iPad 2: The Only Thing Missing Is the Buy Now Button
The original iPad was intriguing and very tempting, but without features like a camera or HDMI out, it seemed to be missing a few vital elements right off the bat. That's been soundly remedied with iPad 2, which has also been boosted with a faster processor. With this second-gen model, iPad is now a complete tablet. As for being a "post-PC" tablet, well ...
Over the last year, I've been an iPad holdout. If you already have an iPhone and a MacBook, do you really need an iPad, too? Need is a relative term, of course, so let's use want instead. With Apple's introduction of the iPad 2 Wednesday, I now want an iPad 2. My reservations have been swiped away, and the only thing standing between me and a shiny new iPad 2 is an absent Buy Now button on Apple's online store.
March 11 is the date Apple will start taking orders, and you can bet the company's website will be hammered, and for good reason: Apple will deliver what is at once a solid incremental update to the original iPad as well as a new device that isn't missing any critical features -- like a camera. The iPad 2 now sports a front and rear camera. The front is for FaceTime video calling, while the rear is for snapping photos and recording 720p video.
Not only is the iPad 2 a full one-third thinner than the original, it's 15 percent lighter -- 1.3 pounds vs. 1.5 pounds. That might not sound like much, but every little bit helps. One of the few complaints I heard about the original was that it grew to feel "heavy" over long periods of holding it, for example, while you were trying to read a novel.
The iPad 2 has a new dual-core A5 processor that is up to twice as fast as its predecessor, but more importantly, it's up to an astounding nine times faster at graphics processing. By all means, the iPad 2 will feel snappy and fluid -- and some early hands-on reports support this expectation.
Despite the slim new design, and despite the new dual-core processor, Apple has managed to keep battery life the same at 10 hours. This is an important feat, and I don't think Apple gets recognized for how well it innovates with its batteries. Sure, the batteries are not user-replaceable or removable, but I'm willing to sacrifice that issue for svelte design and solid green juice.
Meanwhile, Apple has introduced a white version (not that white excites me in particular) and is offering versions for AT&T or Verizon, which brings up an interesting point: Potential buyers will need to pay attention to which model they are buying. Do they want the AT&T version or the Verizon? It only matters, of course, if they shell out for the WiFi + 3G model that will offer them on-the-go cellular data services. Apple is still offering a WiFi-only model, which is perfect for those who always have WiFi in reach.
Compared to relatively new Android-based tablets hitting the market these days, Apple's iPad 2 remains surprisingly competitively priced, partially because Apple has the ability to commit to buying very large quantities of components at low prices, then offers up the successful iTunes and App Store ecosystem for add-on incremental sales. The result for consumers shakes out to this: US$499 will get you a 16 GB WiFi-only version, which ramps up to $599 and $699 for a 32 or 64 GB version, respectively. The 16 GB WiFi + 3G model starts at $629, then goes to $729 and $829 for the 32 and 64 GB models, respectively.
In addition to the expected camera, Apple also included a built-in gyro, which will help with gaming and managing the exact position of the iPad 2 in space relative to gravity and movement. That's cool enough, but Apple didn't stop with device itself: Apple added a new iPad 2 Smart Cover that is magnetically attached to the side of the iPad 2, plus has the ability to automatically wake the iPad 2 from sleep when the cover is lifted -- or put it to sleep when it's attached. The segmented cover folds into a stand, and the inside is made of a microfiber that Apple says helps keep the screen clean. A polyurethane version will go for $39 while a leather option will sell for $69.
It has all the looks of a must-have accessory.
Finally, HDMI Out
While I wouldn't say Apple has fully come to its senses with HDMI video out, the company has made a nice half-way stride: With an optional adapter, you can use HDMI video mirroring to mirror the iPad screen on an HDTV via an HDMI cable (sold separately). The output ramps up to 1080p (yes!) and works with video as well as all apps. No doubt, Apple is thinking about the education market here, where such an ability could easily be put to use in many classrooms.
Of course, Apple still uses AirPlay to wirelessly stream content to those who have Apple TVs and WiFi networks with Home Sharing turned on. But with the HDMI out cable adapter, you can now travel and show apps and video on most any flatscreen TV -- including those in hotel rooms.
The Post-PC Device?
Apple was somewhat hubristic in calling the iPad 2 a "post-PC" device for the way its ease-of-use, operating system, and marriage between content, mobility, and intuition all come together to forge something new. Sure, I'll buy this reasoning, but I'm a long way from accepting the idea that I don't need a real computer, too. The "post" in "post-PC" implies that computers are becoming irrelevant ... and for me, at least, that's just crazy talk.
But still, it's hard to deny that Apple has done an excellent job with this new edition of its iPad. The iPad is thinner, lighter, faster and has two cameras.
I don't have any excuses left for not getting one. Come March 11, I'll be in line, virtually -- and I'm looking forward to seeing if the iPad 2 evolves from the want category to become a tool of need.