Mar 20

iPad's Hot!

Apple’s sales report shows the new 3rd Gen iPad is red-hot, selling over 3 million units its first weekend out the door. That number comes from totaling sales in the handful of countries where the tablet is offered, not just the U.S., but if true it’s a very impressive number.

Being hot isn’t always a good thing, though.

Many users, including yours truly, have found that the new iPad gets anywhere from warm to downright hot during use, and particularly during more demanding use, an apparent result of the tablet’s new high-end System-on-a-Chip and larger battery.

Another Apple Gadget, Another Somethinggate

Reports of the iPad 3 getting warm – or even hot – began instantly upon its release.  Mid-morning on Friday, a user known as faatty posted in an Apple forum “I’m loving the screen and speed but there’s something weird about it. It gets rather warm/hot after 30minutes of usage. It has never happened on my iPad 2.”  Many similar reports have been seen in online forums, on Twitter and around the ‘net since then, and while it doesn’t seem to affect all users, for those it does, the issue is somewhere between an annoyance (hand raised) and a real usability concern.

Tweakers.net Heat TestOn Monday, a Dutch blog called Tweakers.net posted thermal images of an iPad 2 and iPad 3 side-by-side showing that the new iPad does indeed run hotter under load, about 10F or so (92F v 82F).  These measurements were taken at the left side of each iPad where the mainboard is located. Then today Consumer Reports presented a similar finding, that a test iPad 3 reached 116F while running Infinity Blade II, a Retina-compatible game currently selling well in the App Store.  This temperature was reached while the tablet was plugged-in to external power – unplugged, the gaming temp dropped by 3 degrees Fahrenheit.

So, the question isn’t if new iPad runs hotter or why – it’s what will this issue come to be known as?  Sweatypalmgate?  Redhandedgate? 

Let the lawsuits begin.

Why You Gettin’ So Hot?

Processors get hot because energy (electricity) is lost as it moves through silicon, a semiconductor, in the form of heat. This is commonly known as “waste heat” and is a reality for all integrated circuits – that’s why your computer has fans. Processors have grown increasingly efficient in recent years, which has helped reduce waste heat; the more efficient the processor, the more energy appropriately used, the less energy lost, and the less heat generated.  But even modern, comparatively efficient processors can run hot if they’re small enough and called on to perform demanding tasks.  In a device like the iPad, without ventilation or fans, this can be even more of an issue. 

But the previous two iPad models – at least in my experience – never even got warm, or warm enough to be detectable by a warm-blooded human, himself running at 98.6F.  It is this, I believe, that is responsible for the outcry now: we have two cooler iPad tablets as an exemplar and we want our dry palms back. 

The new A5X SoC processor in the iPad 3 seems to be behind most of the additional heat since its two CPUs and four GPUs have to drive about 2.3 million more pixels than the iPad 2. The 70% larger capacity battery probably doesn’t help things either, as batteries can heat up as they’re called on to deliver more power.

Is the Problem a Problem?

So, is the heat generated by the iPad 3 a problem?  For me, it’s not – it’s just taking some serious getting used to.  But users have reported their iPads shutting down due to overheating.  This may be because the iPad was being used in sunlight or a particularly warm location like a parked car (a condition that also caused previous models to overheat). Or it could be that some number of iPad units just can’t take the extra degrees because of unit-specific flaws.

For Apple, though, everything’s 5-by-5.  In a statement given to AllThingsD, Apple rep Trudy Muller provided the company’s official position in typical PR-ese:

“The new iPad delivers a stunning Retina display, A5X chip, support for 4G LTE plus 10 hours of battery life, all while operating well within our thermal specifications. If customers have any concerns they should contact AppleCare.”

Guess a 92F operating temperature was part of the plan from the jump.  Glad we cleared that up.

Still, in our increasingly whiny society, people love to complain, so it stands to reason that a lot of what we’re hearing and reading is people just wanting to lay their own wreath at the gate; by the same token, those saying there’s absolutely nothing to see here are mostly the perennial Apple snobs for whom the company can never do wrong (or on the company’s payroll). 

There is a heat issue with the new iPad – question is, is it a big one? 

Not really.  The designers just bit off a little more than they could chew.  It’s not as magically cool as its predecessors, but even Consumer Reports’ Donna Tapellini said in her heat article “at its hottest, it felt very warm but not especially uncomfortable if held for a brief period.”  I concur.  But if you are experiencing real problems with the iPad shutting off due to heat, you should contact Apple support.

What Now?

This morning I read that if you discharge the battery and recharge it that this can eliminate or at least reduce the heat issue.  I’m trying this as I type, but I’m highly skeptical. 

In any case, at least until the 4th Gen iPad arrives, you’ll either have to sweat or get off the ‘Pad.

M. Nichols, Products Editor

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