The Generation Game

The original iPad was released on April 3rd 2010, and has come a long way in it’s 11 year history. The all singing and dancing 8th generation was released on September 18th, 2020.

11 years is barely a generation and a half in human terms, but is centuries in computing. Without listing every single detail change between iPad generations here, we’ll provide an overview of the major changes with each upgrade.

Generations 1 & 2

External differences

Cameras. The iPad 1 has no cameras, whereas the iPad 2 models have front and rear mounted cameras. The rear camera supports HD video recording (720p up to 30 FPS with audio), and functions as a stills camera too. The front mounted camera, designed to be used for video conferencing in conjunction with Apple's provided 'FaceTime' software over a Wi-Fi network, takes VGA quality photos and video up to 30 FPS.

Size and weight. Externally, the original iPad and iPad 2 models share the same 9.7-inch (1024x768, 132 ppi) multitouch "glossy" LED-backlit IPS display, and width and height are similar (9.56” x 7.47” for the iPad 1, 9.5” x 7.31” for the iPad 2. The depth is notably different:- the iPad 1 is 0.5” thick, the iPad 2 is 0.34” thick. The iPad 2 is lighter too - around 1.3 pounds (varying slightly depending on network capability), compared to 1.5 pounds for 1st gen models.

Colour. The iPad 1 only came in black, whereas the iPad 2 was offered in black or white. The iPad 2 models also were the first support a then new magnetic 'Smart Cover' (available at an additional cost) that protects the screen when not in use and automatically wakes up the iPad 2 when the cover is removed and puts it to sleep when the cover is attached. The Smart Cover is not compatible with iPad 1 models.

Internal differences

Power. The iPad 1 is powered by a custom ARM-based 1 GHz Apple A4 and have 256 MB of RAM - the iPad 2 is powered by a faster, dual core 1 GHz Apple A5 and has 512 MB of RAM. The iPad 2 line also has a three-axis gyroscope, and support system-wide video mirroring and up to 1080p video out.

iOS support differences

1st gen iPads shipped with iPhone OS 3.2 (subsequently renamed the iOS), and are capable of running a maximum version of iOS 5.1.1. They are not supported running iOS 6 or later versions of the operating system.

2nd gen iPads shipped with iOS 4.3 and are fully supported running iOS 5 and iOS 6, with the exception of Siri and Panorama. The iPad 2 models also can run iOS 7, 8 and 9 but provides only minimal feature support. They cannot run iOS 10 or later.

Generations 2 & 3

External differences

Display. The iPad 3 has a 9.7-inch 2048x1536 (264 ppi) "retina" display. This compares to a resolution of just 1024x768 (132 ppi) on iPad 2 models.

Camera quality. The rear camera on the iPad 3 is of considerably higher quality. 2nd gen models have a 0.7 megapixel camera that shoots stills and is capable of recording 720p video, whereas the 3rd gen models have a 5 megapixel 'iSight' camera capable of shooting 1080p video and includes software that provides enhanced stabilization.

Size and weight. The iPad 3rd gen is 0.03” of an inch thicker, and about a tenth of a pound heavier.

Internal differences

Power. iPad 3rd gen models are powered by a dual-core 1 GHz Apple A5X processor with quad core graphics - iPad 2nd gen models have an older dual-core Apple A5 processor with a single graphics processor. iPad 3rd Gen models have 1 GB of RAM, whereas the iPad 2 only has 512 MB.

Connectivity. The cellular capable iPad 2 models support 3G networking, whereas the cellular capable iPad 3rd gen support faster 4G LTE networking. The iPad 3rd gen models also support Bluetooth 4.0 whereas the iPad 2nd gen models support the earlier Bluetooth 2.1+EDR standard.

iOS support differences

Neither iPad generations support iOS 10 or later, but 3rd gen iPads have more functionality when running iOS 7 or above.

Generations 3 & 4

External differences

Camera quality. iPad 3rd gen models have a "FaceTime" camera that takes VGA quality photos and video up to 30 FPS. The iPad 4 line have a 'FaceTime HD' front camera with a 1.2 megapixel sensor and takes videos up to 720p.

Wired connectivity. 3rd gen models have the older, 'long and flat' Dock Connector port, whereas 4th gen models have a smaller, rectangular 'Lightning' port that is faster (but not compatible with the earlier standard).

Internal differences

Power. 3rd gen models are powered by a 1 GHz dual core Apple A5X processor - 4th gen models have a faster 1.4 GHz dual core Apple A6X processor. Both have quad core graphics processors.

Connectivity. The iPad 4th gen line supports dual band/dual stream 802.11n on both the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequencies and true global 4G/LTE coverage. 3rd gen models have much more limited 4G support.

iOS support differences

3rd gen does not support iOS 10 or later  - 4th gen supports iOS 10, but does not support iOS 11 or later.

Generations 4 & 5

A quick glance will tell you that these two generations are quite different from one another from the perspective of design, size, and weight alone. The iPad 5th generation is the first ‘iPad Air’.

External differences

Size and weight. The iPad Air is 20% thinner and 28% lighter than the iPad 4th gen line. Specifically, when held upright in portrait mode, the iPad Air models are 9.4” tall by 6.6” wide, and 0.29” thick and weigh around a pound whereas the iPad 4th gen models it supercedes are 9.50” tall by 7.31” wide, and 0.37” thick and weigh nearly a pound and a half. The iPad Air uses a completely different case design in the same style as introduced by the original iPad mini line, with thinner bezels on the sides of the display than the iPad 4th Gen.

Colour. 4th gen models either have a white or black front and a silver aluminium back, but the iPad Air models are available with either a white front and a silver back or a black front and a medium-toned gunmetal grey back that Apple refers to as 'Space Gray'.

Sound. The iPad Air line have stereo speakers and dual microphones – the 4th gen line has  a single speaker and a single microphone.

Internal differences

Power. iPad 4th gen models have a dual core 32-bit 1.4 GHz Apple A6X processor and originally were available with 16 GB, 32 GB, or 64 GB of storage (with a 128 GB configuration added later). iPad Air models have a significantly faster dual core 64-bit 1.4 GHz Apple A7 processor and an M7 motion coprocessor and originally were offered with 16 GB, 32 GB, 64 GB, or 128 GB of storage from day one.

Connectivity. The iPad Air adds MIMO capability.

iOS support differences

iPad 4th gen models were originally shipped with a version of iOS 6. The iPad Air models first shipped with iOS 7.0.3 and are not capable of running iOS 6.

The iPad Air supports iOS 11 and 12 - 4th Gen supports iOS 10, but does not support iOS 11 or later.

Neither iPad supports the current version of the iOS.

Generations 5 & 6

External differences

Colour. The gold colour option changes from a yellow-tinted gold to a copper-tinted gold in the iPad 6th generation.

Hardware. iPad 6th gen models support the Apple Pencil.

Internal differences

Power. iPad 6th gen models have a faster, more powerful processor and the cellular-capable version has more advanced LTE. In terms of overall performance, the Geekbench 4 benchmark estimates that the 6th Gen is 35% faster than the 5th gen model.

iOS support differences

 iPad 5th gen models originally shipped with iOS 10 - iPad 6th gen models first shipped with iOS 11.

Both iPads support iOS 12 and 13, as well as the current version of iOS 14, but the iPad 6th gen supports Spatial Audio when using AirPods Pro, whereas the iPad 5th gen doesn’t.

Generations 6 & 7

External differences

Display. The iPad 7 has a bigger screen - a 10.2" (2160x1620) display instead of the 9.7" (2048x1536) display on the iPad 6. Both displays are 264 ppi and have the same "oleophobic" (oil repellent) coating.

Size and weight. 7th gen models are slightly taller and wider than their predecessors, and very slightly heavier -  but not enough to be that noticeable.

Connectivity. The iPad 7 has a ‘Smart Connector’ to support a size-specific Apple Smart Keyboard.

Internal differences

Power. iPad 7 models have 3 GB of RAM (instead of 2 GB on 6th gen models), and also support more advanced LTE. In terms of overall performance, the Geekbench 4 benchmark estimates that the iPad 6 and iPad 7 are effectively are the same speed.

iOS support differences

iPad 6th gen models originally shipped with iOS 11 – 7th gen models first shipped with iOS 13.

Both models support the current version of iOS 14.

Generations 7 & 8

External differences


Internal differences

Power. The iPad 7 is powered by a 2.33 GHz dual-core Apple A10 Fusion processor and M10 motion coprocessor - the iPad 8 uses a 2.49 GHz six-core Apple A12 Bionic processor with a Neural Engine.

iOS Support differences

iPad 7th gen models first shipped with iOS 13 - iPad 8th gen models first shipped with iOS 14.

Both models support the current version of iOS 14.


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