Apple Unveils Fifth-Generation iPad Air with M1, 5G, and Center Stage
The rumor mill expected Apple to unveil a fifth-generation iPad Air at its Peek Performance event, but most people thought it would be a modest update with the same A15 Bionic processor found in recent iPhone models and the iPad mini.
Instead, Apple announced that the fifth-generation iPad Air uses the M1 chip, which places the mid-range tablet in the same silicon class as the iPad Pro models released last year (see “New iPad Pros Boast M1 Chips and Liquid Retina XDR Display,” 20 April 2021).
Apple needs good arguments to entice budget-minded customers into choosing the 10.9-inch iPad Air over more affordable models. In 2020, it was a physical revamp mimicking the industrial design of iPad Pro models, along with an A14 Bionic chip then exclusive to the iPad Air (see “Apple Redesigns iPad Air, Updates Base-Model iPad,” 15 September 2020).
This year’s iPad Air looks the same as its predecessor and retains its compatibility with the second-generation Apple Pencil. But with its internals—notably that M1 chip—Apple has a persuasive pitch. For the same price as the preceding iPad Air, customers get performance comparable to an iPad Pro, not to mention the MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Pro, Mac mini, and 24-inch iMac, all of which rely on M1 processors (not that iPadOS is a match for macOS at tapping all that power).
Compared to the previous iPad Air’s A14 Bionic:
- The M1’s 8-core CPU provides up to 60% faster performance.
- The M1’s 8-core GPU delivers up to twice the graphics performance.
Apple intends the new iPad Air for tasks that would stymie the previous model, like editing multiple 4K video streams, playing graphics-intensive games, redesigning a room in 3D, and enjoying hyper-realistic augmented reality.
Other key changes in the new iPad Air include:
- Cameras: The front-facing FaceTime HD camera is a 12-megapixel Ultra Wide version (up from 7-megapixel) with the Center Stage feature that automatically pans to keep users in view as they move around and adjusts when additional people join the chat (see “Center Stage Keeps You in the Video Chat Frame,” 23 September 2021). All current iPads now support Center Stage. The rear camera appears mostly unchanged with 12-megapixel resolution and 4K video capture.
- Internet connectivity: The new iPad Air supports 5G, as do the current iPad Pro and iPad mini along with all recent iPhones (see “The iPhone Gets 5G, but What’s It Like in Real-World Use?,” 19 November 2020). However, it doesn’t support the fastest millimeter-wave 5G flavor. The $459 iPad is now the only LTE-only model. The new iPad Air also supports eSIM and Wi-Fi 6.
- USB-C: The previous iPad Air had a USB-C port, but the one on the new iPad Air is twice as fast, with a data transfer speed of up to 10 Gbps. Thunderbolt remains exclusive to the iPad Pro models.
Beyond those changes, many other features remain the same. The Liquid Retina display seems little changed from that of the previous iPad Air with 3.8 million pixels, P3 wide color gamut, True Tone, 500 nits of brightness, and so on. Landscape stereo speakers and Touch ID authentication built into the top button also are comparable. Storage capacity is the same at either 64 GB or 256 GB—Apple has so far disregarded calls for a 128 GB iPad Air and iPad mini.
As before, Apple is offering the iPad Air in five colors. The previous colors were silver, space gray, rose gold, green, and sky blue. The new ones are space gray, starlight (silver/gold), pink, purple, and a new shade of blue.
Wi-Fi-only versions of the iPad Air cost $599 with 64 GB of storage and $749 for 256 GB. Models that add cellular connectivity are $749 with 64 GB and $899 for 256 GB. Availability starts on 18 March 2022.
I’ve been looking for a replacement for my Gen. 6 iPad and I believe this will do nicely. It’s frustrating that I’ll have to cut my current 128 GB storage in half or spend an extra $150 for a glorious 256gb.
Yeah, doesn’t seem like a real choice, does it? The 64gb “option” is just SO cynical, especially on this advanced tech device. To offer 64Gb on the “regular” iPad, only will be ever used for media consumption, older chip, that makes sense, but for this one it’s really just Apple being, frankly, super un-customer friendly. It s/b 128gb or 256gb, same $; I’d still get the 256Gb.
Wouldn’t it be fascinating to know how many of each version they actually make/sell? As in, would the people who buy this device really ever choose 64Gb?
I’m not perturbed by the existence of the 64 GB version for someone who wants all the power of the iPad Air without paying for storage they’ll never use, but I just don’t understand why Apple doesn’t provide the 128 GB middle option.
I guess we have to assume that Apple knows which configurations are most popular for different audiences based on years of sales data, but it seems wildly counterintuitive.
Apple has always had the middle tier be far beyond the entry level, like 4x. The exception being the Pro. For all other iPads (and often also on iPhone), the low-end is usually too tight so then people want to upgrade to the next tier and end up getting often more than they would have otherwise wanted. It’s been like this on iPad for as long as I can remember. It’s good marketing, I’ll give them that.
I gritted my teeth and ordered a 256 GB version after initially ordering, and then canceling, the 64 GB version. I’m not sure what I’ll do with the extra storage, but I have a hunch I will have opportunities to work that M1 hard. Final Cut Pro for iPad, perhaps?
It certainly would be, but I’m sure they don’t want any of their competitors to find out this information.
I’m not going to look it up, but I say “cynical” and “un-customer friendly” because…
How much space does the OS/associated stuff take up?.. I.e., 64Gb left with near nothing and in a world with the photos/vids created by the super high res cameras, not to mention a couple of Netflix movies downloaded for the plane, well, just, yeah, not good.
I get not offering 64, 128, 256 but then you have to make the lowest storage be 128Gb. The first MBAir had 4 Gb ram, 80Gb HDD or 64Gb SSD, all a joke too, 14 years ago.
There are just too many times like this when Apple prioritizes marketing/selling over customer benefit and it’s just garden-variety greedy.
It’s not really clear to me what the point of the new iPad Air is, apart perhaps from being what a basic iPad should be but without resorting to “basic” prices (around the ~ $330 of the regular iPad). IOW, it feels like it appeals more to Apple than to potential buyers.
For anybody who needs more than 64GB, they’d likely be much better off getting the 11" Pro for just $50 more. I’m sure Apple had this upsell in mind very clearly.
Of course, if you’re certain all you’ll need for the next couple years is <64GB, then I see this thing has appeal.
I was making this very choice just about a year ago, when the new 11” Pro was released with the M1. I knew I wanted more than 64 GB, so the choice was between the Pro at 128 and the Air 4 at 256.
The price difference, though, was $180 for the cellular model with AppleCare+. I decided in the end that I didn’t need the extra cameras on the Pro, didn’t need the 5G, could live with Touch ID rather than Face ID, and the A14 was more than close enough to the M1, so I went with the Air.
The difference is now $150; that’s 15% more.
It’s a great almost Pro iPad, and I suspect the Air 5 is even closer.
John Gruber points out the tick-tock nature of iPad lineup updates in his review, along with the fact that there’s only $150 difference between the iPad Air and the 11-inch iPad Pro at the same storage level. For him Face ID makes that worthwhile.
I’m wondering how well the Apple Pencil works with the new iPad. I have a 2017 iPad Pro and first gen Pencil and it’s responsive and accurate. I’m thinking about getting the new Air, but without ProMotion I’m trying to figure out how the Pencil experience is (I’d have to get a second get Pencil as well). Anybody see any reviews that mention this yet?
I have a pencil for the iPad Air 4 and it works just fine. I’m sure it will be just as good for the 5.
I don’t have a new Air 5, but there was a story last week now that people are getting the new device that the build quality may be off. Namely, people are reportedly complaining about the back of the device feeling “thin”.
The source seems to be a single reddit thread, so maybe it needs to be confirmed going forward.
I’m in the market for an iPad Air 5 and I saw the same story. I’d really like to know if anyone here has already gotten one and what they think about the build quality.
Anyone gotten one yet?
We have one. I can only compare it to my Ipad Mini 5th Generation. And it seems fine to me.
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