Thursday March 3, 2011 5:39 pm
Apple iPad 2 hands-on
No, the Apple iPad 2 is not a game changer. Instead it simply, firmly establishes Apple once again as the front-runner in the tablet wars. Apple and chief executive Steve Jobs (who made an appearance and received a standing ovation) focused on all the right areas to ensure that the Apple iPad will remain the tablet you have to rule out before you buy any others.
As I predicted, Apple added not one, but two cameras. This makes perfect sense, though I was not particularly happy to hear an Apple exec say on stage that the iPad is perfectly suited for these cameras and FaceTime. Why couldn't the first-generation iPad, which I own, also have been considered perfect for at least one camera? Apple didn't say anything about the resolution on the cameras, though we know the rear one can capture 720P, more or less - the Apple definition for "High Definition." Please, no one tell Steve Jobs that someone on the iPad team sneaked by an accessory that outputs full 1080p from the device (more on that later).
Yes, the iPad got thinner. I knew this would happen, but I didn't expect it to get thinner than the iPhone 4. That was a nice bit of engineering on Apple's part. When I finally held the iPad 2, the difference was noticeable. It's even lighter than my current iPad (I held one in each hand). I honestly never thought the first iPad was heavy, but by shaving off a fraction of a pound, Apple may have just made the new iPad a little more attractive to people considering the once lighter-than-the-iPad Motorola Xoom. Speaking of which, wonder how many people will remember that the Xoom was 1.3 pounds first?
The iPad 2 is faster, thanks to its dual-core A5 chip. This one was easy to predict as so many competitors were rolling out tablets with dual-core Tegras. Apple promises that the graphics are nine times faster. There's no way to verify that claim without testing, but Apple certainly had some developers excited. In the demo room I ran into Mark Rein, vice president for Epic Games and maker of "Infinity Blade". He couldn't say enough about the new iPad and positively gushed about the promised performance enhancements, calling it "incredible," and adding, "It went beyond what we expected. Nine times graphics improvement! We're graphics whores." By which I think he meant that they really, really like graphics performance. I'm not sure, by the way, Apple could've introduced iMovie for the iPad without the overall performance boost.
One thing that didn't change, though, is the screen. Not only did Apple not go with a retina display—which many people explained to me was mathematically impossible for a screen of the iPad's size—but the company didn't change anything about the screen. It's the same resolution, 1024-by-768, as before. I'll admit that I am a little disappointed by this, but it does not make me want the new iPad 2 any less. I am pleased, however, that Apple did not follow the trend of delivering a wide-screen device.
Not changing the price was another stroke of brilliance. Competitors must start their tablets at $499 or leave the arena—end of story. Obviously, you can spend as much as $849 on the high-end iPad 2 model, but that really only impacts storage, 3G capabilities and GPS. I've never turned on my 3G—there's so much available Wi-Fi out there that I simply do not see the need. Apple didn't introduce a 4G model, but that doesn't mean they won't. The market is still absorbing iPads so that, along with a higher resolution screen, could be part of the iPad 3.
I've been to Apple events where the accessories seem like afterthoughts or even just plain silly. Not so this time. I like the Smart Cover, which uses magnets to attach the iPad 2 (and can even put it to sleep and wake it up) and the HDMI out port will clearly be a hit with anyone who wants to show movies photos, slideshows and more on an HDTV (without the need for a Wi-Fi network). I am not sure, though, that I love the Smart Cover. I keep my iPad fully covered, and this foldable face only shields the screen. I'm not sure I consider that enough protection for a device that's now thinner than ever.
Unlike last year, Apple's competitors are well on their way to entering the market with strong, viable tablets that could and should easily appeal to a variety of markets, but as of now, not the Motorola Xoom, HP Touchpad, Samsung Galaxy Tab or Blackberry Playbook stand above the Apple iPad 2. Not only because the product is now thinner, lighter, faster and just as affordable as before, but because there are currently 65,000 apps ready and waiting for iPad 2 customers. No one else has that, and it could be quite a while before any of them do. In the meantime, the Apple iPad 2 will continue to attract consumers and developers. As Rein told me, they're not on other mobile platforms [with Infinity Blade] "because the real business is on Apple."
Finally, if competitors want to understand why Apple has 90 percent of the tablet market and will likely hold onto a good portion of it in 2011, they need only look at how Apple couples product announcement with product delivery. Apple announced the first iPad at the tail end of January 2010. By early April, they were in stores. The Apple iPad 2 will ship less than two weeks after its unveiling. The competition, which has a habit of teasing with cool products and not even offering a ship date, has just been schooled.
This article, written by Lance Ulanoff, originally appeared on PCMag.com and is republished on Gear Live with the permission of Ziff Davis, Inc..
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