Apple announced the iPad 2 today, and it’s about what we expected: thinner, faster, lighter, with front and rear-facing cameras, and the same screen. It goes on sale March 11th.
Apple says it has “up to” 9 times the graphic performance of the first iPad, and their new dual-core A5 chip should be wonderful. The iPad 2 is significantly thinner than the first one, too, but more importantly, it’s lighter—15 percent lighter.
The first iPad’s heft is its most significant usability problem; it more or less requires setting it down on a lap or table to use it for any extended period of time. While this isn’t much of an issue for most uses, it is for reading, because holding the iPad out in front of you like a book doesn’t work. This is also true for using the iPad while walking around. Any decrease in weight is a good thing.
Apple also introduced a new case—err, cover—for the iPad 2, which mounts on the side using magnets and only protects the screen. It looks fantastic; it adds no bulk to the iPad (unlike cases or portfolios), but still folds up to tilt the iPad up for typing or watching a movie. What’s even better is when you open the cover to use the iPad, it automatically unlocks for you, and it locks when you put it down. I wish this was available for the first iPad. I’d replace my InCase portfolio with it in a second.
Oddly enough, though, I think the most exciting part of the event were the iMovie and GarageBand demonstrations. GarageBand looks quite good; not only can you hook your guitar up and record directly (using built-in virtual amps and stompbox effects), but you can play virtual instruments on it, too, like a number of other third-party applications. What’s really unique, though, is the sound produced by the instruments is dynamic, based on how forcefully you tap—it’s using the accelerometer to recognize this. That’s really, really cool.
And it shows precisely what the iPad 2 is capable of. The hardware is nice, but iOS hardware is only a means to the software. The software is the exciting stuff. This event, while substantial, is notable for what we didn’t see. When Apple announced the first iPad, we got a look at what iOS 4 would include, because the first iPad ran on iOS 3.2, which was somewhat of a cross between iOS 3 and 4. That isn’t so this time; iPad 2 will ship with iOS 4.3 and all iOS devices will receive that update. We didn’t see what is in iOS 5 at all.
Apple’s been moving quickly with adding features to iOS 4, much quicker than they did with iOS 2 and 3. Apple added minor new features with point updates to those versions, but with iOS 4 has been releasing full update-quality features. They’re moving much quicker with adding features to the platform.
I think this means one of two things for iOS 5. It’s either (1) they’re adding such large features to iOS 4 because iOS 5 isn’t going to be a significant update and they need to keep the platform moving forward (or iOS 5 may be released later than usual), or (2) they’ve bumped up their release schedules significantly and iOS 5 is going to be a very serious update, too.
I won’t speculate on what features we’ll see in the next update, because I don’t have any information and my guess is as good as yours, but I am leaning toward (2). Apple’s been under tremendous pressure from Android, which releases large feature updates on a much more aggressive schedule, and I think they’ve increased their feature release plan to compensate for that.
So, that’s all to say that I’m expecting a rather exciting event when they announce iOS 5. Apple’s not holding back—they’re putting everything they have into defining the mobile industry, and we’re going to get to see the best they can do. That’s exciting.