The buzz on Oct. 22 was pretty high as three companies - or perhaps more accurately 2-1/2 companies - introduced new tablet computers to the market. I say 2-1/2 since Nokia was one of those companies and it will soon be part of Microsoft, one of the other three to roll out new tablets.
First up, and they get to be first because they were first to market with a tablet that pretty much created the market, is Apple. The new Apple Air, which is the fifth-generation of the tablet first introduced in April 2010. In three short years, this tablet brand has reset the market, creating a go-anywhere device that gives you access to the Internet and a lot more.
For 2013, and just in time for gift buying, the iPad Air comes into the arena lighter, a little thinner and ready to rumble as other manufacturers push the envelope in this market segment. The new machine weighs in at 1 lb., dropping nearly 30% of its weight from the iPad 4 version. Apple was able to maintain battery life with the new machine - according to observers - and that high resolution Retina display.
The machine is so light that one computer industry reviewer actually tossed it in the air. Weight has been the bane of tablets since Apple launched its first unit. And it weighed in at less than 2 pounds.
This new lighter iPad has a faster brain - the custom-designed A7 chip - that allows Apple engineers to manage power. And the company claims that new new iOS7, launched in September, was made for this newer machine.
Second out of the chute is a revised iPad Mini. Apple jacked up the resolution of its popular iPad Mini so it too has the Retina display. The higher rez display is a significant difference. In our household we have two iPads - an iPad 2 and and iPad 3. The 3 has the Retina display and when I pick up the 2 you really see a difference.
Both new tablets offer Multiple-In-Multiple-Out Wi-Fi tech that doubles up the signal inside the machine to boost data transit speed on a local network. And those purchased with cellular data capability have enhanced LTE antennas to work better across the spectrum too.
In addition, Apple has a new policy for new devices offering its iLife suite of software for free on the machines. That means Pages, Numbers and Keystone, along with iMovie, iPhoto and Garageband are now included for free on the tablets. And available as free updates for existing users. This will blunt Microsoft's Windows tablet efforts which include Office and Outlook for free (see more on the new Microsoft tablets next).
All around, this is a significant upgrade to the iPad family. Ordering for the iPad Air can start Nov. 1 and pricing starts from $499 for a 16-gigabyte Wi-Fi unit. For my taste the smallest one - if you capture data, and include movies or take a lot of pictures, is at least the 32GB version at $599. Add LTE and it jumps the price $130 for each memory level. A tricked out 128GB iPad Air with LTE (fastest cellular data network no matter if you're taking Verizon, AT&T or others) is $929.
The iPad Mini ranges in price from $399 for the 16GB all the way to $829 for a 128GB version with Wi-Fi and LTE. You can start ordering a new iPad Air Nov. 1, but the iPad Mini won't be available until later in November.
Check out the new machines and more specs by visiting www.apple.com/ipad
Microsoft pushes new Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2
On the same day the iPad Air debuted, Microsoft was making its own announcement. The company officially launched the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2, and added new accessories as well.
Both tablets work on a Windows-based operating system. The Surface 2 uses the mobile-friendly Windows 8.1 RT platform. The Surface 2 Pro uses Windows 8.1 Pro - this is a full-fledged computer in tablet form.
First up is the Surface 2 which has a 10.6-inch ClearType Full high-defnition screen that renders full 1080p video. It also has a USB 3.0 port for downloading data. Microsoft is always quick to point out that the iPad has no data ports. The Surface 2 cameras have been improved with the front camera operating at 3.5 megapixels and the rear camera at 5 megapixels.
Yet Microsoft engineers have brought these new features to a Surface 2 that's lighter and thinner than the original Surface. Everyone is losing weight. Microsoft notes that Windows 8.1 RT, the latest version of that software, offers multitasking, built-in apps and cloud connectivity. And the company rolled out Xbox Music allowing you to stream millions of songs for free. And there's an updated video app as well.
Microsoft is pushing apps, but Apple so far is way ahead. In the App Store for Apple you can download any of 475,000 apps, well ahead of all competitors. Though Android programmers are keeping up.
The Surface 2 is available in 32GB and 64GB configurations and starts at $449.
Second on the list, but the higher-power player the Surface Pro 2. Microsoft calls this a true laptop replacement with the capability of running all Windows software including Microsoft Office and apps from the Windows Store. It is powered by a fourth-generation Intel Core i5 processor that delivers increased performance, and Microft claims up to 75% longer battery life than its predecessor. That was a complaint against the original Surface Pro.
When you read the specs of the Surface Pro 2 it is more like reading those for a laptop. The machine starts at $899 and is offered in 64GB and 128GB configurations with 4GB of RAM and it's offered in 256GB and 512GB configurations with 8GB of RAM. You can learn more about all the specs at www.surface.com.
One unique feature of the Surface family is a screen cover that's also a keyboard. In this latest generation announcement, Microsoft announced seven new accessories for the Surface. We'll touch on a couple here, but you can learn more at that website.
The Touch Cover 2 is thinner and lighter than the original. Did we already talk about weight? Microsoft says the new Touch Cover 2 is "2.75 millimeters thin" and it features backlit keys for better readability. It's also said to be more rigid and better register your keystrokes. The original Touch Cover took a little extra pressure, or tapping, to get your input. Price for the Touch Cover 2 is $119.99.
The Type Cover 2 has the same thin design, is now backlit and comes in four colors - cyan, magenta, purple and black. It's also quieter when striking keys. Price for this new cover is $129.99.
Coming in 2014 is the Power Cover which has the same typing experience as the other two covers, but can add 50 percent additional battery life to your Surface 2 or Surface Pro 2. Estimated price for this is $199.99, with an early 2014 launch date.
There are other accessories, check them out at the Surface website.
Nokia jumps into tablet business
Nokia, once the undisputed leader in cellphones, has fallen on hard times. The company had an early smartphone, but missed the concept of the app - which Apple essentially created. Today, the firm is selling its cellphone tech business to Microsoft, but that deal isn't closed yet and at the same time Apple and Microsoft were having press conferences, Nokia was too.
Part of that announcement was the launch of the new Lumia 2520 tablet. It's a Windows 8.1-based machine, but the company also claims it'll have the most indoor and outdoor readability with its screen design. That's a feature many farmers may like, since tablet reading and sunlight often don't mix.
The Lumia 2520 has a 10.1-inch high-definition display. However the company is jacking up specs in new ways too. The machine comes with both 4G LTE and Wi-Fi connectivity, a 6.7 megapixel camera, and uses Zeiss optics, long known for their precision. The Zeiss move is the first for a tablet.
On the software side, the new Lumia 2520 will come installed with Dragons Adventure, an interactive game developed in partnership with DreamWorks Animation - which brought you the movie "How to Train Your Dragon." More interesting to farmer users is Storyteller, which is an application that offers a new way to curate images and videos. They show up on a "story map" as you browse through what you have.
And there's Nokia Video Director, a video editing application that even allows you to be more creative with video you've shot with the tablet. And the tablet offers true offline mapping since it comes installed with HERE maps.
The tablet is said to have a fast-charging design and it comes in four colors - red or white in a glossy finish and cyan or black in a matte finish. The new tablet starts at $499 and will start rolling into the U.S. market in the fourth quarter. The tablet can also be outfitted with a Nokia Power Keyboard, which will be priced at $149.
You can learn a lot more about the Nokia 2520 at Nokia Conversations.