Apple Reveals High-Res, LTE, Multimedia iPad Game-Changer

Apple has unveiled the next-generation iPad, an LTE-compatible beauty that seems specifically engineered for video, cloud multimedia and the connected life.iPad 3

A slough of hardware upgrades led the announcement, along with the welcome news that iTunes is now iCloud-compatible, meaning that purchased content can be made available across devices regardless of where it was originally downloaded. That, combined with the new high-resolution screen (it has a 2048 x 1536 pixel retina display, over 1 million more pixels than an HDTV), 44-percent greater color saturation than the iPad 2, 1080p HD video recording, front and rear cameras for Facetime etc. and a new quad-core A5x processor to support it all contribute to a video-friendly, cloud-loving, rich media-oriented life companion.

And that has the potential to be a game-changer in terms of not only the types of traffic being driven to operator networks, but also the sheer volume of it. And, in addition to 4G LTE, it also supports 3G HSPA, GSM and EV-DO CDMA so it’s a fit for every network operator.

The 4G aspect only magnifies the use case for video and other bandwidth-intensive multimedia apps. While LTE has been heavily hyped for its speed and seen as a piece of the solution for network operator capacity issues, one of the biggest benefits of LTE lies in its latency, noted Craig Cartier, researcher at Frost & Sullivan a fact that aids the cloud-friendly, video-friendly, media consumption device personality of the thing.

“Improved latency means greatly improved performance for streaming media, including voice, music, and video,” Cartier said. “What better device than the mutimedia-centric iPad to bring consumer awareness to this new technology?”

Pre-orders start today with availability starting March 16. The new form factor will come in 16, 32 and 64GB models, starting at $499 for 16GB Wi-Fi and topping out in price at $829 for a 64GB version with Wi-Fi and 3G/4G comparable to the iPad 2 pricing.

In terms of ergonomics and usability, it’s 9.4 mm thin, weighs less than a teacup Chihuahua at 1.4 pounds, and offers 10 hours of battery life (9 while 4Ging).

“When we set out to create the iPad, we set out to create not just a new product, but a new category,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook. “And we said that in order to do that, the iPad had to be the best device for doing some of the things that you do most often.” And now, perhaps, you will be doing most often streaming video, gaming, video chatting and so on.

Cook said that last year Apple sold 172 million “post-PC” devices (iPhone, iPad), which made up 76 percent of its revenues. And, the iPad has a full 73 percent of the tablet market, according to Forrester Research. In a market for tablet and other mobile Internet devices that is expected to exceed 235 million units by 2016 (according to Ovum), market dominance could be very lucrative indeed.  

Apple’s next-generation iPad it hitting the market at an interesting time from a competitive standpoint. While Apple is the clear market leader (and market-maker), it has plenty of challengers, the most notable being the most obvious: Android. Android tablets have attempted to compete on a number of different fronts, from price (witness the gamut of lower-cost play-toys available from everyone from Acer to Archos to Toshiba to Lenovo) to specs (high-end offerings like the Samsung Galaxy Tab line bank on superior hardware functionality like USB conversion, better cameras and so on). However Android has suffered from a couple of major issues, starting with the fragmentation of the Android OS. For a very long time, Android apps on a tablet looked simply like blown-up smartphone apps– hardly a compelling experience. Along came Honeycomb, which became available last summer, the first version optimized for tablets. And this made the applications experience really pop, especially on high-res screens like the Motorola Xoom, but the problem is that Honeycomb is only optimized for tablets. Which has had a direct effect on the number of applications available for Android models: developers writing for Honeycomb operate in a separate universe from the world of mobile handsets and vice versa, thus ham-stringing the ecosystem. Given a choice, many developers have chosen to spend their time and money on the bigger bang for the buck smartphones.

This has all thus far played into Apple’s favor in a big way (Cook noted that 200,000 apps that have been custom built to take advantage of the iPad format), despite the fact that the open OS aspect of Android is extremely attractive, particularly in an enterprise setting where customized apps rule the day. But Adam Leach, principal analyst at research firm Ovum Ltd., says that the apps advantage will soon dwindle for Apple. Google has finally bridged the smartphone and tablet divide with Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), offering developers a unified platform for the two types of device,” he noted. “This should increase the number of tablet-optimized applications, which were notably absent from Android 3.0 (Honeycomb).”

In addition, Microsoft is set to launch Windows 8 this year, targeting tablet devices with its Metro UI and build specifically for ARM-based chipsets.

“Microsofts introduction of Windows 8 on ARM and its shift away from Intel for tablets will drastically increase the companys ability to compete on price point and user experience with Apple,” Leach said.

Thus, Apple’s timing is critical. Launching now will allow it to retain its market-leading position through 2012, Ovum predicts. It will take time for Android 4.0 and Windows 8-based products to come to market,” Leach said.

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