iPad Air 2: This was supposed to be the future

  1. I think I’ve committed to something like a three-ish year cycle for buying these things, which is probably about the right length of time.
  2. Up until now, I’ve been using an iPad 3, which is not a bad device, though it should be telling of the iPad 3’s status as a stop-gap for Retina screens that it was phased out after only eight months—exceptionally short even by Apple standards. I suspect that I could have probably gotten away with using it for a year or two more; I generally used it for reading articles in Instapaper, flipping through comics, and doing some light text-editing. For these purposes, it certainly didn’t provide a bad experience; the jump to iOS 7 (and the myriad 3D animations and transparency effects therein) was not merciful to the A5X processor, and my favorite iPad text editor, Editorial, needed a patient hand while typing, lest the system start dropping keyboard taps. But the high resolution screen is still remarkable, and the vast majority of apps still support that system. For casual usage, it’s still a great device.
  3. Which is why I recommend that no one currently interested in an upgrade go for a test drive on an iPad Air 2.
  4. The number of improvements seems rather weak on a spec-sheet. Faster processor? Okay, sure. Better camera? My smartphone is better still (and less wacky-looking to use). It’s nice that it’s not as heavy. A laminated screen, whatever that means.
  5. And yet: I still had that same kind of sensation, using this new device, as I did when I first touched an iPad. Which is to say: this feeling that we’ve reached The Future, we’ve reached Peak Computer[1]; if it’s true that sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, then this thing is total wizard.
  6. It’s hard to sell short how light this thing is; my phone feels heavier.[2] Reviewers have mentioned that the using the improved touchscreen feels like directly manipulating pixel, and this is true, though I’d add that the new processor is a big factor in this too, eliminating virtually all lag from any gesture. Using a five-finger swipe to change between apps, for example, is instantaneous; I’m no longer waiting for the gesture to register, then for the OS to load the preview screenshots of other apps, then finally render the animation, all of which took a full two or three seconds[3] on my iPad 3. With this Air 2, it lacks any of that ceremony; I’m pushing and pulling pixels around, like they’ve just been sitting just behind the bezel, waiting for me to yank them into view. Which makes me feel like a total wizard.
  7. The speakers on this thing are pretty loud, certainly louder than they were before. I listen to a lot of podcasts while puttering around the apartment, so this is a welcome change. But I’m not a fan of how the whole case vibrates when you’re listening to anything at even moderate volume—it’s not comfortable to hold (unless you like giving your fingertips a light massage), and just because of that, I’ve found it fatiguing to hold while watching a movie with someone. I’ve taken to reaching for headphones when I’m by my lonesome.
  8. It’s also got a fingerprint sensor, which makes unlocking the device convenient. I use a Smart Cover, though, so it unlocking the device remains a two-step process for me. That said, I’m still digging the cover. I was a bit skeptical of the three-panel design, but it seems to fold up into a stand well enough: the magnets on the far left and right edges, which lock the thing into a triangle shape, seem sturdy, and in the low-angle typing arrangement, the iPad seems to lie a bit flatter than with the previous Smart Cover. I prefer this.
  9. Yet. And yet. I kind of need to temper all of this. I feel like I’ve been pretty effusive about this thing—and don’t get me wrong, it’s a marvel of engineering, and it’s still challenging my conceptions of personal computing. But in a really narrow-minded, rabble-rabble-Apple-isn’t-innovating kind of way, I have to wonder if this really is it—if this really is Peak Computer.[4] Because the iPad Air 2 is, in the end, just (“just”) another iPad.
  10. An exceptionally fast, light, elegant iPad. Which is nearly indistinguishable from magic and makes me reconsider what computers are supposed to look like. That’s all it is.
  11. The future is weird.

  1. I know this is not true, and the best days of our computing lives are ahead of us, but it’s still a hard feeling to shake.  ↩

  2. This is also not true, I’m pretty sure. (I’m too lazy to look up exact numbers.) And mostly it’s a function of the iPad’s weight being distributed across a larger volume. But again: still hard to shake the feeling.  ↩

  3. Cue small violin.  ↩

  4. For a second time: I know it’s not, but the feeling is, yet again, hard to shake.  ↩