The Apple iPad Air 2 is without a doubt the best iPad the company has ever produced, and arguably the best tablet ever sold. Compared to iPad releases of past years, though, it's clear that fewer people will experience this new model.
That's unfortunate, because the new iPad Air is a work of art. It's 18 percent thinner than the original iPad Air, clocking in at just 6.1 mm thick, which is quite noticeable. Coming with a 9.7-inch Retina display, it also weighs slightly less than the original Air (0.96 pounds, not especially noticeable) and has a slightly improved display (though it retains the same 2048 by 1536-pixel resolution and again, is probably not something you'll really notice unless you compare it side-by-side with an older model). The Air 2 has improved silicon -- a 40 percent faster processor and 2.5X faster graphics performance. That translates into snappier performance that you will notice early on, but which you'll soon take for granted.
Other, more functional improvements: Apple has included the same Touch ID fingerprint scanner that you'll find in the new iPhones. That means you can use your fingerprint to gain access to compatible apps, sites and services without entering a password. And for some online purchases, you can rely on biometrics rather than entering financial details and passwords. These are capabilities that you'll never really get tired of. It's always fun to bypass password entry with a thumbprint, and especially onerous when an app demands the password anyway as a security check (the iTunes store and Dashlane password keeper are two of the worst offenders). Apple has improved the cameras in the iPad Air 2 as well, and both give markedly better results.
In actual use, these improvements add up to a great experience. The Air 2 is feather light and thin, so it's a joy to carry around. Touch ID works every bit as well on the iPad as it does on the phone, though you can't use it to make in-store purchases. It works with existing iPad Air accessories, so there's already a healthy ecosystem of add-ons like cases, folios and keyboards. And iOS 8's Continuity lets you move seamlessly between your phone and tablet for many activities, including phone calls and texting.
So if you're an iPad owner, should you consider getting the Air 2? That's the problem Apple is facing. For many people, the answer is "probably not," especially if the iPad you already own is last year's iPad Air. There just isn't anything new, innovative or compelling enough to warrant an upgrade; the tablet product category looks to have matured quickly, leaving few new goodies to entice us to buy.
After all, for many users just about the only practical feature you'd notice day-to-day is Touch ID. Sure, the thinner profile is nice, and the better cameras are occasionally rewarding. But the new model has few must-have improvements. And if you're intrigued by Continuity, you can do that with any iPad running iOS 8.
Compound the narrow feature gap between first- and second-generation Air models with the larger iPhone 6 and 6 Plus -- many users are finding that the 6 Plus is large enough that it completely replaces the need to carry a tablet.
All things considered, that means only older iPad owners may be good candidates for an upgrade. It's little wonder that iPad sales are down.