Review: Why the new iPad doesn't merit a '3'

Hard to distinguish at first glance from an iPad 2, the new iPad's changes are welcome but subtle for business users

Don't mess with success: That was clearly the mantra for the third-generation iPad, which went on sale this past Friday. Although it has many improvements, they're all evolutionary -- unsurprising enhancements that will please users but do not justify an upgrade if you already own an iPad 2. Nor do they justify the whole-number version update that many expected. It's appropriate that Apple didn't call the new iPad an iPad 3.

The business users who will most appreciate the third-gen the iPad are those with aging eyes (such as myself), who travel internationally, and who do image- and photo-oriented work. For personal use, the 2,048-by-1,536-pixel Retina display ushers in a new era of hyperrealistic game play and noticeably crisper HD video playback. And you get all that for the same price as the previous iPads: $499 for a Wi-Fi-only model with 16GB of storage, $599 for 32GB, and $699 for 64GB. The Wi-Fi + 4G models cost $130 extra. (The iPad 2 remains available in just its 16GB models, which now cost $399 for Wi-Fi only and $529 for the Wi-Fi + 3G model.) Color options for the front bezel remain black and white.

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IT pros will be happy about the new iPad too; as far as they're concerned it's just another iPad. There are no changes in the third-gen iPad that will impact their mobile device management (MDM) tool, mobile application management strategy, or any other aspect of supporting the device compared to the previous models.

Most of the iPad's short list of improvements are in its hardware, such as the Retina display, an optional 4G LTE cellular radio, use of the faster and more power-efficient Bluetooth 4 radio technology, and a 5-megapixel rear camera that can shoot 1080p HD video. The new iPad is a tenth of a pound heavier than the iPad 2 and a tad thicker to accommodate the Retina display and the extra battery needed to maintain the iPad's 9- to 11-hour range (which my tests show are unchanged). The heavier weight is perceptible but barely so. Protective skins and the Apple Smart Cover for the iPad 2 fit just fine on the third-gen iPad, so you don't need to buy new ones.

I also noticed that the connector for the standard Apple 30-pin-to-USB cable is a tighter, surer fit on the the new iPad. On the iPad 2, it was a bit loose -- I sometimes had trouble keeping a constant connection when sending presentations to a projector via that cable. However, another hardware annoyance of the iPad 2 has not been addressed in the new iPad: The volume rocker is still at the bottom of the iPad when a Smart Cover is in use, at just the right spot to constantly shift as it pushes against your lap or other surface.

The few software-oriented changes either take advantage of the new hardware -- such as the ability to tether computers and other devices to the iPad's cellular connection -- or enhance existing capabilities, such as the new Dictation tool available in any text field. The third-gen iPad's iOS 5.1 is the same as in the previous iPads, as well as the iPhone 3G S and later and the third-generation iPod Touch and later. (iOS 5.1 itself is a minor update from iOS 5.0, with some bug fixes, support for iCloud syncing of iTunes-purchased movies over Wi-Fi, a revamp Camera app UI, and the added ability to delete images in iCloud's Photo Stream sync service via the Photos app.)

What you get are individually solid changes that solidify the iPad's advantages, but don't create new ones.

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Test Center Scorecard
 
 20%20%15%20%15%10% 
Apple iPad (third-generation)989899

8.6

Very Good

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