Oct. 24, 2012 — Wait, what? That’s probably the reaction that many buyers of the third-generation “iPad 3” had after Apple dropped the surprise release of its fourth-generation tablet on the masses alongside the iPad mini. Less than a year after the release of the iPad 3, tablet users are suddenly faced with a brand-spanking new model from Apple — a development that apparently irked even some of the Apple faithful if Twitter and the interwebs are any indication. Ah, the pains of being an early adopter. Hey, at least Apple can now take better advantage of the ole’ holiday rush, eh? Of course, this now brings up the question: Is it worth upgrading to the iPad 3?
Well, if you prefer Android or even Amazon’s ecosystem, the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD are thataway. If you lean more toward Apple, on the other hand, then the answer depends. Don’t have an iPad yet? Then the iPad 4 (I’ll just call it that because I’m too lazy to type “fourth-generation iPad” all the time) is the best iPad available on the market for the next year (hopefully). If you own the original iPad or the iPad 2, then I think it’s still worth upgrading for the Retina display and more powerful processor. If you own an iPad 3, however, then the answer isn’t as clear cut. Essentially, it all boils down to just how much you value its new features. Here’s a look at the key additions to the iPad 4.
The chip: The iPad 4 trades in the iPad 3’s A5X chip for the new A6X. Although it sports the same dual-core processor, quad-core graphics chip setup of the A5X, Apple claims that it offers twice the performance of its predecessor. Given that the number of cores are unchanged, this likely points out to an increase in clock speed for both the CPU and GPU. For non geeks, this all basically means that the iPad 4 is faster. Then again, given how peppy the iPad 3 is for an Apple tablet, it remains questionable whether you’ll notice that added speed unless you’re a power user.
Speedier wireless: Keeping up with the theme of faster is better, Apple claims that it has improved its dual-band Wi-Fi setup for double the speed compared to the iPad 3. Although the changes in the "brains" are a bit more obvious given the move to a completely different chip, the Wi-Fi one isn’t quite as distinct so you’ll just have to take Apple’s word on this. As someone who’s had Wi-Fi issues with iPads before, I’m crossing my fingers that this one shapes out to be true.
New connector: If you have a bunch of iPad accessories that use the old 30-pin connector then this probably doesn’t seem like an upgrade to you. The Lightning connector is the wave of the future for Apple products, though, so expect to be dragged into this new standard no matter how hard you kick and scream in the process. To help ease the pain, Apple is offering a slew of adapters and connectors to facilitate your transition to the brand new world of Lightning. For folks who are asking if these accessories are free, that scary sound you hear is Tim Cook laughing while stroking a Persian cat. These suckers are going to range anywhere from $20 to $50. Really, the only way you’ll get anything lightning-related for free is if you step out in a rainstorm and hold up a metal golf club. (Please, please don’t do that. Seriously.)
HD front camera: If you’re one of the folks who happily booted up your Retina display iPad 3 and were horrified by your pixelated face when you tried to do Face Time, then you’ll be happy to know that Apple upgraded the front-facing camera to be able to catch 720p video. Goodbye, horrible pixels, hello real-life wrinkles. That crummy iPad 3 camera doesn’t sound so bad now, huh? Unless of course you’re a pretty boy like yours truly. At least that’s what my mom told me.
So there you have it, the key features of the new iPad 4. Now, given that the iPad 3 also has a Retina display, the changes to the iPad 4 won’t be as visually noticeable unless you’re a heavy FaceTime user. Indeed, most of the key changes are speed related thanks to the chip and Wi-Fi upgrades. Of course, if you’re an early adopter or one of those gifted folks who can detect speed differences like you’re in bullet time, then feel free to get the iPad 4. As for me, I think I’ll stick with my iPad 3 for now.