What is the iPad Air?

A detailed look at the iPad Air's features

iPad models
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The iPad Air is 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 the "iPad" to the "iPad Air" signifies a change in philosophy at Apple to break the iPad lineup out into different sizes. The iPad Mini is the 7.9-inch version of the iPad.  The iPad Pro has both a 9.7-inch version and a whopping 12.9-inch version.

Apple skipped releasing an "iPad Air" model of the iPad in 2016, but there are rumors of an iPad Air 3 to be released in early 2017.   

The iPad Air 2

If the name change from the "iPad" to the "iPad Air" represented a philosophical change at Apple in regards to the iPad lineup, the iPad Air 2 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 extremely 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 allows you to keep playing videos in a corner of the screen while you do something else like browse the web.  The original iPad Air is capable of slide-over multitasking, which allows you to bring up another app in a column along the side of the screen, but not capable of split-screen or picture-in-a-picture.  

The 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 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 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 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 the Air 2, does not include Touch ID and only has a 5 MP back-facing camera compared to the Air 2's 8 MP camera.  It is also no longer for sale at Apple's store, but it can represent a good deal if you buy one used.  

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 much better at productivity, with activities like moving text around the screen and manipulating images becoming much easier with more display real estate. On the flipside, the iPad Mini is much easier to carry and operate with a single hand, 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 designed to compete with laptops in terms of pure processing power.  The Pro comes in both a 9.7-inch size, which matches the iPad Air line of tablets, and a 12.9-inch super-sized version.   In terms of pure power, the iPad Pro is similar to a mid-range laptop. 

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 support the Apple Pencil, which is similar to a stylus, and Smart Keyboards that are powered by and communicate with the iPad through a new connector on the side of the iPad.