iPad Air is smaller, lighter, and more powerful, but is that reason enough to upgrade your classroom iPads? We take a look at Apple’s latest tablet.

It’s hard to believe the iPad is only three and a half years old. Apple’s tablet has redefined an industry, made technology more accessible than ever before, and is forcing change in the education sector. While industry stalwarts like Microsoft, Dell, and HP scrabble around in confusion, Apple has claimed 90% of the educational mobile computing market for itself. The iPad has forced educationalists to pay more attention to the consumer market, and it’s for this reason that Apple’s latest iPad release is more important that ever for schools.

Design is up in the Air

On November 1st, Apple released the fifth generation iPad, the iPad Air. But it’s not just the branding that has changed, the whole iPad has been redesigned taking many queues from last year’s iPad Mini. The result is a tablet with thinner bezels, reduced weight, and refined form factor.

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If you’ve used an iPad Mini you’ll understand the design of the iPad Air immediately. Both tablets are now twins in all but size. The iPad Air is 30% lighter than the 4, and it’s noticeable. The reduced weight makes a huge difference when holding the tablet with one hand and makes it useful in situations that weren’t previously possible.

The thinner bezels make the iPad closer to an interactive sheet of paper than any tablet has ever been. The hardware gets out of the way and becomes a virtual canvas on which to work.

The iPad Air is the best most beautiful tablet currently available, without a doubt. Its clean lines, minimalist appeal, and solid build are simply unmatched. Compare it to any of the iPad’s competitors, Microsoft’s Surface 2, the Nexus 10, or whichever point release Samsung tablet is currently available. The iPad Air is a thing of beauty. The irony, of course, is that the iPad Air’s design has been on the market for over twelve months in the form of the iPad Mini, and still other manufacturers are playing catch up.

The Air features the same 9.7-inch 2048 x 1536 Retina display as its predecessor. Although the resolution is minimally lower than competing tablets, it’s still one of the sharpest most, colour accurate screens available. You won’t notice the difference between the scren onan iPad 3 or 4 and the Air, because there isn’t one, but it’s you’re still using an iPad 2 the jump is astounding and is reason enough upgrade.

While the iPad Air may be small in design, no compromises have been made fitting the battery in to the smaller chassis. The iPad Air still gets a good ten hours plus on a single charge with heavy use, more than enough power to get through a whole school day and more.

iPad Air features Apple’s A7 processor, the new 64-bit chip found in the iPhone 5s. Apple claims the upgrade results in the Air bring twice as fast as the iPad 4, although unless you’re really pushing your iPad to the limits you’ll struggled to notice any difference. That’s not to say that using the iPad Air isn’t silky smooth, it is, especially when compared to comparative Android and Windows tablets. But for many the added speed isn’t going to be noticed.

Software

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The main selling point of iPad for many schools is the wide selection of apps and educational content available. Whether you like Apple’s walled garden business model or not, it’s hard to argue that Apple doesn’t have the most mature app market currently available.

The added bonus for schools is that the entire iWorks suite of apps, which includes Pages, Numbers, Keynote, iMovie, Garageband, and iPhoto, have not only been updated for iOS 7, but are now free with all new iPad purchases. The iWorks apps are, in my experience, the most requested apps from schools, and the new price point — free — effectively knocks at least £100 off the cost of an iPad Air.

Not only are the apps now free, they have also been rebuilt from the ground up for iOS 7. The result is a much cleaner and easier to use suite of apps. I’ve been especially impressed with iMovie, which reduces the app down to its essential basics and makes producing simple movies extremely easy with the iPad’s touch interface.

It should be noted, however, that Garageband is now a freemium app, with some instruments and features requiring an additional purchase.

While iOS 7 eschews skeuomorphism for white space and clean lines, there are still some areas where iOS 6 pops through to spoil the experience. In certain apps the iOS 6 keyboard, for example, makes an unwelcome return, and Apple has only just got around to updating the iBooks and iTunes U apps.

Another concern is that iOS 7 feels to an extent like a simple re-skinning of the operating system. Notifications are still light years behind Android alternative, it’s almost as though Apple doesn’t want me to know when I have an email or Facebook message. Each app feels like its own entity struggling to share information between software. Likewise multitasking is limited, why can I still not edit a document while continuing a FaceTime chat conversation?

iPad Air Accessories

If your school has already invested in iPad accessories such as cases, power cables, or trolleys you should check that they are compatible with the iPad Air, particularly if you currently have the iPad 2. The change in chassis design and switch from the 30 pin to Lightning charging cable may cause you an issue.

Wrap Up

iPad Air is the best iPad yet, but wasn’t it always going to be? Apple’s new tablet improves on the iPad 4 in every way possible and leaves the competition in the dust. So the important question becomes, do you need to upgrade your school iPads?

The new thinner, lighter design is nice, and some students I spoke to found the iPad Air easier to handle, but that’s no reason in itself to upgrade. Likewise the performance boost is great, but unless you’re doing a lot of video editing or using 3D graphics the speed difference is barely noticeable.

If you and your school are already embedded in Apple’s ecosystem, the iPad Air will find its way to your school at some point, but there’s no compelling reason to replace old with new immediately.  If you have an iPad 2 the Air will be a huge step up, but if you’re still using an iPad 3 or 4 there isn’t any hurry to upgrade unless you need the added performance.

You can pick up an iPad Air from Amazon now

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9.3 It's an iPad
  • Performance 9
  • Screen 10
  • Design 9
  • Battery Life 9
  • User Ratings (2 Votes) 9.8
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About Author

Profile photo of Karl Rivers

Karl is an award winning Director of IT for the Royal Grammar School Guildford, based near London, England. He has been working in education for more than ten years and founded ClassThink in 2013 to share technology best practice with other schools. In 2014 he won the NAACE Impact Award for support services in schools, and writes edtech articles for Education Executive Magazine.

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