It’s that time of year again, when device manufacturers are vying for a slice of your precious holiday expenditure. Driven by feelings of guilt and inadequacy (maybe that’s just me?), we spend more of our hard earned money to show our love and appreciation for family near and far. And what says love if not one of Apple’s “completely redesigned iPads”?
The iPad’s long been one of Apple’s more popular gift items, and the 10th generation version, boasting four new colors and that redesign, seems like it could be a prime holiday present. Too bad it’s essentially just an iPad Air 4 from 2020. That’s right. Our teardown reveals that the iPad Air 4, now discontinued, has the same specs as the iPad 10 with just a few minor changes: The front-facing camera is 7MP against the iPad 10’s 12MP, and the camera is physically located in a different spot and supports Center Stage.
You could even say that the iPad Air 4 is better than the 10 in some key regards, starting with the widely ridiculed Apple Pencil Gen 1. The Gen 1 Pencil is a device released back in 2015 and it was an oddball device even back then. It’s just plain awkward. But that’s not reason enough to dislike something. The fact that it requires a USB-C to Lightning connector to work with the iPad 10 is reason enough—it means we’re producing more plastic waste just to keep a legacy device in production.
That’s not all. The Air supports the Gen 2 Apple Pencil, both the old Magic Keyboard and the new Folio Keyboard, a P3 screen with around 25% greater color variance, and it’s around $200 cheaper. It also comes in five “vibrant” colors, not four.
Don’t believe me? Have a look for yourself.
Our teardown confirmed these suspicions. When comparing it against our teardown of the iPad Air 4, it’s clear that we’re looking at an iPad Air 4 rebrand, not a “completely redesigned iPad.”
We’ve also posted our chip ID guide for those interested in seeing the changes at the board level, like the updated Bluetooth module.
Everything from the landscape speakers to the Touch ID to the battery capacity are the same. In a heads up comparison, the only thing really working against the iPad Air 4 is the fact that it has a laminated display, which means that the screen can potentially be more expensive to replace. So, with the iPad 10, a cracked glass panel doesn’t necessarily mean an expensive screen replacement. This reduces the number of parts ending up in a landfill but do you know what else reduces waste? Showing some love for those older devices already out there in the world. There are hundreds if not thousands of iPad Air 4’s for sale on various online marketplaces.
And if you’re worried about a warranty, there are services out there that offer extended warranties on refurbished goods.
On the Apple Pencil Gen 1 controversy, Apple claimed that there simply wasn’t enough space inside the device to support both the landscape front-facing camera and the wireless charging mechanisms required by the Gen 2 Pencil. And there is some truth to that as you can see from this side by side comparison.
You can clearly see where the wireless charging mechanism makes contact with the side of the iPad Air 5 and it’s not huge. In fact, it’s tiny. I think what Apple’s engineers meant is that there isn’t enough space in the center of the device to have both the front-facing camera and the charging mechanism in one place. Without moving the camera, the only option left is shifting the charging mechanism slightly up or down. Well you can’t move it up because the pencil would then cover the volume buttons. And you can’t move it down far enough to clear the camera and the magnets without having the pencil stick out from the end of the iPad.
So why not have the wireless charging mechanism on one of the other three sides? Well the bottom is out of the question. That’s reserved for keyboard attachments. That leaves either of the short sides. One has the Touch ID button which would get in the way and the other has the USB-C charge port which would get covered up by the pencil.
As pointed out by my colleague Michael, the engineers were probably desperate to get away from the Gen 1 Pencil but simply couldn’t make the Gen 2 work with the iPad 10. Who knows, this whole problem may need a redesign of the Pencil to have the charging mechanism sit off center so it can coexist with a landscape camera.
Despite the plausible idea that Apple reluctantly included support for the Gen 1 Pencil, we can’t ignore the fact that Apple also went to great lengths to design a whole new keyboard for this iPad. So it doesn’t seem unreasonable to at least ask why an updated version of the Pencil wasn’t considered at the same time, maybe one with a replaceable battery even.
All in all, this device is baffling, interesting, and disappointing all in one go. What is it that we’re paying for with the iPad 10, the product itself or the marketing campaign? Because it seems clear to me that the iPad Air 4 would be the obvious choice over the iPad 10 unless you desperately need that landscape camera.
Unless I missed something? Let me know in the comments.