7 Areas Where the iPad Falls Short

Here are seven ways Apple's iPad falls short of its competitors, followed by my assessment of how problematic each "shortcoming" truly is.

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Correction appended on 9/26/2013 at 10:29pm ET: A previous version of this article incorrectly listed cellular-equipped iPad versions alongside Wi-Fi-only versions of competing tablets under point number six, which pertains to price. This article has been updated accordingly.

If you came here to read about how the iPad is doomed, you’re in the wrong place. By all accounts, the iPad is still the best tablet on the market, with better reviews, strong sales, and (arguably) the most engaged user base.

The iPad and its top competitors

Of course, raw specs alone can be misleading, which is why we take expert reviews into account for our overall scores. To wit: most of the iPad’s advantages are conceptual rather than spreadsheet-specific. “The iOS user interface is simple and easy for anyone to use,” said Joshua Weiss, CEO of mobile app development firm TeliApp. “Unlike Windows and Android tablets, there is very little that any user can do to ‘screw something up.’”

Developers love the iPad for its app selection and quality as well. “While Apple’s App Store has been caught by Google Play in terms of number of apps, the quality of the apps in the Apple App Store is still far superior…especially when looking at tablets,” said Jeff Weisbein, CEO of BestTechie. Weisbein also points to the iPad’s ecosystem (“people have been using iOS products for years…[they’re] heavily invested”) and consistency (“the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch [have] all looked and functioned essentially the same for years.”).

Still, even lead designer Jony Ive would concede that Apple’s once iron grip on first place is now more of an aluminum clutch. According to an International Data Corporation (IDC) report, Apple sold only 32.4% of all tablets in Q2 of 2013, down from roughly 75% when the iPad launched in 2010. Granted, it’s been nearly 12 months since Apple announced its current iPad, but Google, Samsung, Amazon, and Microsoft have cut larger and larger slices out of the Apple pie over the last few years.*

*Okay, maybe not Microsoft.

As a result, many analysts, tech geeks, and armchair web surfers have begun cataloging the iPad’s inferior features. Sure: it’s mostly overblown speculation in search of a compelling narrative, but there are a few apple cores of truth in all the complaints. Here are seven ways Apple’s iPad falls short of its competitors, followed by my assessment of how problematic each “shortcoming” truly is for the Cupertino tech giant.

1. Front camera quality

You can’t go two commercial breaks without seeing another FaceTime ad celebrating a pregnancy, electronic family reunion, or new puppy adoption. Apple churns these TV spots out faster than iPad Smart Covers. So why doesn’t Apple update the front camera with the same enthusiasm? Sitting at a pedestrian 1.2 megapixels, the iPad’s front camera is tied for last place among today’s top tablets. The rear camera—which everyone stops using three days after buying the device—stands at 5 megapixels. This seems backwards to me.

Problem rating: 10 / 10

Bottom line: no excuse

2. Rear Camera Quality

Rear camera quality on tablets is like NBC’s fall TV lineup: initially kind of interesting and then forever useless. Beyond one relative who brings her iPad to every family barbecue, I’ve never seen anyone take a serious picture with a tablet. This October, don’t be surprised when your favorite Apple blog goes crazy over some sort of new rear camera flash technology in the next iPad’s camera. Humor the blogger, then calmly scroll along to the features you’ll actually use.

Problem rating: 1 / 10

Bottom line: who cares?

3. Battery Life

In the world of smartphones, your best bet is to manipulate standby and talk time numbers until you can claim the phone will last through the zombie apocalypse, all while streaming the entire MLB playoffs in full HD. With tablets? Nearly all manufacturers agree that 10 hours is perfectly fine. Yes, the Dell Lattitude 10 and ASUS Nexus 7 report even stronger numbers, but as long as Apple can add new features while retaining that 10 hour sweet spot, they should be fine.

Problem rating: 3 / 10

Bottom line: no big deal

4. Weight

According to legend, Steve Jobs and Jony Ive would finalize a device’s design first, then demand that engineers find a way to get all the components to fit. With the Retina Display iPad (3rd and 4th Gen), Apple’s engineers may have finally failed. The iPad 2 (3G) weighed in at an especially-impressive-for-its-time 1.35 lbs, while sporting a peel-thin depth of 0.34″. The current iPad—due to the Retina Display and a larger battery—clocks in at 1.4 lbs with a depth of 0.37″. These are still admirable specs, but I’d bet Jony Ive raised his champagne glass just a tad lower once the latest iPad’s construction was complete.

Among top tablets, the iPad with Retina Display is now one of the heavier choices (iPad Mini aside), with products like the Samsung Nexus 10 and Sony Xperia Tablet Z presenting feather-like alternatives. Most consumers won’t care about a fraction of a pound, but I bet Apple does.

Problem rating: 5 / 10

Bottom line: Apple won’t stand for it, even if we will

5. Pixel Density

It’s been 19 months since Apple first released the iPad with Retina Display, and those 264 pixels per inch (PPI) remain solid next to the iPad’s top competitors. That said, the Retina Display is no longer a market-leading feature, with the comparably-sized Samsung Nexus 10 featuring an even sharper display.

It’s hard to argue that Apple needs to improve the iPad’s PPI; it simply can’t use the Retina Display as an excuse for lower battery life or a heavier weight.

With the iPad Mini, however, the story’s a bit different. Similar-sized tablets like the ASUS Nexus 7, Amazon Kindle Fire HD, and Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 all beat the Mini handily when it comes to resolution. With many consumers torn between purchasing a full-sized iPad with Retina Display and a lower-resolution Mini, Apple has a huge opportunity to win over fence-sitting customers with a Retina Display-enabled Mini.

Problem rating: 1 / 10 for the Retina Display iPad; 7 / 10 for the Mini

Bottom line: depends on the model

6. Price (16 GB, base models)

tablet_price_16gb_no_4g

A favorite talking point for Apple’s competitors, the iPad is an unapologetically expensive device. Compared to top 16 GB alternatives, Apple’s tablet is among the costliest choices, unless you opt for the lower-res iPad Mini.

Still, don’t wait for a price drop. Apple isn’t likely to change any of its tablet pricing: they’re happy selling their devices at a huge margin so long as people keep lining up at midnight to buy the newest release. In this comparison, you might say that price is the opposite of weight: it’s by far the most important attribute for the average buyer, but at this point, Apple couldn’t care less, and they don’t have to.

Problem rating: 3 / 10

Bottom line: Apple doesn’t care about the low-end of the market

7. RAM

Nowhere are the iPad’s raw technical deficiencies more clear than with RAM. The iPad’s 1 GB—and the Mini’s 512 MB—sit well below all of Apple’s competitors.

It’s tempting to overstate Apple’s disadvantage here, but the iPad’s RAM shortage may represent more of a philosophical difference than a true drawback. Apple has always designed its mobile devices to focus on the task at hand, with each app filling the whole screen, and an app-switching system that has often felt more like a glorified “alt-tab” than a true multi-tasking experience. Apple can get away with the lower memory because of this one-app-at-a-time interface, and because it designs its hardware and software to work together seamlessly. In contrast, tablets like the Surface require additional memory to pull off all the multi-window functionality.

With all that said, I’ll be slightly concerned if Apple’s new iPads don’t at least match the memory of their year-old competitors.

Problem rating: 6 / 10

Bottom line: becomes a bigger problem if Apple doesn’t improve it

Conclusion

While Apple’s biggest advantages aren’t found on the spec sheet, the raw numbers still matter. Consumers are greedy by nature; they want something without compromise—fast, lightweight, visually crisp, and incredibly easy-to-use. Remarkably, the next iPad has a chance to be that very device. Apple just needs to solve the right problems…and ignore the wrong ones.

This article was written for TIME by Ben Taylor of FindTheBest.

13 comments
GiovanniVilchis
GiovanniVilchis

apple is the harley davidson of tablets and phones, they overprice their products because they know dumb people will buy them

MouDy
MouDy

"an app-switching system that has often felt more like a glorified “alt-tab” than a true multi-tasking experience"


It would be much better if the can use the same multi -tasking system they use on OS X Mountain Lion

judya612
judya612

Why does this writer compare the 4G-equipped iPad's price with other tablets that are wi-fi only? He does it TWICE, so it's not just an oversight. 

This is an egregious error, considering that there is a $499 wi-fi only model of iPad that obviously would have been a more apt comparison. Look how that would have changed those dramatic charts the author made. Rather than being more expensive than competitors, the iPad would have been correctly portrayed as being the SAME PRICE, feature-for-feature.

Of course, that would have destroyed one of his key points, but it would have been much more accurate. How does stuff like this get past the editors?

Mr.Wallingford
Mr.Wallingford

Ladies and Gentlemen, an impersonation of the inevitable AndroidFanBois to overwhelm said comments section: Snark snark snark, Something about Android's superiority, snark snark snark, 10,000 reasons why Apple Blows, snark snark snark, Apple has stopped innovating, snark snark snark, Sudden spontaneous combustion as a result of hyper-negative trolling.

Thank you and you're welcome. Now go read a book.


JustinD.Hebert
JustinD.Hebert

#5 - At some point, you get diminishing returns by just adding more pixels per inch. The idea behind Retina Display is that you can't distinguish pixels from a normal distance, and Apple isn't in the habit of engaging in pointless hardware wars.

#7 - As an iPad user, I couldn't care less about the amount of RAM. It all depends on how the device works in concert, not the individual specs. This is what has kept the iPad above its competitors - Apple focuses on the user experience rather than "let's see if we can cram more hardware into it."

You're definitely right about the cameras, though. That, I think we can all agree on.

Jmu
Jmu

Waterproof:

Sony Xperia Tablet Z - 1

Everyone else - 0

AlanRalph
AlanRalph

I'm guessing the next iPads will definitely have more RAM inside them, most likely teamed up to the new 64bit A7 chip from the iPhone 5S. By virtue of their screen real-estate, apps on the iPad consume more memory in use than their iPhone brethren.

Similarly, I'm guessing the new cameras from the iPhone 5S will be following the A7 chip over to the next iPads.

I have to say, I'm mystified by the people who complain about the recent iPads feeling heavy. I have an iPad 3, and even with a SmartCover around it, I have no problem carrying it with me and holding it for an hour or so at a time. But obviously, if Apple can shave a few grams somewhere, they'll go for it. In a similar vein, I find it can go easily for 18-24 hours between charges, even with regular use for reading, browsing and the occasional game, so no real complaints from me on battery life.

TS1K
TS1K

A few other Android tablets to launch next week feature one of Intel’s newest processors and offer impressive performance... Ramos Technology has partnered with Intel to introduce the i-Series with 8", 9", 10" and 12" models (from $199-$299) and all models feature HD displays and Intel’s Cloverfield processor with Hyper-Threading technology, which runs four threads simultaneously and outscores many quad-core tablets in benchmark testing--

The most compact model is the Ramos i-8 ($199) and is the world’s thinnest 8" tablet-- featuring a 7.9-inch HD screen and aluminum-nickel frame for a sleek design; similar in size to the mini iPad… and easy to carry and almost as compact as a 7" tablet, such as the new Nexus 7, but with 40% more screen space... which makes viewing content much easier compared to the 7" size -- and the new Ramos i-8 matches most features of the new Nexus 7 – plus MicroSD storage.

Also to launch this week is a full-size Android tablet from Pipo Electronics that compares in size to the iPad - and the new 9.7" Pipo M6 Pro ($297) is getting notice for its design and features and packs in a solid device with features that compare to the Nexus 10, but for considerably less... the Pipo M6 Pro offers 32GB and built-in GPS, plus a 2048X1536 Liquid Crystal display, along with a Quad-Core processor - 1.6 GHz / 2GB Ram; and also Bluetooth 4.0, MicroSD memory, premium front speakers, a large capacity 10,000 mAh battery, and high speed WiFi.  It also comes with quality dual cameras, and an option to use standard Android 4.2.2 O/S or a user-friendly Windows style interface; a 3G HSPA+ model is also available for Internet through GSM wireless carriers, including AT&T and T-Mobile.


One of the first U.S. sources with details on both new models is -- TabletSprint

Benjamin1Taylor
Benjamin1Taylor

@judya612 You're absolutely right. I was trying to stay consistent with the models used in previous examples, but I focused on apples-to-apples storage and neglected 4G vs. WiFi only. I've submitted a change request to the editors. 

Not to excuse the initial oversight, but the general point still holds: Apple isn't afraid to charge a premium on their products, and as much as people want "low-cost" alternatives, it ultimately doesn't matter. Over time, they'll lose more of the low-end market, but that's fine with them.

Benjamin1Taylor
Benjamin1Taylor

@AlanRalph I was mystified as well...until I bought an iPad (3rd Gen) and tried reading books on it for an hour at a time. More and more I'm convinced that tablet book-reading should be left to the lighter Kindles, iPad Mini, or Nexus 7, and *not* the iPad with Retina Display.

But for simple transport (i.e. having the iPad in your bag), I agree—not an issue.