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Friday, April 09, 2010, 08:05 am PT (11:05 am ET)

In-depth review: Apple's IPad and iPhone OS 3.2




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iPad hardware: Bluetooth networking

Outside of new keyboard support, there's not much else to say about Bluetooth features on the iPad. It supplies the same Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR specification as the iPhone; the upcoming version 3.0 of the standard is set to pair its networking stack with the radio technology of WiFi for faster speeds, but Apple makes little use of Bluetooth's potential features within the iPhone OS anyway, and would apparently have little reason to be at all interested in Bluetooth 3.0.

There's no support for other Bluetooth profiles that the iPhone doesn't already support (such as its A2DP stereo headphones and regular mono headsets), nor any obvious new features outside of those already introduced in iPhone 3.0 (such as the multiplayer gaming feature for discovering nearby players without needing to be on the same WiFi network).

There's no Bluetooth file sharing or printing on iPad, for example, although there's reason to believe that Apple may add support for printing in iPhone 4.0, given that its iWork support documents note that "printing directly from iPad is not currently available," rather than "iPad doesn't support printing."

iPad hardware: WiFi networking

iPad sports WiFi just like the iPhone, but iPad's WiFi supports fast 802.11 n networks, which are not just speedier but also deliver greater range and potentially less interference because they can be set up in the mostly virgin 5GHz band.

I had no problem connecting iPad to my "n-only," 5GHz Time Capsule WiFi network, although it only connected at 150 mbps signal rate (my MacBook and iMac will connect using both available bands to achieve a theoretical 300 mbps connection, as shown below). However, even at 150, the iPad is much faster than an iPhone connecting to the 802.11 a/b/g compatible network, which only achieves a theoretical maximum data rate of 54 mbps.

Future versions of the iPhone and iPod touch will likely also gain hardware support for for 802.11 n networks, but there's no way to add retroactive support in software.

Note that the WiFi iPad, like the iPod touch, does not have real GPS; it uses WiFi triangulation for Location Services, which is less accurate. The 3G version of the iPad will provide GPS just like the iPhone, because this feature is related to the mobile chipset (the 3G mobile network is used to assist the calculation of GPS information).

Some iPad users have reported weaker or spotty WiFi reception on their new device compared to their experience with other computers or mobile devices. In my testing, I didn't see any problems with WiFi reception.

However, a test of network throughput using the free Speedtest.net iPhone app showed that on the same 802.11 g network, my iPhone 3GS slightly outpaced the download (but not upload) performance of my iPad. Connecting to my faster 802.11n network resulted in a big boost for my iPad, but certainly not the 3 fold leap one might imagine possible when comparing the theoretical maximums of g (54 mbps) and n (150 mbps) networks.

iPhone vs iPad WiFi speed test


In actual network performance, such as sending emails or browsing maps or the web, iPad feels much faster than an iPhone, largely because of the snappier experience provided by its significantly faster processor and RAM architecture.

iPad hardware: video output

Like the existing iPhone and iPod touch, iPad can output video via the same Apple composite or component video cables to present standard definition, analog video with roughly 480 lines of resolution.

However, its new VGA-connector option (exclusive to iPad) delivers PC style video at the device's native 1024x768 resolution. Existing iPhone and iPod models won't work with the new VGA cable, as they aren't designed to support higher resolution outputs than they can display. The VGA feature only supports landscape output.

iPad gets the new VGA composite video output option primarily to support video projectors, which will allow business users to present Keynote presentations directly from the device. According to Apple's store blurb, it's also designed to allow users to watch movies and Photo slideshows on an external monitor or TV (supporting VGA input).

Apps must be designed specifically to take advantage of VGA output, and developers will choose whether to simply mirror the tablet's output on the external display or present something different, as Keynote does (it outputs the actual presentation while showing separate presenter's notes on the iPad screen).

The only bundled apps that support VGA output are Photos, Videos, and YouTube. Photos currently only shows slideshows, and if you swipe ahead on iPad while playing, the VGA output remains stuck on the previous photo. Videos and YouTube only show the actual video, not any interface controls. When you play YouTube videos out via VGA, playback on iPad stops.

This means that you can't put your browser or Maps up on a VGA projector, and games won't necessarily be playable on an external display unless the developer chooses to support that as an option.

However, it also opens the potential for very interesting multiplayer games that use one iPad to control a shared output screen while each of the players see a private view of the game on their iPad (such as their hand in a card game, or their letters in Scrabble, or their individual control pad in a team-based fantasy adventuring game).

The $29 VGA adapter is currently available for purchase; AppleInsider will review it in more detail separately.

On page 4 of 10: iPad hardware: other accessories; and iPad hardware: other iPhone features.