Image courtesy of GSM Arena

There’s an awful lot of hoopla around the new iPad overheating. People are getting spooked by heat maps and that screenshot of standard iOS prompt saying “the iPad needs to cool down” average users rarely see. It goes without saying that the press immediately jumped on the opportunity to exploit the story in order to keep those eyeballs glued to the screen.

And with Consumer Reports now throwing its credibility behind Heatgate, it’s easy to walk away under the impression that the new iPad comes with a major hardware flaw. Now, If you ever held a PS Vita, you can attest it runs a lot hotter than the iPad.

Still, it’s hard to escape the notion the story is gaining traction because it’s about the world’s most powerful technology corporation that just released the third iteration of its category-defining gizmo everyone wants (it’s selling like hotcakes). Yes, the new iPad is a bit toastier than its predecessor – full five degrees Celsius to be precise.

How exactly is this a big deal, you ask. Here’s why the new iPad gets hotter, why it doesn’t matter and how it’s being blown out of proportion…

First things first. Thermal imaging has pegged the hottest spot on the new iPad at 92.5 degrees Fahrenheit, translating to 33.6 degrees Celsius. Heat maps also show its predecessor, the iPad 2, clearly running cooler at 82.9 degrees Fahrenheit, or 28.3 degrees Celsius. So yes, the new iPad runs gets noticeably warmer, but not burning hot as the headlines would have you believe.

Why it gets hotter?

1. 4G LTE chips are power-hungry – Per teardown analysis, the new iPad gets its support for the speedy fourth-generation Long-Term Evolution radio technology via a Qualcomm MDM9600 3G/4G wireless baseband chip paired with a Qualcomm RTR8600 multi-band/mode RF transceiver for LTE bands. As Android users are well-aware, today’s 4G LTE chips are power hogs (that’s why Apple placed the RTR8600 right under the thermal pad).

2. The Retina display – While the stunning Retina display causes less eye strain, it quadruples pixel count over its predecessor. At a 2,048-by-1,536 pixel resolution versus 1024-by-768 pixels on the iPad 2, the new iPad utilizes additional transistors to drive those pixels. And with four times the pixels squeezed into the same 9.7-inch display (264 pixels per inch versus just 132 pixels per inch on the iPad 2), it’s harder for light to pass. Therefore, Retina technology sucks more juice to blast light through the display to make it come out. On top of that, twice the LEDs generate more heat and, DisplayMate says, consuming two and a half times more power at full brightness.

3. The A5X chip – With four graphics cores versus  just two on the iPad 2, a bigger package was needed. Weighing in at 165 mm², the A5X chip is a third larger than the iPad 2’s A5 package (123mm²) and a whopping 310 percent larger than the A4 silicon (53.3 mm²) powering the iPhone 4 and the original iPad. The jumbo-sized GPU brings with itself more transistors that consume power and produce heat, which becomes especially evident when all four GPUs render complex scenes in graphics-intensive 3D games and apps. Just glancing over the above heat map reveals that the strongest source of the heat is on the left side of the device, right where Apple put the A5X chip.

4. Bigger battery – The iPad’s speedier processor, high-resolution graphics, 4G LTE networking and the A5X chip all draw more juice so Apple had to design a battery with 70 percent larger capacity than the iPad 2 in order to match its all-day long performance. While the new battery isn’t much bigger than the old one, it holds much more juice: 42 watt-hours versus 25-watt-hours on the iPad 2. The downside? It takes several hours to charge.

The A5X chip with its four graphic cores is the biggest heater in the new iPad.

And those people complaining that the iGrill issue becomes more noticeable with the display set to full brightness? Well, of course it does. According to DisplayMate’s Raymond Soneira, having twice the LEDs and four times the pixel count of its predecessor means the Retina display requires roughly two and a half times more power.

So, not only do the LEDs need two and a half times more power but the battery is going to run warmer. Look at it this way, the number of LEDs is 2.5x greater compared to the iPad 2, and the battery is 1.7 times larger. So what happens is that if you run your new iPad at full brightness, the battery run time is less because you only put in 70 percent more battery but you’re using 150 percent more power.

Why it doesn’t matter?

It’s a five-degree Celsius difference, mind you. If you ask Apple, the new iPad operates “well within our thermal specifications”. According to their website, this entails environments up to 95 degree Fahrenheit, or about 35 degrees Celsius.

Being a little toastier compared to the iPad 2, you will likely give the gizmo a little bit of downtime so it can cool down, especially if you plan on using it in direct sunlight or high-temperature environments. The worst case scenario? You may not be able to play Infinity Blade II at full brightness, all the way until your battery is depleted, because your iPad may – depending on the environment and load – yes, overheat.

A bummer, I know.

And if you believe the stuff Consumer Reports writes about Apple, here’s a quote from their preliminary report:

During our tests, I held the new iPad in my hands. When it was at its hottest, it felt very warm but not especially uncomfortable if held for a brief period.

And in their FAQ issued today, Consumer Reports suggests it’s basically a non-issue.

At this point, we don’t believe the temperatures we recorded in our tests of the new iPad represent a safety concern.

I rest my case.

You also gotta love this part about laptop vs. tablet heating.

We’ve concluded in the past that a laptop that heats up to 120 degrees or more could damage bare skin over time. While laptop heating was a problem during the infancy of the product, we discontinued our heat tests several years ago when typical temperatures came down to 110 degrees Fahrenheit or so.

In addition, a tablet computer is used differently from a laptop. Most people don’t keep it sitting on their laps for long periods, but rather hold it in their hands, switch the location of their hands while holding it, and change the hand they’re using to hold it. So you’re probably not touching that one hot area for a prolonged period.

So, how does Heatgate fit in the grand scheme of things?

How it’s being blown out of proportion?

Remember Antennagate? Did Apple do anything about it except hold a hastily organized press conference to argue that signal attenuation is a fact of life in the smartphone industry while issuing free bumpers to everyone? And yet that didn’t stop customers from picking up the iPhone 4 in droves. What’s best, nobody’s even mentioning Antennagate scandal now.

In fact, most fans walked away unimpressed, feeling Antennagate had definitely been blown out of proportion, if not fabricated. The media loves a failure, especially after a string of successes. I should know, I’d worked in print for ten years. Sure, Heatgate could snowball when Consumer Reports releases full findings of “a battery of tests” tomorrow.

Matter of fact, I bet big media and print die-hards won’t pass on this one. It’ll get talked about, experts will chime in and you’ll see the topic culminate in evening news and late night talk shows – until it eventually dies down, just like Antennagate did. I’m giving Heatgate a week or two air time and that’s an optimistic projection.

Conclusion: get a life, dude

With all of the above taken into account, clearly one cannot have one’s cake and eat it, too. From the engineering standpoint, something had to give with the new iPad. But let me just tell this…

With all the extra oomph provided by the new A5X chip, the outrageous Retina display with a million more pixels than an HDTV and support for speedy 4G LTE cellular networking, I think we can all agree that a couple degrees warmer device that takes several hours to fully charge is a small price to pay for all the improvements – all the while enjoying the benefits of the ten-hour battery life the iPad is known for.

Wouldn’t you agree?

  • Definately. Hope to win your giveaway!

  • Personally I think it’s been blown out of proportion as well. Never found my iPad 3 running hot when playing real racing 2 HD.

  • Thank you for this article. I was on the fence. Now I am ready to spend $829. 🙂

  • Aric Bolf

    It is so obvious that news places are doing that just to get people to come to their website. Thank you for writing this article.

  • Anonymous

    EXCELLENT ARTICLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    The friggin media always needs “scare tactics” to sell their “crap news”!!!!

    I don’t have an iPad 3 (yet) but with my iPad 2, I have a cover on it, therefore direct contact to the actual back surface of my iPad never happens!

    That being said, when I do finally get an iPad 3 (hope I win the iDB iPad3) I will put it in a case just like the iPad 2, and problem solved.

    I bet that a good 95% of the iPad 3 users will put covers on theirs also!!! 🙂

  • I’m sorry but Antennagate was not fabricated nor was it blown out of proportion. It was a consistently reproducible issue that degraded the quality of service. You must be soaked in a juice of Apple fanboism to think otherwise. Come on now.

    I own the New iPad and while it does heat up a bit, I do agree that it’s not to the point where it’s uncomfortable or harmful from my experience.

    • i feel bad for the folks who have the iphone 4Ses with the battery drain issues. my coworker’s iphone sucks. mine is fine thankfully and so is my wifes. but my coworkers can’t hold a charge.

      i wonder if this heat problem (which is real) will affect the colors of the screen in the near future. will apple tell people they are holding it wrong? idiots

  • Anonymous

    I think a bigger issue is that the iPad can’t charge under a heavy load.

    • Joshua Rawlings

      Can’t charge? It can definitely charge while (playing a blu-ray etc.) Do you mean charges slower than when the unit is on? Please explain.

  • Bro it only heat up when u turn the brightness all the way up… But it doesn’t heat up at all when u reduce it. It’s not a big deal nor does it harm u like u said. To me it’s been blown out of proportion. This is the best tablet there’s out there and I’m glad I got one..

  • Thank you. Here’s a thought: those who think the heat issue is unacceptable can walk into an Apple store and get a brand-new iPad 2 for $100 less. So they’ve given you options! Just like you can get a high-end laptop that runs hot but plays Crysis, or get a base laptop that runs cool and is adequate for MS Office.

    Aren’t choices nice?

  • Great article. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

  • Anonymous

    so only five degrees warmer (not hotter)? i might as well go put away the bacon and eggs i was hoping to cook on it then 🙂

    tbf, my iPhone gets a ‘hotspot’ while being used as a SatNav. driving through France with the TomTom app fired up, being charged at the same time AND on the dashboard in full sunlight, it got a darn sight hotter than the ‘horrendous’ temperatures being hyped up in the media but it didn’t even go into cool down mode once 🙂

  • Anonymous

    I really hate your articles. iDB is the only Apple/iDevice blog I frequent. I love this site because it’s tutorials are what got me into jailbreaking. Also it’s articles are usually pretty brief and not full of blatant fanboyism. This article is neither of those. You just dragged on and on throwing in link after link to say its NBD get over it. While I do agree this is probably not an issue I don’t like the way you made your argument and I just wish you would’ve stayed on a site like 9to5mac.

    • Anonymous

      well if you dont like this webpage get lost aka !@#$ off

      • Anonymous

        If you don’t like my comments don’t reply to them. I love iDB. Like I said I frequent this website all the time. I just don’t like this new writer.

  • I didn’t know hotcakes sold that fast.

  • I wish they called it the Hotgates instead the heatgate, you know for the 300 reference. In the Hotgates we´ll die!!!

  • I dont understand any of this ‘Heat’ talk, though Im in Australia and im connected to 3G as 4G is unavailable at the current time, wether that makes a big difference or not. Still, in saying that, the temperatures that people having been saying it gets to is still alot cooler then a laptop, its generally always the same people who complain about the most tedious of things, its really not an issue.

  • My ps vita and iPad 2 never gets hott and I play on my ps vita for hours

  • Christian, Exactly! Nice article.

  • KewlDewd

    I never noticed mine getting warm until I heard about all this. So today I took the case off, played 3 races in a row on Real Racing and the lower left corner got a little warm. Big deal. My MacBook Pro gets waaaaay hotter.

  • 46C is not actually that warm, most phones heat up while charging and I know it’s a longshot in terms of comparison but desktop/laptop CPU’s easily reach those temperatures when performing tasks, mine hovers around 45-50 with intense gaming and that’s with huge fans keeping it cool. Taking into account that the iPad doesn’t have fans I’d say 46C isn’t anything to get worried about, takes a lot more heat than that to overheat a cpu.

  • Dylan Knox

    I love the conclusion [=

  • We have a “new ipad” demo in our store. it heats up noticeably and it doesnt even have any gfx intensive games on it.

    Fact of the matter is any device shouldnt be hot to hold and overheat or turn itself off (cooling mode). thats just bad business. If apple had admitted this happened from the start instead of doing nothing people wouldnt be as harsh. Of course sales wouldnt have been as good if apple were honest.

    Anyone who says 46c isnt that bad, come to australia where in summer the temp goes upto 46c. Turn on your new ipad 3 and watch it burst into flames.

    If anyone out there can design ipad cases and would want to go 50/50 in a project… My idea.. The Iheatsink case. put some heat transfer past on the back, attach case and bam! cool ipad!
    catch phrase: The COOLEST ipad case in the world!

    • so does this “burst into flames” occur outside in the heat or inside where the air conditioner is usually on?

      • You obviously have no idea how hot it can get in australia. even with an aircon sometimes it doeasnt make a difference depending on where you are.

        it was 35c here a few weeks back and i got an overheat message on my iphone and had to turn it off for a while. Yes i was outside. But i do like my products to be versatile enough to work indoors and outdoors if i choose it to.

    • Fanfoot

      Sounds like a great idea. You could even make it out of a material that’s really thermally conductive. What kind of material might work for that. Let me think… oh right, aluminum is supposed to be really good for that. Oh, wait…

  • Anonymous

    well my ipod touch 4th gen wen carging getts to about 40 ish wn charging

  • Fanfoot

    Fine article Christian. My only quibbles are minor.

    First, you say “… the new battery isn’t much bigger than the old one.”. Sorry, but it looks like the new battery is 70% bigger than the old one. To quote from

    “The revised three-cell design appears to be slightly larger than the battery in the iPad 2—each measures about 125 x 65 x 4 mm, according to iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens. The cells in the iPad 2 measure 108 x 63 x 2.7mm, so the iPad 3 battery is actually about 70 percent larger.”

    So Apple just did a good job repackaging things (thinner shell? smaller logic boards? magic?) shoehorning the larger battery into a case that isn’t much bigger.

    Then the other thing I’d like to know is how much each of the components contribute to the increase in power draw. Not because I care about the heat as I agree that is a non-issue. But because in the long run we want to see iPads that last longer and weigh less and are thinner not the other way around. And it certainly doesn’t look like we can count on battery technology to save us.

    From the little I’ve seen of the issue it appears the display is responsible for MOST of the increase in power draw. The LTE chip does draw more current, but the Wi-Fi iPad 3 has the same issues, and Apple only drops the battery life by an hour when using LTE, so its not dominant. The A5X? Well, somebody could certainly benchmark it and see how much extra power it takes, but it seems unlikely its a big contributor in comparison to the display draw, which as you say is pulling something like 2.5 X the original display.

  • Troy Schmidt

    I can’t use it to read outside due to the overheating, the metal gets very uncomfortably crazy hot and I do infact keep it on my lap with my knees bent as I sit in a lounge chair. Like anyone just holds it in there hands ones arms would get tired during a book or movie. Even in partial shade it does this.


    umm thermal alert. at 33 degrees c and an external temperature of 25 to 30 deg c, how does that affect the operation temperature range? alert alert alert find for cool offices, but when it is out in sun or heated areas…hmmmmmmmmmmm

  • eric coldren

    this makes the unit unusable for any time spent outside during the summer and has virtually made the unit a marketing companies nightmare … the amount of time it takes to cool itself down to use again looses a countable amount of leads.