The iPad 2 is finally official and we now know the full details of what's new in the first revision to Apple's juggernaut tablet since it originally launched in 2010. Do the updates keep it on par with the competition? Most importantly, is the iPad 2 the tablet for you? Read on for my thoughts.
When you compare the new iPad 2 to the original iPad on paper they look very similar. The iPad 2 doesn't have a ton of new features, but it has a few that really count. First, and perhaps most importantly, Apple has replaced the iPad's A4 processor with the new dual-core A5 processor. This will be a welcome speed bump for existing apps and is sure to open the door for even more powerful apps in the future. The other big additions to the iPad 2 are front and rear cameras. This brings the iPad 2 into the FaceTime world, allowing users to place video calls to other iPad 2 users as well as the millions of iPhone 4 users.
To me those were the two major changes, a faster processor and the addition of cameras. Apple also added a gyroscope that wasn't present in the original iPad and will also be selling the iPad 2 with 3G support for either AT&T or Verizon. Sadly you will have to choose which carrier you like at the time of purchase as Apple has not managed to combine the GSM and CDMA radios into one unit yet. 4G support wasn't even mentioned so it appears that Apple doesn't find the 4G speeds of other devices much of a threat to the iPad.
Outside the iPad has been slimmed down both in volume and in weight. The iPad 2 is just 8.8mm thick which, as Steve Jobs pointed out, is thinner than the iPhone 4, and 33% thinner than the original iPad's 13.4mm thickness. Apple has also managed to reduce the weight down to just 1.3 pounds. For those of you that have been waiting for a white iPhone 4 you may be able to at least appease some of your white iDevice desires as Apple is now offering the iPad in your choice of either black or white.
As I mentioned above many aspects of the iPad have stayed the same. The 9.7-inch 1024x768 screen hasn't changed at all. The available storage offered (16GB, 32GB, or 64GB) hasn't changed. Both the old and new models handle 802.11n (as well as a, b, and g) wireless networking. The new model also sticks with Bluetooth 2.1+ EDR.
Something that didn't come as a surprise, but more as a reassurance, was that Apple left all iPad pricing the same. The iPad starts at $499 for the 16GB Wi-Fi only model, and increases $100 for each bump in storage ($599 for 32GB, $699 for 64GB). If you want to add 3G wireless into the mix just tack on $130 to any model. Keeping these prices is a fantastic move as it keeps Apple less expensive than any other competing tablet PC.
If you read my article from earlier this week you'll remember that I thought Apple only needed three things to ensure success with the iPad 2: Cameras, 4G wireless, and the same price. Apple came through with the cameras and the pricing, but there's no 4G in sight. I don't think this puts the iPad at a huge disadvantage, but it will definitely be something that competitors play up as a weakness.
So is the iPad 2 for you? I still think that all tablets are toys, as I discussed in an earlier article, but if you're looking to buy a tablet right now then I have to say that the iPad 2 is the best choice. It is cheaper than the competitors and is backed by a year's worth of app development (over 65,000 iPad specific apps already).
Since the only real competitor right now is the Motorola Xoom let's take a quick, basic look at how the two compare at a hardware level. Both have dual-core processors. The Xoom has a slightly larger screen (10.1" vs iPad 2's 9.7") with a bit better resolution (1280x800 vs iPad 2's 1024x768). Both have front and rear cameras. Both can be had with 32GB of storage built-in. The Xoom also has expandable storage via a SD card slot while the iPad is storage is not expandable (but the iPad can be purchased with 64GB of storage built-in). The Xoom also will support 4G wireless service which wasn't added to the iPad 2. So they are very close in terms of hardware specs. The kicker is that the Xoom is $799, while the comparably equipped iPad 2 (32GB plus wireless data) is $729. If you only need the barebones model then the gap is larger with the iPad 2 coming in at $499 versus the Wi-Fi only Xoom's $599 price tag.
Unless you just absolutely hate Apple I really don't see why anybody would buy the Xoom over the iPad 2. Yes, they each have their pros and cons and I'm sure Android fans will bring up the usual arguments (no Flash support, "closed" platform, etc.) but even if you include future apps for the Xoom I'm not sure what the Xoom will be able to do that the iPad 2 can't either do already, or will be able to do in the future. To me the iPad 2 is the Xoom killer. Motorola and the other Android tablet manufacturers need to step up and figure out a way to at least match Apple on price. If they are priced the same consumers can put more emphasis on the performance of the units and a few may actually decide that they like the Android interface better. For right now though I think the price alone will steer most people towards the iPad 2.