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The iPad Air: Apple’s “Reality Distortion Field” operating at full power

At first glance, with the Apple Reality Distortion Field at full power, the iPad Air seems like an impeccable, immaculate device that could only ever be conceived by the magicians at Apple in California. The iPad Air is some 30 per cent lighter and 20 per cent thinner than the iPad that it replaces, while still retaining the same Retina display and 10 hours of battery life. Somehow, just somehow, Apple made us feel that it had yet again pulled off the impossible.

In reality, the iPad Air, while very attractive, isn’t remarkable at all. The new Kindle Fire HDX 8.9, for example, has a higher resolution screen, more battery life, weighs less, and even costs less than the iPad Air.

Apple has this amazing ability to dress up mundane advances in software and hardware as remarkable, life-changing features. This isn’t to say that Apple doesn’t have an industry-leading industrial design department and supply chain, but objectively the lead that Apple has over the software, design, and manufacturing departments of other companies is nowhere near as large as we think. This is what we refer to as the Apple Reality Distortion Field (RDF).

The cause of the RDF is multifaceted. The term was originally applied to Steve Jobs himself, who used a mix of charisma, hyperbole, and cult of personality to convince people – colleagues, developers, an adoring audience – that Apple was capable of regularly making the impossible possible. At some point, though, following a slew of beautiful and functional products – the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad – Apple itself became the source of the RDF.

Without going into the sociological and psychological causes of the RDF, it’s simply enough to say this: If you sell hundreds of millions of devices that regularly score the highest marks in customer satisfaction surveys, and often provide the first high quality computing experience the person has ever had, those devices become revered – and the maker of those devices is deified.

As you probably know, when reverence, faith, or love enter the equation, all hope of objectivity goes out the window. For those inside the RDF – for those who look at Apple with rose-tinted glasses – there is nothing particularly unusual about this behaviour. Much in the same way that we find a lover’s mannerisms disproportionately adorable, or put up with friends and loved ones treating us poorly, Apple appears to be capable of doing no wrong. For those of us outside Apple’s RDF, however, this blind belief and adherence to a corporate and massively profitable god is puzzling at best, and intolerably stupid at worst.

Which leads us neatly onto the topic of Apple’s latest illusory masterpiece: The iPad Air, which was unveiled earlier this week. If you take a quick look at your favourite tech websites, or ask a devout Apple fan for their opinion, you would think that the iPad Air is the thinnest, lightest, and most marvellous slab of technology ever to grace this planet of ours. If we take a step back and look at it objectively, though, we can see the Air for what it truly is: A very well designed tablet that is ultimately no better, and considerably more expensive, than an 8.9in Kindle Fire HDX (pictured below).

The 8.9in Kindle Fire HDX (which is £329, compared to the Air’s £399 starting price) has a quad-core Snapdragon 800 SoC, a 2560 x 1600 (339 ppi) display, and a battery life of between 12 hours (mixed use) and 18 hours (reading). Perhaps most importantly, though, the HDX is just 7.8mm thick and weighs 374 grams. The iPad Air is slightly thinner (7.5mm), but in almost every other way – weight, resolution, battery life – it is inferior to the HDX.

The Snapdragon 800 is perhaps a little slower than the Air’s A7 SoC, depending on the benchmark. It’s also important to note that the iPad Air’s display is 9.7in at a 4:3 aspect ratio, while the HDX is only 8.9in at 16:10, which works out at around 20 per cent more screen real estate for the iPad. The larger display could explain the iPad Air’s extra heft (it weighs 469 grams), but the HDX’s svelte dimensions and better battery life are still very noteworthy.

It’s unfair, however, to naively compare the hardware without also looking at the rest of the package – and even the most hardened haters have to admit that Apple has a mighty fine package. Again, to put it in the simplest terms, if Apple didn’t produce devices that look and feel good, and operate almost flawlessly, then the Reality Distortion Field would’ve faded long ago. For those of us outside the RDF, we constantly look for flaws, no matter how small or meaningless, that can be thrown in the face of the Apple devotees – anything, really anything, to deconstruct their blind faith.

Deep down, though, we know such efforts are in vain. It will always be possible to find flaws in Apple’s software and hardware, but it’s evident that they’re ultimately of little or no consequence. Apple’s sales figures continue to swell. New users are trying Apple devices for the first time, being blown away by the experience, and becoming zealots in record quantities. Despite the continuing protestations of detractors who will do or say anything to push Apple off its pedestal, the Reality Distortion Field remains in place and in full effect.

Maybe the RDF isn’t around Apple any more, though. Maybe – just maybe – the Reality Distortion Field has moved so that it’s now around us… Around those who stubbornly refuse to admit how awesome Apple actually is.

For more on the iPad Air, check out our spec comparisons pitting the iPad Air against its predecessor, the iPad 4, and the iPad Air versus the iPad mini Retina. You might also want to have a quick look at some of the amusing reactions to the iPad Air on Twitter this week.