When Apple announced the fifth-generation iPad Air on March 8, it was not a surprise for two primary reasons. The company wants to further consolidate its line-up of devices made with its M1 chips and maintain its lead in the tablet market.
Apple's M1 chip - first released with Macs in November 2020, and its most powerful to date - ushered in a new era for the world's most valuable company.
The Cupertino-based iPhone maker held a 38 per cent market share in the tablet market in the fourth quarter of 2021, way ahead of second-placed Samsung's 15.9 per cent, according to the International Data Corporation.
Global tablet shipments grew 3.2 per cent in 2021 owing to Covid-19 pandemic restrictions, the IDC said. But while last year was “great” for these devices, shipments have begun to decrease. The market posted a decline of about 12 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2021, the second drop since the pandemic began in 2020 amid lower demand, the IDC said.
“Shipments in the near future will remain above pre-pandemic levels as virtual learning, remote work and media consumption remain priorities for users,” Anuroopa Nataraj, a senior research analyst at the IDC, said in the report.
The National reviewed the new iPad Air and here are our thoughts on it. Attention, students and non-heavy users.
Performance: M1's here
It was only a matter of time before Apple's own M1 chip found its way into the iPad Air (the iPad Pros were equipped with it last year; the mini, if and when an update is released, should come with it). Now that it has become a reality, we expect a significant performance boost to the 2022 version.
Apple says the M1 gives the iPad Air a central processing unit that is up to 60 per cent faster and graphics that are twice as fast compared to the A14 Bionic. The neural engine within it is capable of 11 trillion operations a second.
It is safe to say that it is as good as promoted; there was no lagging or stuttering and we did not have any issues playing the action-packed, graphics-intensive Marvel Future Revolution. The improvements brought about by the M1 chip further optimise the new device to prevent slowdowns and crashes, things that are extremely rare on the iPad.
One issue is the iPad Air's maximum brightness is just 500 nits — which is even lower than the new iPhone SE's 625 nits. Storage options are limited at 64 gigabytes and 256GB, both of which could be too small if you are going to use the device as your go-to machine for work that requires heavy files. You have two solutions to this: either purchase iCloud storage or buy an iPad Pro (the regular iPad has the same storage capacities).
You also have the chance to use the second-generation Apple Pencil, functioning as smooth as it has always been. It is a boon for artists and those who feel more comfortable writing on an iPad. However, there is no word on when a third iteration will come.
That said, the iPad Air is still a very good device for content creators, at least for those who want to get a start. The creative economy is growing, and bringing the M1's top-of-the-line capabilities to a wider set of users is a win-win situation.
Form: sleek design sticks and colour options
The new iPad Air takes cues from its predecessor and the current iPhones, with the same 10.9-inch liquid retina display, a flat-edged design and dimensions (weight differs by a hairline).
In its default portrait orientation, the power/Touch ID button is on the top right, the volume buttons, SIM tray and magnetic strip for the Apple Pencil are on the right edge while a USB-C port is below. Speakers are both on top and below.
In terms of colours, you still have a space grey option but that is the only holdover from the 2020 line-up; this year, it comes in starlight, pink, purple and blue (though sky blue was in the previous series).
Front camera takes 'Centre Stage'
The iPad Air is not really marketed for its single-lens main camera, which — with a 12-megapixel sensor, f/1.8 aperture and 5x digital zoom — is at par with the previous model (keep in mind: the lower the aperture number, the more light enters the sensor, which bodes well for dark scenes). You also still have access to 4K video recording, which is not bad for a lone camera. Both images and video hold up well.
However, the real star is the front camera. Not only is it up at 12MP, from 7MP (although with a higher f/2.4 aperture), it also now features Centre Stage, a feature that detects faces and automatically adjusts the camera to make sure everyone is captured in the frame (it does not work on pets though).
It mainly works on Apple's own FaceTime video call function, which is still not available in the UAE. However, third-party apps such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet and WebEx support this feature.
Battery: a little better
As usual, Apple lists the iPad Air's battery life as “all day”. Technically, it has not budged from its predecessor: the new iPad Air's battery has a life of up to 10 hours on Wi-Fi and up to nine hours on mobile date. That is a bit surprising, considering it now uses the M1 chip. More interestingly, the battery life on all iPad Air models — all the way to the original from 2013 — has remained the same.
That is still good battery life by any standard. Using it particularly for work presentations or education will give you more than enough juice to last you an entire day.
In our one-hour YouTube-at-full-brightness test, the iPad Air lost 19 per cent, which is better than the 22 per cent we saw gone from the 2020 version.
If you do the math, that would be equal to about only five hours of battery life. However, keep in mind the brightness you use, how loud your volume is and other processes in the background also matter.
From a performance standpoint, the fifth-generation iPad Air is a sturdy machine that handles tasks from work to study to entertainment and creative functions well.
Its biggest selling point, however, is the M1 chip, which puts this iPad seemingly at par with the iPad Pro in terms of performance, which could mean the only things distinguishing the devices are specifications such as storage and display.
An M1-powered iPad at this price point — starting at Dh2,499 and maxing out at Dh3,699 — is a good option, particularly for non-professionals and students, or for anyone who wants to use it for entertainment.
Will it cannibalise other iPads at the top end? Probably not, because there is always a market for that — no matter how pricey it is.