iPad Recent Technical History
The iPad Air, showcased October 22nd 2013, was a monumental improvement in Apple’s mobile technology, and a first with many changes to come. What we are most interested in here, as more recent changes have had such a significant impact, is that the Air was the first iPad to have a 64-bit architecture, paired with iOS 7 as a 64-bit operating system (OS), this bridged what was previously a large gap between what mobile devices could do versus what desktop and notebook computers could do.
To put this into perspective; Windows 7 came out in 2009 and was the first Windows OS to come as 64-bit by default. Apple Mac’s were 64-bit by default in 2011. The iPad Air was released in 2013 (oh, how time flies!), so in essence, the iPad only got on the 64-bit bandwagon about 2-4 years after your regular desktop computers did, depending on how you look at it. The Android mobile OS followed closely in November 2014, with version 5.0 codename Lollipop to be the first fully 64-bit compatible build.
Before the iPad Air, there was the iPad 4th Generation. While largely similar to its third-generation predecessor, many consumers felt that this is where Apple really started making leaps and hurdles with mobile technology by introducing the ‘Retina Display’. This was a high-DPI ‘IPS’ display, designed so that when viewed at the expected average viewing distance of 10-12 inches, you cannot see the pixels or ‘dots’. In the coming years, Apple then rolled this technology out across their entire portfolio of notebooks, phones and tablets.
Another first for the iPad Air was ‘Metal’, released in iOS 8; Apple’s redesigned graphics and compute API. The hardware and software components of this created a standardised Application Programming Interface (API) for software developers to use across iOS, macOS and tvOS, with a large number of performance and functionality improvements over previous options available, which in turn lead to developers creating a richer user experience, in a short period, that can run faster.
Why is 64-bit important? Why is ‘Metal’ important? As mentioned above, Apple removed the bar that laid between traditional computers and mobile or tablet devices, so it was at this point in time that it felt like the sky became the limit, and developers started working on previously impossible goals. Some of the results we saw from these changes included higher quality gaming, mobile 3D modelling, HDR or otherwise lifelike graphics, improved video and audio editing, early-day mobile neural networks (AI), and more. These applications and implementations of the Apple technologies then became a large influence on the next models of iPads to follow, not to mention what Apple’s competitors started doing in the tablet and phablet markets.
Step forward in time a little less than a year, and software developers had started writing ‘apps’ (mobile applications) that took advantage of these new hardware capabilities and APIs, squeezing every bit of ‘oomph’ out of the well-received iPad Air. It was time for Apple to release a successor though, and with such demands and expectations coming from both developers and end users, this required a major hardware improvement. The long and short of these changes that Apple made are as follows; added an extra core to their processor to allow better multithreading/multitasking, doubled the RAM (memory) to improve handling large applications, doubled the memory bus width allowing those large applications to load faster and perform complex math calculation quicker, and finally doubled their L2 processor cache to boot. The result was a modern tablet, about the size of a Golden Book but only a few grams heavier, that ran any app with unparalleled ease and received 9.3 out of 10 in consumer reviews.
The current iPad Pro models are now really refining these improvements, with otherwise less radical design changes. The additional core has been removed, yet everything else has been made more efficient, which results in better performance and a cheaper cost. I believe now with these iPads it is possibly the most affordable time ever to buy these tablets, with some of the best value for what you spend. Here at Computer West we feel that part of this comes from Apple moving to the iPad Pro branding in 10.5″ and 12.9″ sizes and making the models released since compatible with the Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil, while still leaving the “classic” iPad as available for mass consumers such as educational institutions. We can only imagine how challenging it must be to try to please or suit every consumer market, but it feels like some of these products are getting very close.
Up and coming is again some pretty powerful improvements, but these will be a fair way off for the main iPad lines. For example, the new iPhone 8/8 Plus/X models released have 9 (yes, nine) cores, with two being dedicated high-performance cores, four more as high-efficiency cores, and three dedicated graphics cores in the GPU with ‘Metal 2’; the next version of the API started with the iPad Air. We’ll most likely see several different ranges of iPads, iPhones and even MacBook’s moving forward, as now the lines between traditional computers and tablets are so fine that it’s barely discernible. Going forward could simply be a matter of working out your personal or business needs, and then determining the best iPad to suit. Let us know if you need any assistance with this, as we’re always happy to help!