iPad 2 is an obvious improvement on its predecessor, but does it have enough to maintain its supremacy?

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As a marketing man, I am always slightly uncomfortable when watching Steve Jobs present, the experience is a little akin to being in the presence of an overly committed evangelical street preacher or snake oil salesman for that matter.

Steve
will always try to dazzle you with ’statistics’ and ’facts’ which are always presented as being concrete and absolute, but are usually marketing distortions of the truth. I contend that he was largely wheeled out on this occasion to cover up what was actually a relatively lackclustre update of revolutionary yet flawed product. Before the fanboys get on my case, I think everyone agrees that the lack of cameras on the first device was a major oversight - anyway, I digress.

Steve callously abused one of his main suppliers - Samsung by using a mis-quoted reference in his presentation, one which had already been corrected in all the major tech press, several weeks ago; that sentence (About the Samsung Galaxy Tab) was:

"As you heard, our sell-in was quite agressive ... around two million. In terms of sell-out, we believe it was quite small" - Samsung VP Lee Young-hee (small was a mis-translation, Young-hee said ’smooth’ not ’small’!)

Of course Samsung has several million dollars riding on a supply deal with Apple, so they’re unlikely to complain, but it’s one hell of a way to treat a supply partner. Steve then proclaimed that the iPad 2 would be the first dual-core processor tablet to ship ’in volume’ - which is a likely prediction, but not an accurate statement at the point of delivery, as Motorola’s Xoom is already out on sale to the mass-market, albeit without Apple’s extensive retail base.

In the presentation, a disproportionate amount of time was spent on 4 elements - ’Photo Booth’, ’iMovie’ and ’GarageBand’ - all apps; as well as the new ’Smart Cover’ - which is a partial rip-off of InCase’s ’Convertible Magazine Jacket’ - year of the copycat you say Steve?

One thing Apple certainly has not copied is topline hardware specs, for sure the iPad 2 is slimmer, still has a 10 hour batter life, and has a faster dual-core processor and 2-way cameras. However, it only (supposedly) has 512MB of RAM, where current devices are shipping with 1 GB, the screen resolution is also static, but we will see that in the head-to-head comparison below.

Regardless of hardware considerations, Apple still has some aces up its sleeve, hence Apple concentrating on Apps in its presentation. Apple still has the best Interface and User Experience for the Tablet format, Android Honeycomb is still not up to speed, and Android has no way near the number of quality Apps the iPad has. There’s no question that within the next 12 months until the next iPad, we will get much better hardware specs from Android devices, including quad-core processors and better connectivity (USB and SmartCard slots) - but Apple still leads the way in content and usability.

Head-to-head comparison of Apple iPads vs leading Android contender - Motorola Xoom

 

    iPad 1
  iPad 2   Xoom
Display
9.7 inches   9.7 inches   10.1 inches
Resolution
1024 x 768   1024 x 768   1280 x 800
Processor
1GHz Apple A4   IGHz dual-core Apple A5   1GHz dual-core NVIDIA Tegra 2
Memory
256MB RAM   512MB RAM   1GB RAM
Storage
16GB / 32GB / 64GB   16GB / 32GB / 64GB   32GB
Front Camera
N/A   VGA   2 megapixel
Rear Camera
N/A   720p / 30p video   5 megapixel AF with dual-LED flash, 720 / 30p video
Cellular Radio
EDGE plus triband HSPA   Quadband HSPA or CDMA / EV-DO Rev. A   3G with free upgrade to 4G LTE
WiFi
802.11a/b/g/n   802.11a/b/g/n   802.11a/b/g/n
Bluetooth
2.1 + EDR   2.1 + EDR   2.1 + EDR
Accelerometer
3-axis   3-axis   3-axis
Gyroscope
N/A   Yes   Yes
Battery Life
10 hrs quoted   10 hrs quoted   10 hrs quoted
Thickness
13.4mm   8.8mm   12.7mm
Max Weight
730g   613g   725g
Price Range
$399 - $729   $499 - $829   $539-$799

 

Battery life appears similar (well identical), but in bench tests the Xoom averages around 8.5 hrs and iPad is 9.5 hrs. The iPad now has a connector cable for HDMI output, but it still lacks USB ports and SmartCard slots, but then most of the competition still lack the latter. Also, BlackBerry is currently the only competitor providing a tablet with 64GB of storage memory (PlayBook).

Verdict

As I was with the iPad 1, I am still slighly disappointed with the new device, it has moved forward for sure, but marginally incrementally only - catching up with what is should have been at the offset. Where is the much-touted higher resolution retina screen? Or higher storage memory capacity? The cameras are slightly underpowered, and some might say - who in their right mind is going to use a tablet as a primary camera? That said, tablets are being increasingly used for presentations and teaching, and for certain types of teleconferencing it is very useful to have a high res video / scanning / input device!

The new slimmer form factor is great, I still believe the 15% reduction in weight is negligible and still uncomfortable for one-handed reading - but then all the tablets of that size are around the same weight; possibly the 7" tablet format is better for eBooks. Of course there is still no Flash, but with the rapid development of Apple Apps, this is starting to matter less and less.

If you had to buy a tablet this month, then I believe the iPad 2 will be the best option for most consumers - it’s still a little way off perfect, and there will be legions of further competing devices appearing within the next 12 months. Like my colleague Julius said, it’s less about the hardware really, and more about what you can do with the device, and in that respect the iPad is still the winner. Android Honeycomb is still fledgling and slightly buggy, and Android still has some distance to go to catch up with the core Apple iOS usability and number and quality of applications. My brother has already signified his attentions to acquire an iPad 2 as soon as it comes on sale, for me it’s more a case of wait and see...

 

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