Apple, with the iPhone and iPad, pretty much reinvented the personal computing market, that not only created a new market segment but also sent the personal computer market into a tailspin. That’s powerful. What is as difficult for any company to do is to maintain dominance in a certain market, too. Could the Apple iPad Air dominate the 10″ consumer market? You see, “dominance” really depends on the variable you are measuring. Some people look at unit share, some look to revenue, some look to experience. After using the Apple iPad Air for almost a month, I can confidently say that it provides the best experience of any 10″ consumer tablet on the market today and I wanted to share a little bit of my experiences.
Before I tell you about my experiences, I wanted to share a bit about my current primary devices as it adds context. I say “current” as I change my devices routinely as an analyst. By “primary” I mean the devices I spend the most time on. My primary tablet is the Google Nexus 7 (2013), primary phones the HTC One and Moto X based on Google Android, and my primary PC I split between a Lenovo Yoga and a white-box Intel Haswell-based monster tower with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 680 card. Don’t confuse me with what some refer to as an Apple, Google, orMicrosoft ”fanboy”. As an analyst, I use a lot of products from every ecosystem as I believe it’s an important element to my role as industry analyst.
Overall, the Apple iPad Air provides by far the highest quality experience of any 10” consumer tablet on the market today. It provides incredible responsiveness in nearly every facet of usage, whether it’s general UI, transitions, opening apps, and using most apps. The camera is second to none, and the only close competitor to this is Nokia. There are some early growing pains as evident in the new 64-bit OS and apps, which I expected having personally helped lead the Windows PC 64-bit transition.
Net-net, the Apple iPad Air is still king of the 10” tablets by a wide margin, and consumers pay for that level of superior experience. Let me share some specific things I really like and some things I’d like to see changed.
- iOS 7 feel and look: iOS looks and feels modern. I spend a lot of time on Google Android devices and now with iOS, many of the Google Android experiences look dated. Stock Google and HTC have modernized, but both Samsung and LG look dated, dated like they “borrowed” from iOS 4-5 devices.
- General UI speed and responsiveness: iOS 7 on the iPad Air is fantastic, the fastest I’ve experienced. This shows itself in opening apps, opening folders, and multitasking. I give credit to the new A7 SoC hard-wired to a brand new OS.
- iSight Camera quality and speed: I am “that guy” who takes pictures at events with their tablet. I take a ton of pictures at events, whether it be a product launch or at one of my kid’s sporting events, and I want battery leftover in my phone at the end of the day. Therefore, I use a tablet and camera quality is important to me. Camera quality has been a hallmark of Apple since iOS devices first shipped with the first iPhone. Somehow, Apple has managed to maintain this lead, only challenged by Nokia. I give LG credit with the G2, but Apple continues to take the prize. It takes high-quality pictures quickly.
- Google Calendar sync: It is very hard to change ecosystems once you have chosen an email address, and calendars are hooked to that email address. The Air and iOS 7 handles my multiple Google calendars very well, unlike Windows 8 tablets.
- Build quality: The Air’s build quality is second to none. There’s not a creak, crevice, or scratch to be found out of the box. I can’t tell you how many tablets creak or have fingerprint smudges out of the box.
- LTE hotspot battery life: The integrated LTE hotspot option gave me what seemed like an indefinite battery life. In checking with some review sites, it looks like my instincts were correct. It lasts for 24 hours.
- Retina display: The Retina display looked great on all content whether it be pictures, videos, or web pages.
- Smart Cover: The optional cover is nearly perfect as it fits snug via magnets with no metal-to-metal contact. It feels like the magnet is stronger than in previous models.
- Battery life: Bar none, iPad Air provides better battery life than anything else available. This comes from a very tight integration between hardware and software. Ironically, Apple could have increased battery life, but instead opted to make the Air thinner and lighter.
- AirPlay: Unlike Miracast or even Google Chromecast, AirPlay works perfectly, something no one else has replicated yet.
- Thickness and weight: While I personally never thought the iPad was too heavy, many others will see a lot of benefit. Weight and thickness separates the Air from the competition in definitive, black and white ways, which is the best for a consumer electronics device where shades of gray don’t work. Definitely an improvement, but personally I thought iPad 3 had great weight and thickness.
- Apps: Net-net, the Air has more tablet apps than any other 10″ tablet out there. Most Google Android tablet apps are built for phone screens with displays between 4-5″. Those apps stretch or are blown up to fit on a 10″ display and don’t look good at all. Yes, Apple does “blow up” phone apps, but the point is that it has been suggested that iOS has 10X more true tablet apps than Android. I cannot provide a definitive figure because Google does not publish the number of true tablet apps like Apple.
There were some things I’d like to see in future iOS drops or Apple iPad products.
- Stability: iOS 6 on the iPad 4 was rock solid, no reboots or crashed apps I can remember. With iOS 7 and the Air, I’ve experienced more app and system crashes than in recent memory with iOS device. I am guessing this is due to new 64-bit OS and apps. The biggest culprit I found was Evernote, which I use as my primary note-taking app. I also saw some challenges with the new iWork apps. I am certain this will get ironed out as Apple always does.
- Google Contacts sync: I cannot sync my GMail contacts without using a third-party app like “ContactsSync”. This makes like difficult for me as my personal mail and work email are based on GMail and Google Apps. Google Android and Windows 8 sync perfectly with Google Contacts. Let me know if your contacts sync or if you think I may be doing something wrong.
- Start button: The more and more Google Android and Windows 8 evolve, the more I see value of having an easily-accessible start “button” in the same place regardless of the display orientation. Most new Google Android-based devices have the virtual home button at the bottom and Windows 8 has it on the right… always, no matter how I hold the device. This helps so much with multitasking and task switching. I’d like to see Apple either add TouchID to the iPad Air or go to a virtual button.
I hope it’s clear by my nearly month-long experience that I think the Apple iPad Air delivers a great experience. There are no perfect tablets, but the Air is as close you will get, and there by a stretch. The Apple iPad Air delivers the best experience of any 10″ consumer tablet, period.