Apple's early release of the iPad 4 may have been as much about timing as it was adding key features to the newest iPad. Just even months after the iPad 3 was released, the early November debut of the iPad 4 alongside the iPad Mini puts Apple on schedule to announce its entire product lineup in the Fall. Apple already announced the newest iPhone, and a lineup of Macs was announced alongside the iPad 4 and iPad Mini.
iPad 3 vs iPad 4: What's New?
The iPad 4 represents the first iPad that doesn't have a big new feature added to the tablet. The iPad 2 debuted dual-facing cameras, which not only allowed the iPad to serve as a camera, but also opened the door to videoconferencing via FaceTime. And the iPad 3 brought the Retina Display to the iPad. The iPad 4 is more of an incremental upgrade over its predecessor.
If Apple still used the numbering system with the iPad, the newest version would probably be named iPad 3S. And the S would be for speed. The biggest difference between the iPad 3 and iPad 4 is a processor that produces twice the speed both with graphics and pure processing power.
Why the delay? Many thought the A6X might make its debut with the iPad 3, but Apple did not want to sacrifice any battery power in an iPad that already needed as much as possible to deliver the Retina Display. The A6X was delayed to make sure it was ready for mass consumption, including being energy efficient.
The back-facing camera is still a 5 MP iSight that has basic features like face detection, backside illumination, five-elements lens and hybrid IR filter. But the front-facing camera has been upgraded to provide 720p HD video and the ability to take 1.2 MP photos. And a key detail in the upgrade comes with the A6X processor, which has improved signal processing to help photos look sharper and take advantage of the Retina Display.
Better Wi-Fi, Wider 4G LTE
The new Wi-Fi technology built into the iPad 4 can also provide a significant speed increase. The dual-band capability, which accepts 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz 802.11n signals, allows for "theoretical" download speeds up to 150 Mbps.
What's that mean? The vast majority of us aren't going to hit anywhere near 150 Mbps, but for those with a dual-band router, this is very good news. The iPad taking full advantage of dual-band technology means a faster, more responsive iPad when downloading information from the web. The faster processor is great, but most of the time, mobile devices are limited by their weakest link. No matter how fast the iPad can process information, it has to get that information first, and getting it faster can make a big difference.
The extended 4G LTE will allow more customers outside of the U.S. to connect to 4G networks. Apple took some flack for marketing the iPad as a 4G device in regions where it couldn't connect to 4G networks, and with this addition, Apple is correcting that mistake.
The iPad 4 also moves the iPad from the old 30-pin connector to the Lightning connector. And while this has been billed as much as a negative as a positive by a media that insists this will produce the need for all new accessories, it was certainly expected. The Lightning connector provides most of its advantage to smaller devices like the iPhone and iPod lineup, but in order to move to the new connector, Apple needed to move every device to it.
The new iPad will work fine with most cases designed for the iPad 3. The only exceptions would be any case that actually plugs into the 30-pin connector. The iPad 4 will also be perfectly compatible with any BlueTooth accessories, so the idea that the upgrade means everyone must upgrade all of their accessories is a misconception.
But if you do have accessories that must plug into the iPad, the change means you will either need to buy a new iPad 4-compatible accessory or the new 30-pin to Lightning Adapter, which is $29 at the Apple Store and will make your older accessories compatible with the iPad 4.
And the winner is...
The iPad 4 is clearly a better tablet, with a faster processor, upgraded Wi-Fi and a better front-facing camera. It's also a good upgrade option for original iPad owners or iPad 2 owners. But for iPad 3 owners, it's far from a must-have upgrade. It simply doesn't add enough to the experience to upgrade after only a few months.
On the other hand, the iPad 3 makes a great choice for those who want an iPad but can't afford the price tag. Apple is still selling the iPad 2 as a cheaper alternative, but while supplies last, the iPad 3 at a discounted price will be a very good deal.