New iPad 3G still weak & iOS 6 gripe

The New iPad has been out for over three months now and I dare say everybody is over it now. The blogstorms about yellowed displays and heat have died away and everybody seems pretty calm.

Here at GHQ we use an original and a new iPad every day. I definitely prefer the new iPad but I this is mainly because of the crisper display. I have heard a number of pundits saying how slow and awful the original iPad is now, and how using it is a form of torture (a particularly affluent first world form of torture obviously). I haven't notice any speed issues with the original iPad, but that may be a reflection of the types of apps that I use (ie I am not into graphic intensive games).

There was one concern that I noted in my first look post that I still think is an issue. The 3G reception on the new iPad is not as good as on the original. By this I mean that there are circumstances where the original iPad will be able to make a usable 3G connection but the new iPad will not. This is only noticeable where 3G coverage is weak, once you have reasonable 3G signal both models work fine.

This was a problem when we first got the new iPad because the 3G signal was borderline at GHQ. For the first couple of weeks of having the new iPad the 3G connection was flakey (a technical term) and bordering on unusable. In an amazing stoke of luck however, our local telco did some work on the nearest cell tower a couple of months ago which improved our signal from borderline to OK.

So the new iPad's 3G weakness was not an issue at GHQ anymore. But the weakness is still there and I was reminded of it recently when we spent a couple of weeks in Victoria in an area of marginal 3G coverage. For the entire period the new iPad was unusable and the orignal was fine. It was a stark difference.

For most people this will not be an issue, but if you are considering getting a 3G capable iPad and expect to use it in an area of weak signal it is something to be aware of.

On a vaguely related topic for users of the original iPad, be aware that iOS 6, the upcoming version of the iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch operating system is not going to run on the original iPad. This is pretty sad for a very capable device that (in my case) is only 18 months old. The annoying/perplexing thing is that iOS 6 will run on the iPhone 3GS, a much older and less capable device. This makes the lack of support for the original iPad look like a high handed unilateral decision from Apple, rather than a technical issue. If so it is disappointing.

Thoughts on the new iPad

Some thoughts about the new iPad after a couple of days with one, and on the Apple software version treadmill.

I had stuck with my original iPad when the iPad 2 was released. This made it a pretty easy decision to get the new model as soon as it was available. The higher resolution screen is relevant to the app that I am currently working on, and another model to test on can’t be a bad thing.

Of course, having another iPad around the place might also reduce arguments with my daughter over who the iPad belongs to.

Tasmania doesn’t have an Apple Store and I don't know when the local retailers expected to have stock, so I just pre-ordered a 4G model from Apple online. I have bought quite a bit from the online Apple Store and have always been happy with the experience.

The vagaries of delivery to our neck of the woods add a bit of spice (and occasional frustration) to the process. The original iPad came to us from Sydney via a slight detour to Darwin, but what is a few thousand extra kilometers between friends? Normally it is the last 35km between Hobart and us that takes the most time and introduces the most randomness. Alarmingly some of the local carriers seem to record the delivery as ”delivered in full” one day and actually deliver it the next day on their way back to Hobart from an overnight run up the East Coast.

In this case it arrived at Orielton Software Global Headquarters (GHQ) without incident on Monday. Probably a day later than necessary, but not too bad considering. I had the common experience of getting an earlier shipment with the case I had ordered, and a separate shipment of the iPad itself. The strange thing was that the cover needed a signature on delivery, but the iPad didn’t.

The blogosphere and podcast universe is abuzz with unboxing videos (oh, for goodness sake) and first impressions, so I won't labour the point. A few observations:

  • The retina display - As expected the new retina display is beautiful (although I didn't have any particular issues with the original). Images look great, but for me the crispness of text is probably more relevant day to day.

  • The cameras - Coming from the original iPad, the cameras are a good step forward. I am unlikely to use the front facing camera, but the rear facing camera will be useful. From a couple of initial test shots, the quality seems useable.

  • Everything else - Pretty much the same as before. This isn't a criticism, as I have been very happy with the original iPad. This is a nice upgrade and I am very happy to have one, but it is not earth shattering.

  • One more thing … - There is, however, one thing that I will be keeping an eye on - 3G network perfomance. My initial impression was that the new iPad was struggling to get 3G connectivity when the original iPad was doing fine. Sitting the two machines side by side, both using the Telstra 3G network, the new iPad showed a bar or two less signal and was slower and dropping out more. Visiting the same website on each, there were occassions when the new iPad would stall while the original was happily surfing way.

Could there be a difference in cellular performance? It is certainly not impossible. As I understand it the new iPad uses a different chipset to support 4G, and given the radical increase in physical battery size in the new iPad the antenna design may have changed.

It is hard to know what the difference is once you stop doing the side by side dual surfing silliness. In day to day use the new iPad does seem to be a bit more finicky about network connection. GHQ being outside a built-up area and in a building with multi-foot thick stone walls makes for a more than averagely challenging environment for all forms of wireless comms. It is quite possible that I could see more impact from small differences in behaviour than users with better network coverage.

Googling "new iPad 3G performance sucks" didn't get me anywhere, which I take as a good omen.

So how is the new iPad as a development machine? Well that is a sorry tail that I should have been more aware of than I was.

I am developing using Xcode 4.2 on Snow Leopard. The new iPad ships with iOS 5.1. To directly connect a device to Xcode the device can not be at a later iOS version than the Xcode SDKs.

To get the 5.1 SDK, I need Xcode 4.3.1.

To get Xcode 4.3.1, I need Lion.

To get Lion I would need to (1) buy the thumbdrive version and (2) ignore most of the user feedback about Lion on the Apple site.

The thumbdrive issue is because GHQ relies on 3G for all internet connectivity and the idea of downloading a new OS across 3G does not bear thinking about. Downloading a new multi-gigabyte version of Xcode is enough of a challenge. The user feedback on Lion is more of an issue, as one comment put it, Lion appears to be Apple's Vista. The last thing I need is an unstable development box while I am trying to put the finishing touches to a new app.

So for now I am going to stick to Snow Leopard, Xcode 4.2, iOS 5.0 and the original iPad as my development environment. I should be able to get my new app onto the new iPad via ad hoc distribution when it is a little closer to final testing.

Am I being overly paranoid about Lion? Has anybody else seen anything worrying about 3G performance on the new iPad? I would love to hear your thoughts.