Apple is rumored to be refreshing its iPad lineup on Oct. 22, an affair that would normally barely warrant a mention now that the company is in a phase in which it updates its existing product lines rather than announcing new, category-defining devices. But this time it’s worth paying attention, and here’s why: The two iPads Apple will probably unveil on that Tuesday will define the (Apple) tablet experience for years to come.
There are a lot of reasons to love an iPad mini with a retina display. The primary one is that, because of the combination of its high-resolution display, smaller form factor and lighter weight, a retina iPad mini is by its nature the best possible device on which to consume digital content. As a result, it’s very likely that tablets for many years to come will very much resemble it, even as they fall in price. Until now, Apple’s retina displays, so-named because they (more or less) achieve the highest-resolution perceivable by the human eye, have only been available on the larger standard iPads.
If you’re more inclined to buy an Android tablet, Google’s Nexus 7 has a slightly smaller and, for some people, preferable form factor; is available now; has a fantastic display and battery life; and will probably be at least $100 less than a retina iPad Mini at launch.
Some computers you hold onto for years. Perhaps the company had just refreshed a notebook with a more powerful class of processor, or you buy a machine just when a new operating system launches, and as a result it doesn’t change much for a relatively long period of time. The forthcoming big iPad is likely to be one of these devices. Reports suggest that it will get the new processor first seen in the iPhone 5S—a 64-bit processor that, when it was announced in the iPhone, was the first of its kind in a mobile device. The pre-announcement rumors also indicate that it will be lighter and slimmer than the current iPad, which is important for a device this size.
As John Gruber at Daring Fireball explains, this new processor is based on a totally new instruction set, one meant to represent a clean break from 20 years of mobile processor history. It’s the sort of chip that’s built with the future in mind, and it’s clear that Apple’s future mobile operating systems will take advantage of it even more than the latest one—iOS 7—does. Many new apps for the iPhone are already making use of it. At first, you won’t notice much difference with the new chip, but as more and more software is tailored to take advantage of it, a noticeable gulf in performance will open up between Apple devices with the new chip and those that came before.
If Apple announces what we expect, both of these tablets represent collections of features that are likely to make the user experience more than “good enough” for most people for a long time. They will also overcome design compromises that are present in the current lineup of iPads.