Apple's iPad 2 launches today at 5pm EST. While technology launches rarely warrant such attention, the fact that customers have been queuing since Wednesday shows that Apple's latest gadget update is more than 'just another product launch'.
The original iPad sold nine million units in nine months and took the world's computer industry by storm. It quickly took a sizeable bite out of the then-burgeoning netbook (low powered laptop) market and is reckoned to now be taking a bite out of the laptop market too. Many rival companies have since rushed out competitors, frequently based upon Google's rival Android platform, including the Samsung Galaxy Tab, Telstra T-Pad, Viewsonic ViewPad and Motorola Xoom.
We got our hands on one at 9am this morning but the device has been on sale in America for a fortnight. As such we knew what to expect and validated our test points quickly. The key features and differences to the first generation model are:-
9.7-inch multi-touch screen (as before).
8.8mm thickness - making it one-third thinner than the first-generation model and thinner than an iPhone.
600g(ish) depending on model. This is around 80g lighter than its predecessor which might not sound much but is certainly noticeable. A gripe with the first generation model was that it was rather heavy to hold in one hand for extended periods. This is certainly better but will still feel heavy after extended use.
Faster dual-core processor. The first iPad didn't feel slow. Side by side you notice some speed differences with applications and web pages opening faster on the new model. However, it's not significantly faster yet. Apple claims a 2x processing power increase and a 9x game processing power increase. However, it will be some time before we see new Apps which make use of this power.
Battery life is the same at roughly 10 hours depending on how you use it. The more-efficient (even though it's faster) processor is the reason for this.
It's available with a black or white bezel. The first model was just available in black.
It has a low-resolution (VGA 640 x 480 pixel) front camera and a high-definition (720p) rear camera. The first gen model had no cameras. This opens up new applications like Facetime video chat and general camera usage. A new built-in app called Photobooth lets you create special effect photos, like X-Ray, Kaleidoscope, Thermal Image and fairground mirror effects. It sounds cheesy but it's addictive.
It has a built in 'Gyro' meaning that it can sense which way it's being tilted.
Video mirroring lets you share your iPad's display by connecting it to a screen over HDMI or VGA (using optional adapters). Previously the iPad screen would go dark when you did this. It doesn't on the iPad 2.
Smart covers. These optional accessories are highly-designed and functional. They're magnetic and clip on to the sides of the iPad 2. There are sensors within the iPad 2 which recognise when the clasp is released and turn the iPad on when you start to unpeel the cover. They can also fold up to act as stands for the iPad in both horizontal and vertical orientations. Plastic covers cost $45 while premium leather variants cost $79. There will be many cheaper third-party covers and cases too. It should be noted that the smart covers don't protect the metal back of the iPad 2.
Ultimately, it's a highly-desirable product that's really enhanced by the 65,000 dedicated apps for it.
There's little it can do that its predecessor can't though - the cameras being the main difference. There will surely be apps which only work with the power of the iPad 2 - Apple's own iMovie is one such example. However, by the time this becomes an issue we may well be looking at the iPad 3. As such there's no compelling version to upgrade unless you NEED the camera or you can't stand to live without owning the latest Apple gadget.
When the iPad first launched it was unique in the market. Many commentators were cynical in wondering who would want such a thing. However, it's clear now that tablet computers are here to stay. While we've been playing with various Android devices (and looking forward to trying the forthcoming, award-winning Motorola Xoom and Blackberry Playbook) none have really done what our smartphones can't already do and so they frequently were shelved to gather dust.
Where the iPad wins is with the apps. Many of the 65,000 dedicated apps (and 350,000 in total including the compatible iPhone apps) are extremely high-quality and include the ABC's iView catch-up TV app and Guardian's Eyewitness photo gallery. The new Apple Garage Band is almost worth buying the iPad for on its own. While that may sound gushing with praise, the ability to play almost any major instrument on the iPad, and for it to register the strength with which a note is struck (you can even palm-mute a virtual guitar) is hugely impressive and will strike a chord (ugh!) with music fans of any ability. There are also many magazines and comics from major global publishers which other platforms simply don't have. As such there are many things you can do on the iPad that you can't do on any other platform. This cements it as the market leader and the one to buy if you're still wondering.