Despite game-changing features, new iPad not a must-have for everyone

by Phil Hornshaw

While hardcore gamers, entertainment junkies and content creators will no doubt be lining up to purchase the new iPad when it becomes available on March 16, most consumers who own previous models can save their $500 or more and not upgrade to the new device.

Apple today showcased incredibly impressive new features at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, including a much-improved camera, better graphics, and faster 4G LTE connections. But for most casual users, functions like reading email, surfing the Internet and using e-books are going to go mostly unchanged.

So when figuring out if the new iPad is worth grabbing if you already own an iPad 2, it really comes down to what you like to do with your tablet. Are you more of a content creator who enjoys blogging, capturing videos and images and sharing with friends? Than by all means grab the new device. But if you mostly browse the Internet and read email, you can survive without it (or if you don’t already own an iPad 2, pay a reduced rate of $399 for the “older” device).

To help you decide whether or not the new iPad is worth buying, here is a summary of the new features and how they improve over previous models.

Better graphics make for a more entertaining device

Apple put a big emphasis on graphical and image quality with the new iPad. Adding a Retina display to the device and Apple’s new A5X processor, the new iPad has the tools to be a pretty impressive graphical powerhouse. During the demonstration of the new device, Apple showed off the display and how sharp the images it can create really are. The 2048 x 1536 resolution packs 3.1 million pixels and is about a million pixels more dense than a 1080p display. Translation: the new iPad’s display is very pretty.

Videos are going to look even sharper than they ever have before, and Apple used the announcement to show off new iCloud functionality that allows users to re-download movies they’ve purchased through iTunes. Kudos to Apple here for not making consumers pay for entertainment they already purchased from the company.

New iPad a gaming powerhouse on par with major consoles

For games, Namco developer James Shelton showed off flight simulator Sky Gamblers and stated during the presentation that the new iPad includes more graphical memory and processing power than the Xbox 360 or the PlayStation 3. The A5X is a pretty definitive step up from the A5 Apple rolled out last year. Apple put some pretty solid emphasis on the iPad as a gaming machine by showing off Epic Games’ Infinity Blade: Dungeons, as well. Previous versions of Infinity Blade (Infinity Blade and Infinity Blade II), more than any other apps, showcase why the iPad is already comparable to any gaming device in the world. Gamers make up a huge portion of the iOS community and games remain the most popular app segment in the mobile space. So if you’re into gaming, the new iPad is going to make for incredible new experiences and probably something you won’t be able to live without.

4G upgrade satisfies a need for speed

Then there’s the 4G LTE upgrade. That’s not for everyone, obviously. The current iPad 2 is available today in 3G and Wi-Fi-only models, and there are plenty of iPad owners who don’t use their tablets with a cellular data connection. But for those who do want mobile Internet, 4G LTE is going to be blindingly fast, allowing for higher-quality video streams and better online gaming speeds for players. The new iPad is Apple’s first device to support 4G LTE networks and it sounds like it will be supporting a lot of them. If mobile data is an important feature to you, this is as good as it gets.

New camera courts content creators

There is one more segment of users that are going to want to seriously consider the new iPad: content creators. Apple has been aggressively shifting the iPad toward encouraging users not just to watch things, read things and view things, but to make things. That has never been more apparent than it is with the new iPad.

Most significantly, Apple added a brand new camera to the new iPad that basically puts it on par with the one found in the iPhone 4S. That’s a big deal, given that most iPad users seem to really shy away from shooting many photos or videos with their iPads because the camera has never been all that high quality, and the device is kind of awkward to hold for that sort of function. But with the power of the Retina display and the A5X processor, it seems pretty clear that Apple wants people to get used to thinking of the iPad as a photography device.

That’s good news, actually, because it’s leading to some very impressive apps. Apple showed off iPhoto, an image editing program for iOS, that looks to be about as powerful and useful as its iMovie and GarageBand apps – which is to say, very useful. The new iPad demo also showed off SketchBook Ink, a drawing app for the iPad that leverages the Retina display to let artists create some impressive works using their touchscreen devices. The new features Apple is bringing to bear are going to further open the iPad to allow professionals, amateurs and artists to make things that previously would have required physical tools or a PC to create. That’s pretty cool.

It all depends on what you want to do with the device

The upgrades between the new iPad and the iPad 2 seem much more substantial than those between the iPad 2 and the original iPad, so if you thought jumping between Apple’s first two devices was worth it, you should definitely consider the new device. When it comes to playing games, watching video or creating content the new hardware in the iPad 2 offers consumers some wonderful opportunities.

However, if you’re content with mostly just browsing the web, emailing and some light gaming, there is no need to upgrade to this new iPad. As we all know, Apple is bound to come out with yet another game-changing tablet device next year (if not sooner).