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Apple iPhone SE 2020 with charging pad

Sometimes the stars align. Apple set out its hardware stall in early 2020 with advanced, yet lower priced, iPhones, iPads and Macs. The the pandemic hit.

Affordable models arrived as the world tightened its belt to deal with the inevitable downturn.

Take the iPhone SE. It looks like a two-year-old iPhone on the outside. Yet inside the case it has a 2020 processor. The A13 Bionic chip also powers the iPhone 11.

Lockdown ready

April’s story calls it an iPhone that’s right for lockdown times. News reports suggest the SE sell faster than Apple expected. The company struggled to meet demand. Although that could also be down to pandemic supply chain problems.

Last month’s iPhone SE review says: “This may not be the most exciting iPhone from a technology point of view. Yet it is the iPhone a lot of people have been waiting for.”

You can’t argue a NZ$800 phone is cheap. Many readers will wince if we describe it as affordable.

Yet it puts advanced technology and, arguably, the best experience in reach of more buyers.

The iPhone SE stacks up well against similar price competitors. If Android is not your thing and you prefer to avoid second hand hardware, its $800 price tag is tempting.

iPad

This year’s base iPad model costs NZ$600. You get a lot of iPad, but not enough storage. Its 32GB is not enough for most uses. Pay $780 and you’ll get a 128GB model. It represents good value for money.

Move up to the iPad Pro and prices start at NZ$1500 for an 11-inch model. That’s in line with prices two years ago but you get more iPad. The base Pro now comes with 128GB at the price of the two year old 64GB model.

Although currency movements haven’t been kind to New Zealand, prices for new MacBook Airs are still $100 or so lower than the models they replace. They come with better keyboards. Apple kept MacBook Pro prices in line with earlier models, but bumped the storage. Likewise the Mac mini.

Apple remains at the more expensive end of the market when benchmarked against similar hardware from other laptop makers. Yet the gap has narrowed. If you like the performance, the operating system and the wider Apple experience that margin is less of a barrier than it was.

Apple still has nosebleed prices if you know where to look. You could fork out NZ$10,800 for the basic Tower version of the Mac Pro. A full configured model can cost more than NZ$94,000. That includes NZ$700 to put wheels on the beast.

That’s not likely to be on your shopping list. A nice iPad keyboard might be. Apple wants NZ$549 for the iPad Pro Magic Keyboard. That’s pushing it.

Some incorrect prices were shown in an earlier version of this post. 

ipad air

An enforced stay at home meant a change of emphasis for personal technology. The Apple iPad proved the best tool of all.

Here in New Zealand we spent five weeks at lockdown level 4 and two weeks at level 3.

For most of us that meant staying at home apart from exercise, trips to buy food or urgent medical appointments.

Above all it meant working and being entertained at home. For that you need a computing device, the right software and decent connectivity.

iPad ticks all the boxes

Phones, tablets and personal computers all fit the bill, but the one that delivered best on all counts turned out to an iPad.

It could be any iPad. In my case it was the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, but most of what I’m about to say could equally apply to a basic NZ$600 iPad.

The iPad has the perfect combination of features for working at home. The screen is much bigger than on a phone.

Videoconferencing is a breeze on an iPad. If you are lucky enough to work with other Apple users the FaceTime app is excellent. We used it for three way catch-ups with our daughters who were locked down elsewhere.

Not everyone you deal with chooses Apple kit. Zoom and most other popular videoconference tools work fine on the iPad. In fact I find they work better on the iPad than anything else.

That’s entertainment

The iPad is also great for watching Netflix and other online entertainment. Sadly there was no sport in the lockdown, but it’s great to cuddle up warm in the wee small hours to watch matches beamed in from the other side of the world.

All iPads are good for video, the 12.9-inch screen is better for older, weaker eyes. It’s also possible to wirelessly connect the iPad to a big TV screen. In our case we use a Chromecast.

Add a keyboard to an iPad and it becomes a basic computer. You can surf the web, read and compose emails, write blog posts like this one or even wrangle Office apps like Microsoft Word and Excel.

It’s possible to write without a keyboard. I’ve posted elsewhere about my keyboard-free iPad writing experience.

Yet a real keyboard is better. I have an Apple Magic Keyboard, the iPad Pro Smart Keyboard and a couple of older Logitech Bluetooth keyboard. All work a treat.

Creativity

There are creative apps. My iPad doubles as a music workstation, photo editing terminal and games machine. Apple’s Pencil helps when it comes to fine drawing or other on screen work.

I also download magazines, books, audio books, podcasts and music to the iPad. It’s a great reader.

Yes, you can do all the above with a phone. Yet the bigger screen improves everything, except portability, which isn’t a huge deal in a lockdown.

Best of all the iPad’s form means you can do all these things from a desk, from the dining room table, from the deck, sofa or the bed.

Value

Apple iPads can be good value. As already mentioned the cheapest full size model costs NZ$600.

That’s much cheaper than an equivalent phone and, by the time you’re added a keyboard, the price is on a par with everyday laptops.

That basic iPad will done everything, although it may wheeze a little with more demanding create apps.

While the basic iPad is a bargain at $600, you may be reading this and thinking you could economise further with a cheaper tablet. There are pitfalls with that plan.

A cheaper tablet will have a lower quality screen. In general it will be slower than the iPad and may not be so flexible with software choices.

You’ll need to budget extra for a keyboard. There are excellent Logitech keyboards for around $170. These will also protect your iPad. The Apple Magic Keyboard doesn’t hook up direct to the iPad – I use a stand when I wrote on the iPad with this keyboard. It costs $150.

Apple’s Smart Keyboards are pricey. The 11-inch model costs NZ$330 while the 12.9-inch iPad Pro Smart Keyboard costs $359. I find they work the best, but they bump up the entry price a lot.

Storage

The other cost to consider is buying more storage with your iPad. The basic model comes with 32GB. That’s fine if you are at home and have an external hard drive or a cloud account with plenty of storage. I’d recommend finding the extra $180 to get the 128GB model.

Adding a keyboard and storage takes the iPad price up to around the $1000 mark. If you don’t have a specific need for a laptop and there is maybe already a more traditional computer at home, this would be good choice.

Is it good value? It depends on how you use technology.

It clearly is good value for me. Apple recently added an app to the iPad that tells you how much time you spend with the device. During a typical lockdown week I was spending about 45 hours on the iPad and less than an hour on the iPhone.

 

For the last four or five years camera upgrades have dominated new phone launches. Now Apple is doing the same with the 2020 12.9-inch iPad Pro which comes with added lidar.

The processor upgrade in the 2020 12.9-inch iPad Pro is incremental. Apple has done much more with the rear camera. Or, to be more accurate, cameras. The cluster includes two cameras and a lidar sensor.

For the last five years, phone upgrades have centred on beefed up cameras. This follows that path.

The iPad’s main wide angle camera is like the 28mm equivalent camera on the earlier 2018 12.9-inch iPad Pro. It has 12 megapixels. If there’s a performance difference, I can’t see it.

By tablet standards it’s still a great camera although it’s not as good as the camera on the iPhone 11. You wouldn’t expect that.

Apple 2020 12.9-inch iPad Pro ultra wide camera

 

 

Second rear camera

There’s also a 10 megapixel ultra-wide angle camera. It’s the first time the iPad has had a second camera. For the most part it helps the iPad Pro take better pictures in poor light conditions.

In practice the two cameras work together much of the time.

Taking pictures with a 12.9-inch iPad Pro is unwieldy compared with the iPhone. Using on screen controls also gets in the way. And it feels a bit odd standing there with a magazine-size device shooting images.

Wide-angle lens

The wide angle lens makes this even harder when focusing on near objects. That’s because a lever effect comes into play, so a small movement moves the camera target a fair distance.

No doubt there are enthusiasts who swear by the iPad Pro camera and do amazing things with it. For me, it is for opportunistic snapshots. I also use the iPad camera as a replacement for a scanner. It does a great job of capturing images sitting on my desk.

On the front of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro is a seven megapixel camera for selfies and video conferencing. It’s limited when compared to the rear cameras, but is great for FaceTime or Skype calls.

Video conference camera better than laptops

I’ve been using it while working from home. The picture quality is way better than you get on a MacBook or, for that matter, most Windows laptops.1

The only issue with the front camera is that sits at the top of the display when you hold the iPad in portrait mode. This is the same as the camera on an iPhone.

It makes sense when you are using the tablet as a tablet. Yet when it is sitting on your desk, perhaps with an attached keyboard, the camera is off the left hand side.

The software is clever enough to adjust the image so that when you look face on at the iPad in landscape mode, it centres your image. If you want to look people in the eye, you need to remember to stare at the lefthand edge of the display.

Measuring with lidar on a 2020 12.9-inch iPad Pro

Lidar

When Apple told me there was a lidar sensor, my first thought that it would gauge depth. This would help with photography. Although that’s possible and, in theory, could be a future software update, it’s not why Apple included the sensor.

For Apple, lidar is all about improving the augmented reality experience. You can use it to accurately measure the space around you.

The iPad has a new iPadOS measuring app that uses this. More often lidar is used in conjunction with augmented realty apps and games. You might, for example, have AR games characters running around your living room.

Lidar technology is used by autonomous and semi-autonomous cars to map the immediate world around them. The iPad version works up to 5 metres which is more than enough inside most homes, but is less useful out of doors.

There’s no question this technology is clever, but I consider it a nice-to-have feature. It is far from essential as things stand right now. That could all change with the arrival of new applications that make use of it. Nothing springs to mind, but if it did I’d be a wealthy software entrepreneur not a journalist.


  1. The iPad Pro video calling experience is vastly better than calling on any laptop. This alone could justify the expense of buying a 2020 iPad Pro. ↩︎

Apple’s 2020 iPad Pro 12.9-inch brings a useful speed bump, overhauls the main camera, adds full mouse and trackpad support.

This is part one of a series of posts looking at the new iPad Pro.

The 2018 re-imagining of the iPad Pro was a huge leap forward for tabletkind.

Apple created a laptop replacement that keeps the advantages of a tablet. The result was to deliver a productive computing experience. It has little in common with the Windows alternatives, yet is still capable of serious work1.

This year’s update builds on that. Most, but not all, of the hardware changes are incremental. We will look at the big changes in future posts. What has changed since 2018 is that iPadOS has come of age. The software is now far better suited to mobile computing.

All the best things about the 2018 iPad Pro remain. The design remains stunning.

The screen is still beautiful. In use it is nicer than any other tablet display I’ve seen. There is next to nothing in the way of bezel, that’s the thin strip surrounding the display. Apple’s designers squared off the edges and went for rounded corners. It feels so right that it’s hard to envisage what a better design could look like.

Apple 2020 iPad Pro

Bionic

While the A12Z Bionic system on a chip is faster than its ancestor, few will notice much improvement. The 2018 model used the A12X. Like its predecessor there are eight cores divided into two groups. It uses four cores for high performance, four for efficiency.

The A12Z is not a Great Leap Forward, more a pigeon step in the right direction. No-one is going to upgrade their iPad Pro for a better raw computing performance.

I noticed a little more power with graphics-oriented tasks like photo-editing. There was extra speed when working with audio applications. Other high performance tasks were also a tad faster than before. While the responsiveness was noticeable, it wasn’t enough to measure. It felt better, but I can’t put numbers on it.

When it comes to everyday tasks like browsing or writing; I couldn’t see a difference.

That’s not to say the 2020 iPad Pro 12.9-inch isn’t fast by today’s computing standards.

The 2020 iPad Pro not as grunty as the new MacBook Pro. But that’s a high octane laptop for power users. It performs very well compared with the 2019 MacBook Air which uses the Intel Core i3 processor.

2020 iPad Pro 12.9-inch battery life

I’ve used the 2018 iPad Pro as my main portable device for over a year. When I’m not pushing it hard, the battery can last for as long as 12 hours continual use.

iPad battery life is dependent on the task in hand. Run high end software and you might only get six hours of intense computing.

With basic tablet tasks, the 2018 iPad Pro is good for a full day and then some. I could get 10 hours. When taking meal breaks into account there’s enough to get me from Auckland to Singapore2.

There is a fraction less battery life in the 2020 iPad Pro 12.9-inch. It can still cope with a full day’s everyday work with a little left over. I managed a little over nine hours. Thanks to the Covid–19 lockdown, I didn’t get to test this on the road.

You might get the impression from above that the performance is good, but not outstanding. After all, we’re talking about an incremental speed bump when compared to a two year old iPad.

This fails to take into account how far the 2018 iPad Pro was ahead of its time. When Apple launched the 2018 iPad Pro, it was, according to some benchmarks, the fastest portable computing in the market. The 2020 is still blistering fast by everyday laptop standards.


  1. It’s remarkable how unlike the two are considering most of the time they are used for similar tasks. ↩︎
  2. I doubt I’ll be doing that again any time soon. ↩︎

IDC reports the world wide tablet market fell 1.5 percent in 2019. Total shipments fell to 144 million units. The Apple iPad strengthend its position as the top tablet brand.

The only winner in the sector was Apple, which saw a fourth quarter year-on-year growth of 22.7 percent in iPad sales. Much of that growth came in the last quarter of 2019 after the launch of new models and the arrival of iPadOS 13.

Apple’s growth for the full 2019 year was 15.2 percent. It sold a shade under 50 million units.

This undermines the negative arguments made by John Gruber and other prominent Apple bloggers about the iPad operating system. The geeks may not like Apple’s iPad direction but customers do.

Apple iPad clear tablet leader

Apple now has a 36.5 percent share of the tablet market when measured by units. It is bigger than the next three tablet brands combined. The company’s top tablet models tend to be more expensive than offerings from rivals, which means Apple would dominate tablet revenues and, by extension, tablet profits.

Samsung is the next best selling tablet brand with its Galaxy Tab range. The company sold 21.7 million units in 2019, that’s well under half Apple’s result. Samsung Tablet sales fell 7.2 percent during the year.

Android doesn’t translate well to the tablet format, but Samsung has the best implementation.  It’s tablets are a decent alternative to the iPad for customers who want to stay in the Android world or opt out of Apple’s orbit.

Huawei under pressure

Third place Huawei faces a challenge reaching customers in the US market and, no doubt, the security scare has affected sales in other markets. Even so, it dropped less than Samsung. Huawei has some solid, if unoriginal, offerings in this space. In 2019 Huawei’s tablet sales fell by 3.5 percent.

We don’t see much of fourth place Amazon in New Zealand. The company makes a range of low price tablets with an idiosyncratic version of Android. For the whole of 2019 Amazon’s sales climbed 10 percent, but there was a big 30 percent dropped in the last quarter.

Lenovo with an 8.5 percent market share also saw a small drop over 2019 for its low-cost tablets.

Top Five Tablet Companies, Worldwide Shipments, Market Share, and Growth, 2019 (Preliminary results, combined company view for the current quarter only, shipments in millions)
Vendor 2019 Unit Shipments 2019 Market Share 2018 Shipments 2018 Market Share Year-Over-Year Growth
1. Apple 49.9 34.6% 43.3 29.6% 15.2%
2. Samsung 21.7 15.1% 23.4 16.0% -7.2%
3. Huawei 14.1 9.8% 14.6 10.0% -3.5%
4. Amazon.com 13.0 9.0% 11.8 8.1% 9.9%
5. Lenovo 8.5 5.9% 8.8 6.0% -4.2%
Others 37.0 25.7% 44.3 30.3% -16.6%
Total 144.1 100.0% 146.2 100.0% -1.5%
Source: IDC Worldwide Quarterly PCD Tracker, January 30, 2020

Whatever the expert users say about the iPad, it strikes a chord with Apple’s customers. The move to sell an Apple-branded keyboard and the Apple Pencil, along with the, controversial in geek circles, upgrades to iPadOS have all propelled the iPad. It gives owners of earlier models a solid reason to upgrade and pulls in some buyers who may have considered laptops. The other strategy Apple has got right it pricing. There are low-cost models at the bottom along with more expensive pro models at the top.