iPad Air or just hot air?

Header image for Interrobang article CREDIT: REUTERS
The iPad Air, aka iPad 5, features a thinner and lighter form factor; the tablet reached retial outlets Friday, November 1.

Apple's much-anticipated update to the iPad line, reasonably titled the “iPad Air” for its notable sleekness and reduction in weight, hit retail and online stores last Friday, with a familiar high-end price point of $519.

Boasting a size that is “20 per cent thinner” than the previous fourth generation of iPads, the latest A7 processing and M7 coprocessing chips found in the coveted iPhone 5S, and six updated productivity apps once exclusively paid-for on the App Store now pre-installed on each device, it's easy to get wrapped up in the usual latest-and-greatest sales pitch, signature of Apple. But is it worth a purchase before the hustle of the holiday season? Moreover, is it worth purchasing with the iPad mini with Retina display slated for release later this month?

If you already own an iPad by this point, you know what the device is all about. Something like a cross between a true tablet PC and an iPod touch, the iPad has a range of apps exclusive to the device, apps that capitalize on the iPad's unique fortes. That said, those three incremental-touted-as-instrumental upgrades in the iPad Air probably won't be enough to guarantee your subscription to yet another round in the wheel of annual Apple updates. Unless you're fine with consistently shelling out cash for the latest device, or you're planning to sell your current iPad in order to make room — and money — for the new Air, the lighter body, access to powerful apps (otherwise available on the App Store from $4.99 to $9.99 each) and faster processing chip probably won't sell it.

The iPad mini with Retina display, on the other hand, will receive a massive boost in processing speed (from an A5 chip of the iPod touch to the A7 of the iPhone 5S and Air) while acquiring that sought-after high-pixel density Retina screen, which will look much sharper on the slightly smaller screen (9.7 in. on the Air, 7.9 on the mini). The form, however, will not change significantly — but this isn't necessarily a bad thing, as the iPad mini's body has been well received by many consumers and product reviewers, with a feathery weight and portability that has been noted as perfectly tuned for reading an eBook.

Most important for some, the iPad mini with Retina will cost $100 less, regardless of model. That means the iPad mini will share capacity in gigabytes, high pixel density, and latest powerhouse A7 plus M7 chips with the iPad Air — all for $100 less.

So why would anyone buy an iPad Air if the much more portable Mini, at a much more enticing price point, with the exact same features, is slated for release?

Well, that's just it: The iPad mini is yet to be released, and Apple has yet to define a date, keeping consumers on the edge of their seats.

Apple was probably confronted with the same problem, and the answer seems to have been something along the lines of: Let's release the Air first so the impatient people will scrabble over the highly demanded Christmas gift, and let's release the iPad mini, with a disclaimer of “limited quantities,” at an unknown date later in the month!

And that's exactly what they're doing: The iPad mini, still with an undefined release date, sits somewhere in the shadows of the Apple factory, waiting to take electronic retailers by storm, waiting patiently as their bigger Air brothers are swept up by the electronically hungrier hands.

The iPad mini with Retina is in all aspects the “better” product — rarely will one actually desire the larger size of the Air, since they're both, by intention, portable devices. The mini is clearly the better choice for an upgrade, or for someone looking to finally jump into the tablet world. I, myself, am waiting patiently for the iPad mini, and, from both a consumer and technical standpoint, there really seems to be no boon to the bigger Air.

So, again, why would you buy the iPad Air, whether you already own an iPad or not? Apple seems to be hoping that you've been swooned and courted by their marketing team, hoping that you focus more on the “iPad” and not so much the hot “Air” that makes up their new, flashy product.

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