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Mac Planet: iPad 4 and mini mystification

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The iPad Mini, at left, is shown next to the 4th Generation iPad. Photo / AP
The iPad Mini, at left, is shown next to the 4th Generation iPad. Photo / AP

One of the slightly mystifying things Apple just released was the 'fourth generation iPad'.

I criticised Apple's name of the third generation iPad before. It was called, officially, 'the new iPad'. This I thought was not just strange but silly. Because if that becomes your naming scheme, what does the one after become? The 'new new iPad'? 'Successor to new iPad'? 'New iPad 2'?'

Now it has been replaced, Apple went back (thankfully) to a more practical name, but even that's a bit long and fussy, don't you think? 'The fourth generation iPad'. This does not sound like an Apple name. From now on, it's 'iPad 4' for me. It's obvious what it means, and short and clear.

I've said this before: one of the most important things Steve Jobs did when he came back to Apple in the late 1990s was to both simplify and clarify all the Apple products and their names. So what's going on now?

But that's a side issue, really. Many people are more mystified that Apple replaced iPad 3 so quickly.

iPad 4 replaces 'the new iPad' (ie, the 3rd generation iPad) and features the same 9.7-inch Retina display. Better, it includes the new Apple-designed A6X chip. That sort of clarifies one thing, anyway: the iPad 3 seemed to have a slightly retrograde chip. The A6X delivers up to twice the CPU performance and up to twice the graphics performance of the A5X chip.

Other new features include a FaceTime HD camera, twice the Wi-Fi performance compared to previous iPad models and support for additional LTE carriers worldwide (but there's no LTE in NZ).

This is all good stuff, but how do you feel if you just bought an iPad 3? I mean, we were all pretty much expecting the iPad mini, thanks to Apple not being able to keep the lid on (which increasingly seems to be the case).

Apple has a standard 14-day product return policy should you not be happy with the device, so users in the US have been returning the iPad 3, getting the refund and using it for the 4. Some of the US vendors have been extending this window out to 30 days, but I honestly don't know if that will happen here, or what Apple's policy might be.

As TUAW reports, "CNet is citing the experience of a few readers who were able to get AppleCare confirmation of a 30-day return window (the usual no-questions-asked-if-it's-undamaged return policy is 14 days after purchase). Reporter Sharon Vaknin says that the Stockton Street Apple Store in San Francisco is waiving the 14-day policy - but that might be a discretionary change that is only available at certain stores."

It's all getting a bit tricky for us New Zealanders, though, as iPad 4s are not available here yet - they should be from Friday, 2 November.

The models are in black or white, costing NZD$729 for the 16GB model and $879 for the 32GB model; $1029 for the 64GB model.

iPad 4 with Wi-Fi + Cellular will start shipping a couple of weeks after the Wi-Fi models (prices are $929 for the 16GB model, $1079 for the 32GB and the 64GB model is $1228).

(iPad 2 will still be available for a recommended retail price of NZD$579 for the 16GB Wi-Fi model and NZD$779 for the 16GB Wi-Fi + 3G model where they are still sold.

I did a live-chat on the herald online the week of the Apple announcements, and some people asked if I might be compelled to switch to iPad mini. No, is the short answer. But crikey, I still only have the first iPad. I hardly use it. It was extremely handy when I did a university paper earlier in the year, thanks to a Belkin case with a built-in keyboard. It was way handier to carry and use as a note taker, compared to even a 13-inch laptop. In my house, my partner uses it quite a lot to look things up, (information and recipes), and my daughter uses it for the same, plus for the game Draw Stuff.

I do occasionally use the Big Oven app for recipes. It's really handy. Also for reading magazines when I think of it (a free night and nothing on TV), but that's all. I can easily go a full week without touching it.

For everything else I do, my laptop is my first thought, and I use it for hours and hours every day.

But I still get people buying or considering iPads in the mistaken belief they are laptop replacements. iPads just aren't, although the distinction is blurring and these new ones are considerably faster. But still, there's a definite limit to what power you can fit in something so small and thin. A teacher contacted me just today asking if I could help her with her Keynote presentation. She was building it entirely from scratch on an iPad 3 and it included video. To make it worse, she wasn't a Mac user, so she couldn't easily (or as easily) sync and move files between her computer and the iPad.

This was either extremely ambitious or misguided. I had to wonder how the devices were even marketed to the school, either by an Apple reseller or, more likely, by the Ministry of Education, since in this case it was a trial program. I couldn't believe someone would even start to do this, actually. I'm not entirely sure (as noted, my own iPad is pretty old by modern terms) but I can't imagine even the latest ones would be much good for something so ambitious.

In my view, the iPad is 'just' a viewer, game platform and a controller (as a remote, or for Apple Logic, for example). You can take a few notes, but would I write a novel on it? No way. And writing a novel is a pretty inconsequential in computing terms. And iPad limitations include screen size.

Which brings me back to the mini - Apple was pretty clear in its opening preambles to the mini's launch that it was aimed at the education market. It's definitely an easier device to carry to school for (particularly) younger students. Yet it still has a screen big enough (7.9-inches/20.07cm diagonally) screen for most people to still read comfortably, and at the same time Apple boosted iBooks and iBook Author to better handle and create useful text books.

The iPad mini has a unique design (ie, compared to the standard iPad) in an aluminium enclosure. It can be 'held in one hand', although I noticed Phil Schiller's hand is much bigger than, say, a nine-year-old student's). It is thin and light, with with a 1024x768 resolution (same as the iPad 2) - so no tweaking needed for apps to display properly, which developers will appreciate. It's just 7.2mm thick, about the same as a pencil, and weighs 310 grams - about the same as a pad of paper. In fact it's 53 per cent lighter than the newly announced fourth-generation iPad.

The iPad mini runs a dual-core A5 chip, has a FaceTime HD front-side camera and a 5MP iSight camera, twice-as-fast WiFi and a Lightning connector, along with 10-hour battery life - all good features for schools.

iPad mini with Wi-Fi will also be available here from Friday, 2nd November.

16GB model $479; 32GB model will sell for $629; 64GB model: $779.

iPad mini with Wi-Fi + Cellular will arrive later: $680 for the 16GB model; $829 for the 32GB and $979 for the 64GB model.

I look forward to seeing these things in the flesh.

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