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UPDATE March 16: On the eve of the new iPad going onsale in the US, Australia and elsewhere (the NZ launch is March 23), the first hands-on reviews have been published (at the launch event, media got only 15 minutes hands on).
Some Australian stores opened sales at midnight, while others will have the new tablet on shelves this morning for the official 8am launch.
On the Apple Australia website, ship times are listed as two to three weeks on all models (against one to three days for the now-discounted iPad 2).
One immediate piece of bad news - not unexpected - was immediately confirmed by a slip of paper in the box stating that the new iPad's 4G/LTE feature was not compatible with frequencies Australian cellphone networks.
The point is moot in New Zealand, where there are no 4G networks, and won't be during the lifetime of the new iPad (assuming it's on sale for around a year before the "iPad 4" arrives).
The 4G hiccup doesn't seem to have crimped enthusiasm for the new tablet across the Tasman.
New Zealand digital director Jonathan Tillick, who is in Melbourne today, told NBR there were around 250 to 300 people queuing outside the Apple Store in Chadstone first thing this morning.
Mr Tillick said those in the queue are being razzed by people who had already purchased the new iPad, plus Paul Henry, an Australian breakfast TV presenter.
After an extended look at the new tablet, The Wall Street Journal's Walter Mossberg - perhaps the most influencial US reviewer - wrote:
Boosting the screen and the cellular speed—usually has a negative impact on battery life in a digital device. But Apple has managed to crank them up them while maintaining the long battery life between charges that has helped give the iPad such an edge over other tablets.
If you already own an iPad 2, and like it, you shouldn't feel like you have to rush out to buy the new one. However, for those who use their iPads as their main e-readers, and those who use it frequently while away from Wi-Fi coverage, this new model could make a big difference.
The optional, extra-cost, 4G LTE cellular-data capability made it feel like I was always on a fast Wi-Fi connection.
Computerworld US took an evolution not revolution line:
The third-generation iPad, a product that doesn't mess with success. Like the iPad 2 before it, this new iPad is not a re-thinking of the original concept. Instead, Apple has chosen to focus on a few areas of improvement while keeping the overall package the same. Though it's an approach that can frustrate people who are disappointed by anything that's not a quantum leap, Apple executes it to perfection and reaps the rewards.
MacWorld's Jason Snell said:
In my review of the iPad 2, I suggested a rule of Apple product evolution I called “Jobs’s Law”—that the latest version of any Apple product is likely to be thinner and lighter than its predecessor. The third-generation iPad breaks that law. It’s actually slightly thicker and slightly heavier than the iPad 2, and in many cases users won’t perceive it to be faster.
But the changes Apple has wrought with this iPad aren’t about making it thinner or lighter or faster, but about making it better. And on nearly every front, the third-generation iPad is markedly better than its predecessor.
Mr Snell has also posted a video review to YouTube:
March 10: The first hands-on reviews of the new iPad are in, after a selection of US media were allowed a 15-minute look at Apple's new tablet. A selection of their comments:
"Unsurprisingly, Apple has managed to produce something that's truly beautiful to look at, and while we've yet to see the full potential of having this many pixels on a 9.7-inch slate, we're guessing a cadre of game developers are already hard at work in order to remedy that.
"Beyond being dazzling from a density standpoint, colors are sharp and accurate, and viewing angles are predictably ridiculous; even taking a peek from an extreme side angle gives way to a fairly solid image with next to no washout." - Engadget
"Just as when we first saw the iPhone 4 display, the new iPad's 2048 x 1536 screen is stunning to behold. Simply put, there's no other product like it on the market. Games look great, though most titles haven't been tweaked for the new resolution." - The Verge
"At first glance, the new iPad exudes familiarity. The new slate’s physical design is nearly identical to that of the iPad 2The home button remains intact, and all but one physical dimension remains the same.
"It’s only when you hold the new iPad in your hands -- and then turn on its screen -- that you begin to notice two key differences.
"The first is extremely subtle: The new tablet is thicker. Now, it’s true, you have to be an iPad 2 user to notice the difference, but this latest model really does look a bit pudgier in the flesh. From generation to generation, the tablet’s waist line has grown from 8.8mm to 9.44mm. Who knew such a small size differential could even be noticeable?
"The second key difference between the iPad 2 and “the new iPad” (come on, Apple, choose a name already) comes to light as soon as you turn on the screen. Packed with a 2048 x 1536 resolution, and pixel density of 264 pixels per inch, the new tablet’s so-called “Retina Display” is a sight to see." - Wired
"Apple's new tablet computer has arrived and its ultra-sharp 2048 x 1536 pixel Retina display is enough to set it apart from anyone else. It's almost like looking at a glossy magazine page." - Gizmodo
Apple unveils new iPad, upgrades Apple TV
March 8: At an event still unfolding in San Francisco, Apple CEO Tim Cook has unveilled the successor to the iPad 2. It's simply called "iPad" rather than the anticipated iPad 3.
The new model will be available on March 16 in the US and "by the end of March" in New Zealand.
Only US pricing has been released so far, starting at $US499 for a wi-fi only 16GB model (see more end of article).
The iPad 2 will be kept on the market as a budget model, starting at $US399 ($NZ489).
The company's third-generation tablet features a so-called "retina display", boosting screen resolution to 2048 by 1536 pixels (the iPad 2 is 1024 by 768; a high definition widescreen TV has a 1920 x 1080 display, and HD movies and TV shows are formated to that resolution). Apple is billing it as the sharpest definition on the market.
The iPad 2's dual core processor is upgraded to a dual core with quad-core graphics, the better to service the higher resolution graphics.
The rear camera's resolution hs been bumped up to 5 megapixels - still a step down from the 8 megapixels boasted by the iPhone 4S and many high-end Google Android devices.
There is a new microphone button (accompanying the arrival of Siri-style voice command and dictation software to the iPad couple with iOS 5.1 - although Siri itself was not mentioned). But otherwise the size and shape of the new iPad closely resembles the iPad 2. It's marginally (0.6mm) thicker and 50g heavier.
Mr Cook confirmed the new iPad would support superfast LTE/4G mobile data - a boon to people living in some areas of the US, Europe and Australia, but irrelevant to New Zealand where Telecom, Vodafone and 2degrees operate 3G networks, and are unlikely to begin any upgrades within 18 months, if that.
The snap consenus was the new iPad is incremental upgrade rather than a radical remodelling.
A 7-inch iPad failed to appear (it was anticipated by some following Apple experiments with component suppliers).
The new iPad will cost $US499 for the 16GB model, $US599 for the 32GB model and $US699 for the 64GB model. iPad Wi-Fi + 4G will cost $US629 for the 16GB model, $US729 for the 32GB model and $US829 for the 64GB model.
Apple is keeping on the iPad 2 as a budget model, albeit only in a 16GB model (the line previously included 32GB and 64GB options.
On the company’s NZ website, the wi-fi version of the iPad 2 is now listed for $579, the wi-fi + 3G model for $779 (in both cases around $200 cheaper than the previous price).
Apple TV upgraded
Nor did an Apple television - although the company did unveil an upgrade of its paperback-sized Apple TV gadget. The new Apple TV will let people stream movies and TV shows downloaded from iTunes to a regular widescreen television at full 1080p high definition (the current, second-generation Apple TV supports 720p HD; NBR still holds dear to the first generation Apple TV, the only model in the series with a built-in hard drive).
The new Apple TV will be available in New Zealand from March 16 for $159.
Apple sold 15.43 million iPad tablets during its December quarter, up from 7.33 million a year earlier.
Apple's iPad held 61.5% of worldwide tablet shipments in the third quarter, according to IDC, down from 63.3% in the second quarter.
Android-based tablets are slowly eating away at Apple's tablet share, but have yet to come close to the tipping point Google's mobile software reached in the smartphone market.