Mac Musings

Griping About the New iPad

Dan Knight - 2012.04.03 - Tip Jar

I understand it when people criticize the iPad for real issues, like when Apple tries to pass off an application switcher as multitasking, but sometimes people are really grasping at straws in their desire to build traffic to their websites. Perhaps the worst (or best) example of that is Apple's New iPad 3: 10 Reasons Why Many Customers Are Not Happy.

First of all, the headline clearly states that "many" customers are unhappy with the new iPad, yet it never quantifies that. Are half of new iPad buyers unhappy? Or maybe 20%? Or perhaps 5%? Or possibly less than 1? The article never tells us.

It then goes on to list ten issues that have been "bothering" iPad 3 (we'll be using the terms "new iPad" and "iPad 3" interchangeably in this article - Apple didn't do anyone a favor with its new naming convention) users:

1. Heat

Like any laptop or tablet, the new iPad gets warm when its in use. It does run warmer than the iPad 2, about 10°F/5°C according to various reports using a variety of methods to quantify this heat. Interesting thing is that the iPad 3 runs just as hot as competing Android tablets, something this article never mentions, although it does say the heat is comparable to the Toshiba R835 and Dell Inspiron laptops.

2. WiFi

iOS has an ongoing problem with WiFi connectivity. Sometimes it runs just fine for days, weeks, or months, and sometimes it just doesn't want to work. The workaround is to have your iPad or iPhone forget the problematic network and create a new connection, which can be a bother if you have to find and enter a long password.

This is a real problem, but it's not unique to the new iPad.

3. Sleep/Wake Problems with Third-Party Cases

The new iPad is sensitive to the polarity of the magnets in smart covers, while the iPad 2 was not. Apple's first generation of smart covers may not have correctly oriented magnets, which is part of the sleep/wake problem. The same goes for third-party smart covers. However, Apple's second generation smart covers do have correctly oriented magnets, and Apple has offered to swap its original smart covers for new ones for users experiencing this problem.

This is less of an iPad 3 problem than a compatibility problem. Apple changed things midstream, and its covers have been ready for the new iPad for some time. Third-party vendors may not have known about the change, although if they are members of the Made for iPad program, Apple should have informed them of the change.

This is a problem for some users migrating from an iPad 2, and if they have Apple smart covers, Apple has them covered. Will third-party vendors step up and do right by their customers? Whatever - that's a chance you take buying third-party. It is not an iPad 3 problem per se.

4. Third-party Dock Cables

Based on a single report, iPad 3: Beware of Third-party Docking Cables, this article gives all third-party dock cables a bad name. The problem isn't the fact that they are third-party cables, but the fact that these are usually inexpensively made, and if they are longer than Apple's 1m (3.3') cable, the thin wires inside the cable may not pass sufficient power for the iPad to achieve a full charge.

In this case, the third-party cable was 70" (1.75m) long, and the iPad 3 only charged to 85%.

Solution: Use the Apple-supplied cable, use a 1m or shorter third-party cable, or find a higher quality longer cable, if that's something you really need.

5. Takes Much Longer to Charge

It's been well publicized that the new iPad's battery has 70% more capacity than the iPad 2's battery. This is in part due to the new Retina Display, which draws more power, in part due to the quad-core graphics processor in the A5X chip, and in part due to supporting LTE 4G wireless. If Apple hadn't used a bigger battery, the iPad 3 would be rated at 6 hours of use, not 10.

Basic rule of battery physics: It takes 70% longer to charge a battery with 70% more capacity using the same charger. Perhaps Apple or some third-party vendor will create a higher current power brick, but it still won't change the fact that the iPad 3 will take 70% longer to charge than the iPad 2 from the same charger.

If you consider 10 hour battery life a feature, this is a reasonable tradeoff. And if you don't like the extra charge time, Apple will gladly sell you an iPad 2.

Interestingly, some Android tablets with battery capacity comparable to the iPad 2 take almost as long to charge as the new iPad.

6. 'Heavier' Apps

There are a few things going on with this gripe. First off, iPad-only apps that have been upgraded for the Retina Display will be a bit larger due to the higher resolution graphics. This should be less of an issue for iPhone/iPad apps, which should have added Retina Display support with the iPhone 4. The difference in app size should be pretty minimal.

A second issue is that high definition content (1080p vs. 720p) creates larger files, and as the iPad stores them in its buffer, memory will fill more quickly. Apple has gone out of its way to optimize file compression for 1080p videos in the iTunes Store, with Ars Technica reporting they are perhaps 25% bigger than 720p videos. A small price to pay for HD video.

That said, YouTube and other video sources on the Web may not be doing as well in the compression game. In that case, it's very possible that 1080p videos will take twice as much memory as 720p - and a whole lot more than the common 640 x 480 videos. Again, that's not an iPad 3 problem. It's the user's choice to view HD content, and you do so at a price - larger files.

7. More Fragile

This objection is based on a single test by SquareTrade, which found that when dropped from shoulder height, the new (and heavier) iPad sustained more damage than the iPad 2. GizmoSlip has done similar testing at 3' and 4' heights and found the iPad 3 more rugged than its predecessor.

Time will tell whether the new iPad is more, less, or equally fragile. Let's hope that in the two weeks the iPad 3 has been available not enough users have dropped them to create reliable statistics.

8. Heavier and Thicker

See point 5. With more processing power due to the quad-core graphics engine and Retina Display, the new iPad has a 70% higher capacity battery to achieve the same run time as the iPad 2. A higher capacity battery is going to be heavier and physically larger, so the iPad 3 has to be heavier and thicker to provide 10 hours of use in the field. The alternative would be a 6 hour battery life - and buying an iPad 2, since Apple doesn't offer an iPad 3 Lite.

9. 4G Used Bandwidth Faster

In a word, duh. A faster connection is, well, faster, so iPad 3 users will be able to use up their monthly bandwidth allocation a lot more quickly over 4G LTE than over AT&T's version of 4G or Verizon's 3G.

There is a danger that users will view more high definition content, which will also use more bandwidth, but (as noted in point 6) that's the user's choice. Sure, you can use up a month's worth of bandwidth in a few hours watching HD video, but that's not a problem with the new iPad.

10. No FaceTime with LTE

Again, this is not a problem with the new iPad. Apple has made a decision not to support FaceTime over 3G, 4G, or LTE. That's as true of the iPad 2 and the iPhone 4S as it is of the new iPad.

FaceTime requires about 400 kbps throughput, and in most instances 3G provides that much bandwidth for uploads (and almost always far more for downloads), but not always. Rather than increase compression or reduce resolution to allow FaceTime to work over 3G and newer mobile data protocols, Apple has chosen not to support it at all.

Many of us believe that Apple should let the user choose whether to use FaceTime via their mobile connection, and some jailbreaks have shown that it works, but Apple stubbornly refuses to do it. You'd think that its mobile partners would be clamoring for it, as this would increase bandwidth use, which is a billable commodity.

Two More Gripes

1. The Battery Charge Indicator Lies

Some users discovered that the new iPad will continue to charge for an hour or more after it reports 100%, and they think this is some sort of flaw with the new iPad. Instead, they should see it as a feature. Apple sells the iPad 3 as having a 10-hour battery, and when the iPad reports a 100% charge, it has sufficient power for 10 hours of use.

As a bonus, the battery has additional capacity, and if you charge beyond the 100% mark, you may get 11 hours or more. Rather than confuse users by reporting the percentage of the battery's capacity, which is what you would expect, the iPad reports what percentage of its claimed battery life is available. If you stop charging at 100%, you will get 10 hours of power.

I think it would confuse users if Apple reported over 100%, and I believe it made a more sensible decision in reporting the amount of power in the battery than simply reporting a percentage of total capacity would. Kudos to Apple for thinking of the customer here, not the geek.

2. Storage Capacity Doesn't Add Up

The 32 GB iPad only provides 28 GB of storage space, which makes it sound like you're being cheated out of 12.5% of its capacity. Problem is, there are two definitions of a gigabyte (GB) - one billion bytes and 109 (1,073,741,824) bytes. The entire storage industry uses the billion bytes, usually with a footnote explaining that. For the most part, operating systems use the binary (109) definition, so a 32 billion byte drive is reported as having 29.8 GB unformatted capacity.

Add to this the reality that storage space has to be formatted, which means setting aside some bytes for a directory, a record of bad sectors, and sector headers. On the iPad, that uses 1.8 GB of its 29.8 GB - 6% overhead.

This is not an iPad problem. This has been an issue since the earliest days of hard drives. Back in the days of 80 MB hard drive, formatted capacity was about 74.5 MB. And as we moved from megabytes to gigabytes and on to terabytes, the binary/decimal difference becomes even more pronounced.

This is the kind of gripe that people use when they are desperate for traffic - or simply uninformed.

Score

  1. Heat: Warmer than iPad 2, but comparable to laptops and Android tablets. No point.
  2. WiFi: Not technically an iPad 3 issue, but something Apple needs to fix. One point.
  3. Smart Case Sleep/Wake: Apple's current smart cover is compatible, and Apple will swap old ones for new. Third-party cases are not Apple's problem. An inconvenience for some iPad 2 switcher, but no point.
  4. Long Dock Cables Limit Charge: Since Apple supplies a cable that works with the new iPad, no point on this one.
  5. Charge Time: Necessitated by the additional power draw of the Retina Display, quad-core graphics, and LTE 4G. While it may sometimes be an inconvenience for charging to take 70% longer, it's the price of the new iPad's features and a 10 hour battery life. No point.
  6. Heavier Apps: Yes, higher resolution graphics and video will use more memory. No, you don't have to watch HD content. If you want higher resolution, bigger files are a necessity. (And if you don't stick with the iPad 2.) No point here.
  7. More Fragile: Results thus far have been contradictory and inconclusive. Time will tell. At this time, no point on the fragility issue.
  8. Heavier and Thicker: 10 hour battery life with higher draw hardware kind of makes this necessary at the current state of technology. And the iPad 2 remains available for those upset by a bit more weight and a bit thicker. No point on this one.
  9. 4G Sucks Bandwidth: If you're choosing 4G because you want a faster connection, it's obviously going to be easier to use your bandwidth more quickly. You make that choice; it's not a hardware issue. No point.
  10. No Non-WiFi FaceTime: Apple could do it but chooses not to. This is not unique to the iPad 3, but it is unnecessary. Apple should allow users to choose to use their mobile connection for FaceTime. One point.
  11. Lying Charge Indicator: I think it's more useful to report percentage of rated battery life than percentage of battery capacity. No point.
  12. Less Storage Capacity: Time for clueless bloggers to stop griping about this one. This is the way the storage industry works. No point, although you might increase hits to your article.

Final score: Two of the twelve gripes are legitimate, and both of them are iOS issues, not iPad 3 issues.

Battery, screen, CPU, and broadband chips will improve over time, so the next iPad could be more energy efficient and able to use a thinner, lighter, lower capacity battery that will charge more quickly, but the new iPad is exactly what it has to be with today's technology.

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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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