What Is the iPad Air?

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

iPad models

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The iPad Air was Apple's middle-of-the-line 9.7-inch tablets. The original iPad Air was announced on October 22, 2013, alongside the iPad Mini 2, and it is the fifth generation of the original iPad.

The change in name from simply "iPad" to "iPad Air" signifies a change in philosophy at Apple to break the iPad lineup out into different sizes, which includes the 7.9-inch iPad Mini, the iPad Pro that offers several models, including 9.7-inch, 10.5-inch, 11-inch, and the largest 12.9-inch versions.

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 of 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 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. And of course, it didn't have the phone capabilities. But for the most part, the two were similar. 

However, 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 original iPad Air was capable of slide-over multitasking, which allows you to bring up another app in a column along the side of the screen, but it was not capable of split-screen or picture-in-a-picture. 

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.

The iPad Air vs. the iPad Mini

The most noticeable difference between the iPad Air and the iPad Mini is the screen size. While the 9.7-inch display of the iPad Air doesn't sound much larger than the 7.9-inch display of the Mini, it actually grants about 50% more screen space. This makes the iPad Air better for productivity applications, with activities like moving text around the screen and manipulating images being 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.

In comparing the top-of-the-line models in both categories, the iPad Mini 3 is powered by the same processor as the iPad Air, which means the iPad Air 2 is about 40% faster. It also has more RAM for applications, which makes it more capable at multi-tasking without the iPad slowing down under the strain.

The iPad Air vs. the iPad Pro

Apple's iPad Pro line of tablets are beginning to approach laptops in terms of pure processing power. The iPad Pro models released in late 2018 feature significant design changes over past models by eliminating the home button, introducing Face ID, and having a much thinner bezel that increases screen space without greatly increasing the overall physical size of the devices.

There are two models with the thin bezel, one with an 11-inch screen and the biggest 12.9-inch screen. The prior iPad Pro models come in both a 9.7-inch size, which matches the iPad Air line of tablets and a 12.9-inch super-sized version.

The latest models of the iPad Pro feature Apple Face ID technology for unlocking the device. They do not offer Touch ID, however, as the home button was eliminated in the latest versions.

In terms of pure power, the latest iPad Pro models offer significant computing power and move the iPad ever closer to being replacements for laptops.

The iPad Pro also has four speakers. One speaker is positioned at each corner and the iPad detects how it is being held in order to best use these speakers, so you always get good, quality sound out of it. Both versions of the iPad Pro line support Smart Keyboards and the Apple Pencil, which is similar to a stylus. The latest iteration of the Apple Pencil that comes with some significant advances—including the much-appreciated ability to magnetically attach the pencil to the side of the latest model for charging.

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