: We rate this 8 out of 10 We rate this 8 out of 10

The iPad experience

When it’s time to ponder a new Apple product, it’s easy to get caught up in the details of the specs, in what’s changed from previous versions. With a product like the iPad, that’s a dangerous game. Apple’s decision to avoid calling the new iPad an iPad 3 or iPad HD or iPad 2S speaks volumes. The iPad is bigger than any single model.

Clearly, Apple’s vision is that we’re in a period where many tasks we previously performed with computers will be transferred to new, different, less computery devices. The iPad, like its brother the iPhone, is ushering in a new world. Microsoft spent a decade trying to define the “tablet computer.” Apple dropped the computer, from both its company name and the tablet category, and has seen massive success. Even now, the “tablet market” is really the iPad market, and the onslaught of iPad competitors we all expected two years ago has largely failed to materialize.

Yes, one of the reasons for the iPad’s success has been that Apple started with a huge lead on its competition. But the biggest reason the iPad is so strong was one quite rightly pointed out by Apple CEO Tim Cook when he unveiled the new iPad: Apple’s advantage in apps. More specifically, iOS developers have worked hard to create versions of their apps that are designed for the iPad’s larger screen. Google, meanwhile, seems to view the larger canvas of a tablet screen as indistinguishable from a smartphone’s screen.

After Apple’s launch event was over, I talked to several colleagues who cover Android every day, and they largely agreed with Cook’s point. There just aren’t very many good tablet apps on Android, and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of urgency to create them.

When the iPad was introduced, a lot of pundits sniffed that it was just a big iPod touch. And if that had turned out to be the case, the iPad wouldn’t have been very successful. But from the first day the iPad shipped, it’s had a huge amount of software designed specifically for its 9.7-inch screen. In the meantime, the competition ships big phones and hopes they’ll take the world by storm. It’s not happening.

Instead, the iPad’s sales continues to accelerate. And that’s one reason why I’m uneasy about focusing too much on the details of the differences between the third-generation iPad and its predecessors. I’d wager, in fact, that more third-generation iPads will be sold to people who have never before owned an iPad than to existing iPad owners who are upgrading.

Those are the people for whom this new iPad is simply called “iPad.” And they’ll use it for all the things that an iPad is great for. They’ll surf the Web, check email and Twitter and Facebook, read books and magazines, play games, watch movies, listen to a baseball game, look up a recipe, check their schedule, edit a photo or a video, record a song, or even write an essay.

When I’m looking for the perspective of someone who uses technology but doesn’t get overly excited by it, I turn to my wife. Her role in our family—and I suspect, dear reader, that you may find this familiar—is to provide a counterbalance to my enthusiasm over every new gadget I want to buy.

When the first iPad came out, I bought one. My wife seemed interested in it, and I was curious what she’d make of it, so I handed it to her and told her to try it out. She never gave it back. Recently, as we discussed buying her a new iPad (we ordered the $499 16GB black Wi-Fi model), she told me that she only turns on the iMac we keep at home for managing photos, typing out long documents, and visiting the ever-decreasing number of websites that don’t play well with Safari.

That iMac, which was in heavy use two years ago, is now a device we turn on to perform specific tasks. The rest of the time we’re on our iPads or our iPhones, and it seems natural. This, I think, explains Apple’s confidence in where we’re headed in this post-PC universe.

In the old days, we used to talk about “computing,” as if it were an activity. Using a computer was computing. Computing didn’t go away. It just seeped into every aspect of our lives. Computing doesn’t happen on a desk anymore. It’s in our laps, in our pockets, perched on the kitchen counter or smack in the middle of the coffee table. The iPad didn’t make computing obsolete. It just brought it out of its shell.