iPad Air: What It Means for Android

When Apple introduced the first-generation iPad in 2010, Android manufacturers were fairly slow to respond. Android 3.0 Honeycomb was Google’s first official tablet-oriented variant of their operating system, releasing a year later as a rushed product to power the Motorola Xoom. It wasn’t until mid-2012 that Google took Apple head on with their own first-party tablet, the Nexus 7, shortly followed up by the 10-inch Nexus 10.

Now, almost four years after Apple’s initial announcement, the Cupertino company has revealed their lineup for the 2013 holiday season: the 7.9-inch iPad mini with Retina Display and 9.7-inch iPad Air. In this article, we’re going to take a look at what the tablets are about and just how it stacks up against the Android competition.

The iPad Air

The iPad Air features Apple’s first major redesign of the 9.7-inch tablet since 2011, bringing the form more in line with the existing design of the iPad mini. The Retina Display is staying, but this time powered by Apple’s 64-bit A7 processor. In terms of cameras, the iPad Air comes equipped with a 1.2MP 720p front-facing shooter and a rear-facing camera for 1080p HD video recording and 5MP still captures. Of course, the iPad Air will run Apple’s recently-redesigned iteration of iOS, iOS 7 straight out the box. Models begin at $499 for a 16GB WiFi device and go up from there.

The new iPad Air.

The new iPad Air.

Google’s own competitor, the Nexus 10, is nearly a year old but is yet to be replaced by a second-generation model. The current iteration of the Nexus 10 is slightly larger than the iPad, featuring a 10.055-inch 2560 x 1600px display with a pixel density of 300ppi, 36ppi above that of Apple’s screen. The Nexus 10 runs on a 1.7GHz dual-core CPU and features a 5MP, 1080p rear camera with a 1.9MP, 720p front companion. Based purely on specifications, the Nexus 10 is a technically superior device but lacks an optimised app catalogue to the same scale as Apple’s App Store.

Other 10-inch tablets vary significantly in what power under the hood they offer, but most have caught up to Apple’s initial debut of high-resolution displays, negating that particular historic advantage. The arms race of power between competing Android tablet and Apple’s offering seems to have peaked, leaving advantages to be built purely out of software.

iPad minis

Competing at a different level is the iPad mini with Retina Display, a redesign of Apple’s first attempt at breaking into the smaller tablet market but this time round featuring a Retina Display at the same resolution as the iPad Air with a 326ppi pixel density. The iPad mini with Retina Display also runs on Apple’s 64-bit A7 processor and features the same cameras as the iPad Air.

The new iPad mini is certainly the most competitive of the two announcements, going head on with the bestselling Nexus 7 and Amazon’s new line of Kindle Fires. Interestingly, however, and unlike the iPad Air, the iPad mini is mostly on par with the specification of Google’s 2013 Nexus 7 but comes with a rather significant $170 price premium at the entry-level. The only other major competing 7-inch tablet is Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD X which again features a very similar set of specifications, though it lacks any rear-facing camera. The 7-inch Kindle Fire HDX (without special offers) starts at $244, a $155 discount on the entry-level second-generation iPad mini.

The iPad mini, now featuring Apple's Retina Display.

The iPad mini, now featuring Apple’s Retina Display.

Here it seems that Android has the advantage, being able to offer customers a significant discount if they choose to let a certain little green robot power their device rather than iOS. However, it’s yet to see whether Apple’s own price increase over last year’s $349 entry will make many loyal customers make the switch on financial motivation alone.

Apple is keeping the first-generation iPad mini in it’s lineup, though, starting at just $299. While this still offers a premium over the current-generation Android alternatives, that might just be enough keep loyal customers in the Apple camp.

Free Apps

The biggest announcement was not new hardware, however, but rather Apple revealing that it will offer its suite of iWork and iLife apps for free to anyone who purchases a new iOS device. This means that users buying a new iPad will get free copies of Pages, Keynote, Numbers, iPhoto, iMovie and GarageBand. This could spell trouble on the productivity front for Android, however, with users not being offered a stock office suite outside of the web-based Google Drive apps.

Apple's updated suite of complimentary software offerings for new iOS devices.

Apple’s updated suite of complimentary software offerings for new iOS devices.

Yet, while this free app selection will surely be welcomed by those investing in iOS for other preferences, it’s not likely to cause too much trouble for Android when a range of alternatives remain available in the Play Store. If anything, the free app initiative will more likely prove to be an effort to keep existing Mac users in the Apple loop to ensure smooth workflows than pull dedicated Android buyers away from their next robotic purchase.

So, What Does It Mean for Android?

Tuesday’s introduction of new iPads is important for the industry as a whole, not just for Apple. With the introduction of an iPad mini with Retina Display, Apple’s levelled the playing field with competing 7-inch devices in all areas but price and the iPad Air presents a new iteration of a tablet who’s 10-inch competition continues to fail to gain traction. Should Android tablet makers be scared? Probably not, although there’s no harm in keeping an eye on what’s happening in Cupertino.

What do you think of the iPad Air and iPad mini with Retina Display? Have you been swayed away or to Android? Share your thoughts in the comments!