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Minor Update? The New iPad Is a Breakthrough

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When people talk about new Apple products, they tend to lose perspective. When the same company has made the century's three most iconic devices -- the iPod, iPhone, and iPad -- some expect something mind-blowing every time Tim Cook and company take the stage.

Take last fall's launch of the iPhone 4S. Much like the iPhone 3GS two years before it, it was a minor update. This isn't out of the norm; Apple has never been a company to add features for their own sake. But because everyone had spent months anticipating a radically-redesigned iPhone 5, many pundits branded the 4S as a disappointment.

This perception has continued with the new 3rd-generation iPad. The rumor mill had long ago concluded that it would have an upgraded Retina display. A better camera and LTE were also highly anticipated. So when the actual product was revealed with few other sexy features, that loss of perspective showed its ugly face. Some pundits declared that the iPad's lack of Siri, a quad-core processor, and time travel capabilities make it a dud.

These critics are off of their rockers. I believe that the new iPad represents the biggest advance that an Apple product has taken in the last two years.

Specs, shmecs

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So why do some critics insist that the new iPad is a minor update? It can be traced back to an obsession with specs. More cores, more gigahertz, more RAM... bigger, better, faster stronger. Geeks give specs so much attention because they can be easily quantified.

But there's a huge problem with this approach: it flies in the face of everything that Apple stands for. Apple isn't -- and never has been -- about the objective and measurable. Apple isn't about specs any more than The Beatles were about notes and scales. Apple has always prioritized the customer's subjective experience.

It's why the company insists on controlling the entire product, from software to hardware to the retail store that it's sold in. Specs are important, but they're merely means to a greater end.

Breakthrough experience

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The question, then, isn't how the specs in the new iPad compare with those of the iPad 2, the Kindle Fire, or the Transformer Prime. The question is how much the new iPad enhances the customer's experience. My conclusion: it enhances the experience by leaps and bounds.

That Retina display -- all 3,145,728 pixels of it -- is a monumental achievement in mobile computing. Just a few months ago, some analysts said it was impossible. After all, the display has more pixels in it than your 1080p HDTV does.

The iPad's Retina display may enhance the user experience more than any other feature that Apple has added to a product. With the Retina display, text looks like it's printed on a page. Images look like über-high-res prints. After more developers have updated their games for the new iPad, they will start to rival the games on your Xbox 360 or PS3 (thanks in no small part to the new iPad's quad-core graphics).

What the spec-obsessed pundits and bloggers don't understand about the new iPad is that the display isn't just another spec that you tic off of a list. The display is the window to everything that you do on your tablet.

According to Apple, the magic of the iPad is that it disappears into the background and lets whatever you're doing take center stage. It gets out of the way, and you become one with your vacation pictures, that great new book, or Angry Birds. One of the biggest stumbling blocks in that slow dance between you and your content has been removed. There are no more blurry pixels reminding you that this is a computer; now it's just you and your stuff.

This is what Apple has always wanted. The company was built on the premise that computers should be made for people, not geeks. The less a computer is like a computer, the more it becomes a tool for enhancing your life. The new iPad may be the least computer-like computer we've ever seen.

It's one thing to be disappointed when an Apple update -- like the iPhone 4S or 3GS -- is incremental. But there's nothing incremental about the 3rd-generation iPad. The window between you and your content just went from spotty, dirty, and smudged to crystal-clear. It's enough to give you a whole new perspective.

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