"The next generation iPad: thinner, lighter, more powerful than ever before, and it's new in so many ways that it deserves a new name," Apple's Phil Schiller said onstage this morning as he unveiled the company's latest tablet.Of course, the new name still has the word iPad in it -- it's called the iPad Air. But Apple's point? The Air isn't just like the old iPads. And that's certainly true in a few respects. The tablet has a whole new striking design, with rounder and shinier edges and much, much trimmer dimensions. I actually said outloud, "Wow, that is insanely light" when I first picked it up. It's deceivingly light. Because the screen looks the same as the previous models, and the rest of the tablet also looks similar when it is sitting on a table, you don't expect it to weigh just one pound when you pick it up.
As soon as you lift it, though, you also realize the 0.29-inch thick tablet is much more comfortable to hold. It's even possible to hold in one hand, but because of the width and length of the screen, it can still be awkward. Most people will still prefer to hold it with two hands, or place it in their lap. If you're looking for that real one-handed option, the new $399 iPad Mini with Retina Display is the way to go.The Air also has the new speedy 64-bit A7 processor and new wireless technology, yet promises the same 10 hours of battery life and a lot more in stand-by time.
But in another respect, the Air is still very much still like the older iPads. The tablet runs iOS 7, which was released for the iPad 2 and up last month. The new multitasking features, the improved Safari web browsing experience and Control Center all improve the big-screen experience, and new iLife and iWork apps make the tablet much more than just a consumption device.Yet at its core, the way the iPad Air works is no different than the previous versions of iPads, and some software features included on new tablets are starting to outshine Apple's feature set. Windows 8's app multitasking capability adds versatility, and the Nexus 7's Google Now surfaces valuable information even before I need it. That said, the iPad continues to provide the best breadth and quality of apps in its App Store, which is where Windows 8 and even Android continues to lag. So, no, the iPad Air isn't an entirely new iPad, but that might not matter. It's that app selection combined with some incredibly beautiful hardware engineering that will allow the iPad to lead the tablet pack, new name or not.