Tuesday, November 9, 2010

iPad Gets First Major Software Update

Seven months after its launch, the iPad is about to receive its first major software update. About time too, you might think, bringing its capabilities more or less into line with the iPhone, allowing multitasking, support for wireless printing, and AirPlay--but no Ping. The device, described as "magical and revolutionary" by Steve Jobs when he announced it to the world at the beginning of the year, was, one can say, the future of mobile computing. But is it still?

That's not to say that the iPad isn't at the top of everyone's Christmas list this year. However, there's something a little dated about it now. Perhaps it's because technophiles are so used to having a brand new magical and revolutionary reveal every month. Apple is currently churning out about three times as many new devices as it used to--compare the year of the iPhone, with 2010. The iPhone was the tech world's launch of the year, and it was the only truly new device unveiled by Steve Jobs of 2007. Three years on, and we've seen the iPad, the iPhone 4 (such hullaballoo you've never seen, thanks to Gizmodo's scene-stealing exclusive) and now the MacBook Air. You might call that last one a refresh, but it's a bit more than that.

Last week, as all the MacBook Air reviews came in, there was a lot of Twitter activity from some of the leading lights in the tech community about how they were, like, so over the iPad. (So we can expect a lot of iPad activity on eBay in the coming weeks.) But it's worth remembering just how amazing the original Air was thought to be, before the usual grouses about it not being a poor, anorexic cousin to its sturdier relation, the MacBook. Perhaps that was just Apple being ahead of its time. Fast-forward two years, and suddenly the second iteration of the Air is the must-have gadget.

Part of that is because the new MacBook Air is Apple's newest device, and techies love the newest of the new. What was so cool six months ago, having one's face lit up by a nine-inch reflective screen, is now merely something for people who have disposable cash to watch videos on. The MacBook Air marks its owner out as a serious person, rather than a dilettante.

But one of the things that this imminent refresh (the update is currently only available as leaked files, although it is expected to be made available by Apple as an official refresh later this week) has brought is multitasking. Now, it's not proper multitasking like laptop multitasking, it's multitasking like the iPhone 4 multitasks. So, sorta but sorta not. Nevertheless, it's still significant enough to bring the iPad's capabilities up a notch, rather than this refresh remaining nothing than just a few cosmetic tweaks here and there.

So, this is how it will go. If there were an Apple Stock Exchange, where you could bet on the firm's individual devices, this is the FC tip: Sell your common-or-garden MacBook. Hold your iPad for six months or so, and buy a MacBook Air. Once the iPad gets its own version of the iPhone 4's Retina display, and can manage proper multitasking, buy again--and sell your Air, as Steve Jobs' prediction of HTML 5 being a genuine Flash-killer will have come true.


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