What Is the iPad Air?

A look at the features of the iPad Air and later models

When Apple released the iPad Air, the change in name from simply "iPad" to "iPad Air" signified a change in philosophy at Apple, which was to break the iPad lineup into models with different size and power capabilities. Those models are the iPad, iPad Air, iPad Mini, and iPad Pro. All the iPad models are available with either a Wi-Fi or Wi-Fi + Cellular configuration.

The Original iPad Air

The iPad Air was the first tablet powered by a 64-bit chip. While the jump from 32-bit to 64-bit was originally dismissed as being more a novelty than a technological leap, the improvement turned out to be a nice boost in power for the iPad. The iPad Air is roughly twice as fast as the iPad 4 that preceded it. The iPad Air also includes the M7 motion co-processor, which is dedicated to processing signals from the various motion-detecting sensors in the iPad.

The iPad Air does not support all the multitasking features of its successor, the iPad Air 2, nor does it include Touch ID. It only has a 5 MP back-facing camera, as well, compared to the iPad Air 2's 8 MP camera.

The Evolution of the iPad Air

Over time, the iPad Air has evolved as new iterations have been introduced.

iPad Air 2

If the name change represented a philosophical shift at Apple with regard to the iPad lineup, the iPad Air 2 fully realized that change. Typically, the iPad has mimicked the basic design and features of the same-generation iPhone. The iPad generally received a slightly more powerful processor and faster graphics than the iPhone

The iPad Air 2 had two major differences when compared with the iPhone 6, which was released the same year. First, the iPad Air 2 had a tri-core processor rather than a dual-core, which makes it both faster and better at multitasking. Second, the iPad Air 2 included 2 GB of RAM as opposed to the 1 GB available to the iPhone 6, again, making the iPad Air 2 better at multitasking.

The iPad Air 2 is capable of split-screen multitasking and picture-in-a-picture multitasking, which lets you keep playing videos in a corner of the screen while you do something else, like browse the web. 

The iPad Air 2 also includes Apple's Touch ID fingerprint sensor. This allows you to use Apple Pay in apps on the iPad and a few other cool Touch ID tricks, but because the iPad Air 2 doesn't have a near-field communications chip, you cannot use it to pay your bill at Apple Pay-supported cash registers. The iPad Air 2 also improved the iPad's camera to an 8 MP iSight camera.

iPad Air 3

Apple released the iPad Air 3 in 2019. With its 10.5 inch diagonal screen, it is bigger than the 9.7-inch iPad Air 2. It has the same button placement as its predecessor, but it is sleeker and has a faster A12 bionic processor. It supports the 1st generation Apple Pencil and the Smart Keyboard, which gives it 2-in-1 functionality laptop users appreciate.

The 8 MP rear camera can capture Live Photos, but it's limited to 1080p video recording. A pair of speakers do a decent job, although it is easy to block one of them while holding the device.

iPad Air 4

The 4th generation iPad Air was released in 2020. It has an edge-to-edge screen that does away with bezels almost completely and a beautiful 10.9-inch Liquid Retina display that looks great in most lighting situations. It includes an A14 bionic processor and supports the 2nd generation Apple Pencil.

The 12 MP rear camera can record at 4K, while the front camera is 7 MP. The only thing missing is a dedicated Home button, but the iPad Air still supports Touch ID. It is integrated into the sleep/wake button.

iPad Air 5

The iPad Air 5 was released in 2022 with an M1 chip, 8-core CPU, and 16-core Apple Neural Engine. It is equipped with a 12MP Ultra Wide front camera and Center Stage, a feature introduced on the iPad Pro. The 5th generation iPad Air is capable of recording 4K video, slo-mo video, and playback zoom. You can also use the back camera to scan documents and them mark them up with an Apple Pencil.

As with its predecessor, the iPad Air 5 has Touch ID built into the top button, so you can use your fingerprint to unlock the iPad Air, sign in to apps, and make secure payments using Apple Pay. The iPad Air has Wi-Fi 6 for fast wireless connections. The Wi-Fi + Cellular models have next-generation 5G capabilities.

iPad Air 5 vs. iPad Mini 6

The most noticeable difference between the iPad Air 5th generation and the iPad Mini 6th generation is the screen size. While the 10.9-inch display of the iPad Air doesn't sound much larger than the 8.3-inch display of the Mini, it delivers much more screen space, making the iPad Air better for productivity applications. Activities such as moving text around the screen and manipulating images is easier with more display real estate. On the flip side, the iPad Mini is more portable and easier to hold in one hand for extended periods (such as when reading an ebook), making it the most mobile of the two.

The iPad Mini 6 is powered by the A15 Bionic chip and is available in four colors, while the iPad Air 5 has the faster M1 chip and is available in five colors. The price for the iPad Air starts at $100 more than the Mini.

iPad Air 5 vs. 11-Inch iPad Pro 3

Apple's iPad Pro line of tablets are beginning to approach laptops in terms of pure processing power, and they have the price tag to prove it. The 11-inch iPad Pro 3rd generation is the closest match to the iPad Air 5th generation, but its price starts at $200 more than the iPad Air. Both are powerful tablets, but some people may not need the extra capacity of the Pro. While the iPad Air 5 is limited to 256 GB of storage, the iPad Pro offers up to 2 TB.

The two iPads are similar in size: The 10.9-inch iPad Air is almost the as large as the 11-inch iPad Pro 3rd gen. The iPad Pro has four speakers, while the iPad Air has only two, which may matter to someone who watches a lot of movies and listens to music on the tablet. Both iPads run on the Apple M1 chip, but the 16-core Neural engine in the Pro model gives it a slight performance edge.

The latest models of the iPad Pro feature Apple Face ID technology for unlocking the device. They do not offer Touch ID.

iPad 9

The iPad is the least powerful of the four models. However, it's still a powerful device, capable of many of the activities that most people look for in a tablet, and at a relatively bargain price.

Although the specifications for the iPad 9 are a step down from those of the iPad Air 5, so is the iPad's price, which starts at $250 less than the iPad Air 5. That's a big savings for users who don't require the speed and power of a higher-end model.

The iPad 9th generation includes an A13 Bionic chip, is available in 64GB and 256GB capacities, has two speakers, includes an 8MP Wide or a 12MP Ultra Wide camera, and records in 1080p HD. With its 10.2-inch Retina display and two colors to choose from (grey and silver), the iPad 9 is a pleasure to look at. It also supports the 1st generation Apple Pencil.

Two iPads side by side
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