The iPad Air 2 has already had the longest production run of any standard sized (9.7-inch display) model as Apple’s top tablet computer. The iPad 2 is more prolific in terms of numbers sold, but a large proportion of that sales volume came after the 2 had been superseded as top of the line and continued as an economy alternative.
The iPad Air 2, released October 16, 2014, is still widely regarded as the best ten-inch tablet on the market, testimony to how advanced it was 15 months ago. However technological progress doesn’t stop, and while last fall’s iPad Pro is now the top dog iPad, Apple needs to be readying a successor, which presumably will be called iPad Air 3 to maintain its edge in the standard sized category.
Rumors are afoot that we may see an iPad Air 3 at an Apple special media event in March along with an an iPhone 5se four-inch screen model and/or an Apple Watch update. Changes being speculated include the A9X system-on-chips introduced in the iPad Air, more RAM, a higher resolution display, a 13 megapixel rear camera with LED, four speaker sound, and a 5 to 8 MP iSight camera with LED flash.
One question is whether Apple will want processor and RAM parity between the Pro and Air, and some are suggesting that the Air 3 will get the iPhone 6S’s A9 SoC and a bump to 3 GB of RAM rather than the 4 GB in the Pro model to maintain differentiation.
While more speed is always welcome, my iPad Air 2 with its A8X SoC still seems plenty lively, and an A9/3 GB speed and memory bump would likely be adequate to keep iPad Air 3 in the vanguard of 10-inch tablet performance.
Likewise, I have no complaints about the Air 2’s 1536 x 2048 screen resolution, but that is one area where some of the Android and Windows competition has moved ahead of the iPad, so some sort of screen resolution enhancement would not be out of the question, although I don’t think we’ll see the increase to 2334 x 3112 that’s being floated in some rumors.
The 8 MP camera in the Air 2 is pretty good, but 13 MP would be a substantial upgrade, especially if a LED flash comes with. I’m a proponent of iPad photography on the principle that the best camera is the one you have in hand, and it also relieves one of the chore of downloading shots from another device.
One change I would really prefer that Apple give a pass is making the iPad Air 3 any thinner. At its sliver-like 6.1 mm, the Air 2 is as thin as a tablet needs to be, and even if there are advances in battery technology, I would much prefer that they be applied to extending battery charge life in an Air 2 thickness machine, than in making an Air 3 any thinner.
Speaking of which, I had some initial concern that the Air 2 might prove ruggedness-compromised, but I’ve had no problems in that department 14 months in, even though my Air 2 has been dropped several times, including one with it bouncing and cartwheeling across the room, sustaining no evident damage. Of course physical reality dictates that the Air 2 would be easier to bend than, say, my old iPad 2, but who puts bending stress on their tablet?
However, there is a practical limit to tablet thinness, and I suggest it has been reached, so please Apple — don’t make the iPad Air 3 any thinner than the Air 2.
On the other hand, one change that is long overdue is giving the 16 GB iPad configuration a decent burial, and making 32 GB the entry level as it is with the iPad Pro. Even 32 GB is marginal these days, and the Pro model should really start at 64 GB.
In general, however, other than the lack of standard I/O connectivity and expandability, I have few complaints about the iPad Air 2 hardware wise. Most of my dissatisfaction with it is in the iOS software, especially lack of user access to a file system directory, and real multi-windowing multitasking. The Split View feature introduced with iOS 9 is better than nothing, but in practical terms, it’s been of little help to me due to not (yet?) being supported by any of the third-party apps I use for production work, and I frequently need more than two windows open. I would find those limitations especially frustrating with an iPad Pro, which indisputably has plenty of screen real estate for multi windowing. However, we will have to wait for iOS 10 for any address of those issues.
In the meantime, my expectation is that iPad Air 3 will most likely be a speed bump and feature upgrade tweak of the very solid iPad Air 2 platform, and that should handily ensure its status as best 10-inch tablet for most of us at least.
Despite my criticisms, I appreciate Apple’s continued commitment to the tablet concept despite iPad sales being down 25 percent by volume and 21 percent by revenue in the company’s fiscal Q1/16 compared with a year earlier. I need a Mac, and probably will for a long time to come, but I wouldn’t want to be without my iPad.