I have a quandary to resolve as we head into what is typically a major Apple product upgrade season. My mid-2013 MacBook Air will be three years old and my iPad Air 2 will be two come late November. Both are giving me good service, but I’m beginning to feel that upgrade itch.
How often do you upgrade your systems? With my Macs, I’ve operated on a three-year target since the early 1990s and been reasonably successful at maintaining that average, tending to exceed it in recent years. Apple hardware is robust, and processor technology advancement has plateaued to a degree that a four-year replacement interval for Macs imposes no real hardship.
The pace of iPad technology advance has been much more rapid. I got 3 1/2 years service out of my iPad 2, but was noticing significant performance lags toward the end. Two years later, the old iPad is still in active service with my wife, and still eminently usable for email, browser surfing, video watching, and so forth. The Air 2 still seems plenty lively to me, but its A8X system-on-chip is now second-tier and presumably soon to be third-tier with the anticipated release of A10 silicon with the iPhone 7 and the next tranche of iPad upgrades whenever they arrive — most likely in calendar Q1 2017. As I discussed in this space last week, a rumored new 10.5-inch iPad Pro model makes waiting to see what materializes potentially worthwhile.
No one would be more delighted than I if the iPad Pro really could serve as a laptop replacement, Actually, I suspect some personal computer users could manage quite happily with “just” an iPad Pro and a smartphone, but not me. I can’t get along without a visible document based file system, or the ability to work on a document in multiple applications, or quick, easy, efficient image resizing and editing, or mouse support, none of which the iPad and iOS offer. Others are of similar mind.
As for the current iPad Pros, I really don’t need or want a 12.9-inch tablet, and the 9.7-inch Pro released last spring is nearly identical in form factor to the iPad Air 2. Their aluminum enclosures respectively have the same 6.1 mm thick dimensions and a weight of under one pound. The A9X performance boost would be nice, but I’m not smitten with the optional keyboard cover, which IMHO is overpriced, as is the Apple Pencil stylus, at ($149 and $99) respectively.
The 9.7-inch iPad Pro does feature what Apple calls True Tone display technology, using four-channel sensors to dynamically adjust the panel’s white balance to match ambient light temperature in the environment where it’s being used for a more neutral and accurate, paper-white appearing effect. Apple also says the 9.7-inch Pro’s screen is 25 percent brighter and 40 percent less reflective than the screen in the iPad Air 2, making it easier to see outdoors — a big help for those of us who are into iPad photography, and/or would like to be able to use the device al fresco. The iPad Pro 9.7 screen also has the same wider color gamut as an iMac with Retina 5K display, delivering a claimed 25 percent greater color saturation for more vivid colors.
Speaking of the iPad Pro 9.7’s rear-facing camera, it’s got a 12-megapixel resolution (vs. 8 MP in the Air 2) CMOS from the iPhone 6S with ‘Focus Pixels’ for faster focusing, an Apple-designed image signal processor, advanced noise reduction, third-generation local tone mapping, better face detection, support for 63-megapixel panoramas and Live Photos, and a True Tone flash to improve low light shooting and document scanning. The new camera also shoots 4K and 240fps slow motion video, and the front-facing FaceTime HD camera gets substantially improved 5-megapixel resolution (up from 1.2 MP in the Air 2) and uses the display backlight as a screen flash for taking better selfies in low light.
Hmmm. That all does sound enticing, but those features and more will be on the next-generation iPads, including that as yet speculative 10.5-incher.
As for the Mac, I’m still finding the mid-2013 Haswell MacBook Air a delightful machine with more than adequate performance. Upgrading to the latest Air revision wouldn’t be a bad idea, especially with a new tranche of rumors breaking as I post this blog suggesting that the MacBook Air is going to get at least one more upgrade with a future-proofing USB-C port or two after all, rather than being discontinued as has been widely prognosticated. However Mac laptops are arguably overdue for a generation shift, and the current versions of the Air are so little different from my nearly three-year-old unit that there’s not nearly the incentive to take that route as, say, there would be with an iPad Pro upgrade even from the iPad Air 2.
A complete redesign of the MacBook Pro is rumored for release this fall, but a matter of concern for me and others prone to typing pain is whether it will use the unfortunate ‘butterfly action” keyboard introduced with the 12-inch Retina MacBook, which some of us find essentially unusable for typing sessions longer than a paragraph or two. It would be ironic if poor keyboard design finally pushed me into the Windows camp after a quarter-century on the Mac, but the forthcoming 13.3-inch HP Spectre, for example, is even thinner than the MacBook (10.4 vs. 13 mm respectively), and is getting rave reviews for its comfortable keyboard, so it can be done with proper engineering.
An alternative I guess would be to get one of the last current generation MacBook Pros as an Apple Certified Refurbished unit to serve as a tide-me-over system until Apple hopefully fixes its keyboard engineering for thin and light laptops. Or I could just go for a USB-C MacBook Air if that option materializes.
The MacBook Air and the current MacBook Pro are a fine computers, but a next-gen iPad upgrade sounds more exciting at this point. Good kinds of problems to have in the greater scheme of things I suppose.