A Look at The iPad2:

Apple iPad2 - In Black and White.

Apple iPad2 - in Black and White. Thinner. Lighter. Faster. FaceTime. Smart Covers. 10 Hour Battery. Original Image: Apple

Been A little while, I’ve been working, and that’s a good thing if you’re a self-employed designer. I also broke my ankle back in August while camping, so been recovering. So blogging a slightly lower priority lately, but here I am again.

I had occasion to be out and about and took the opportunity to visit my local Apple store and take a look at the just released iPad2 for my local Apple User Group. Just like it’s predecessor, it’s a very appealing little slab of electric crack. It’s also a more appealing experience than the original iPad. Apparently, a lot of people think so too, since Apple seems to have sold close to a million of the things in the first weekend of availability, selling out at most locations.

When Apple released the original iPad, they were diving out into uncharted territory. As of last year, no one had gotten a tablet computer out there that captured the public imagination till they completely redesigned the interface. Their success with the iPhone, turning the smartphone market in it’s side, suggested they were on to something. But it wasn’t till the first year of iPad, that the realized that they had something quite amazing on their hands. People are doing things with the iPad that Apple never expected.

View Apple’s iPad: Year One Video

Let’s get to some specific impressions.

It’s definitely sleeker and lighter. The reduced weight make holding the tablet one-handed more comfortable while I manipulated the interface with the other. And the removal of the side wall into the rounded back makes the interface surface seem less like an object and even more like a window into the interface. It also, with a new dual-core processor, feels faster and more responsive. I recall playing with the Google Maps application, the original iPad had problem with pulling down the map data while changing views, locations, zooming in and out and scrolling maps. The iPad2 performed  all of the above seamlessly. Videos in both the YouTube and in Mobile Safari played smoothly and cleanly. For those of you who want to know, the iPad2 comes with 512mb of RAM compared to the original’s 256mb.

“My friends, I’m telling you: just that much improvement in thinness, weight and speed transforms the experience. We’re not talking about a laptop or a TV, where you don’t notice its thickness while in use. This is a tablet. You are almost always holding it. Thin and light are unbelievably important for comfort and the overall delight. So are rounded edges, which the first iPad didn’t have.”
- David Pogue, NY Times Personal Tech.

Graphics Performance is greatly improved. I did tick at a game or two, and they run quite snappily. However a “special demo version” of Disney’s TRON Legacy game failed to load beyond the intro screens. Perhaps a glitch, bit still disappointing. On the other hand, Zen Sketch was a smooth delight to this amateur calligrapher.

I also looked at the new cameras, front and back, introduced with the iPad2. As many other reviews noted, they’re the same cameras that are on the iPod Touch, and not as good as the ones on the iPhone. What up? In fact, the rear cam produces quite decent 720p video, which looks better than the still taken with the same sensor. I will admit that mucking around in Photo Booth IS fun. When I dropped in to the photos application – I am resisting the urge to use the lingo “app” – the sample photo albums in the demo unit could not POSSIBLY have been made with the iPads cameras. And I think that is largely the point. The cameras are not intended as serious photography tools, and I think that most iPad owners will likely already have a mid-level to high-end Digital Camera, DSLR,  or an iPhone or smartphone with a quite good camera to provide a photo source to hook up to the Camera Connection Kit. The cams are there to provide casual snapshots, to give the iPad “eyes” for interactive apps, create decent video for the well received mobile version of iMovie, and to enable FaceTime video chat and calls. However, I think it’s likely that they’ll improve the cameras on the next version of the iPad.

As a web designer, I did notice that there were a lot of places where Flash Video didn’t work in Mobile Safari, but it was not too objectionable. The larger media sites were streaming some form of h.263/HTML5 video, but smaller sites often had holes. Including places in some of my sites, where clients insisted on Flash content. A couple of my sites degraded to the non-flash versions gracefully, others had holes. I know I’ll be hitting Google and the books to see about this. For the moment, it just means more work for the likes of me if my clients want rich online media, and want it to work on the rapidly growing Mobile Web. Most notable, just about EVERY inline audio solution generally available, whether it’s javascript, JQuery, or plain HTML & CSS3, uses a Flash player.

However, the amazing Apps ecosystem in iOS (40,000 plus for the iPad alone) sets the iPad and iPhone (over 300,000 apps ) apart from their Android counterparts, and makes the Flash Question a bit less of a shortcoming.

The Smart Cover is very spiffy, and very clever. “…an iPad 2 wearing a Smart Cover is considerably thinner than a naked original iPad.” - John Gruber, Daring Fireball. The covers clings to the iPad2 magnetically, and almost automatically, folds back to make either a typing stand or stand up the screen to view media. When closed, it sleeps the pad, and the iPad wakes instantly when peeled back. Until the third party case makers catch up, the Smart Cover is also largely the only game in town. The Apple Store had no other cases for the iPad2 in the shop. But I am sure there will be a flood of cases, and other accessories swiftly flooding the market before very long.

The iPad2 comes in the same wi-fi and 3G configurations and price points as the original, with the addition of white models. I prefer the black – the white seems to diminish the screen, while the black feels somehow… deeper. Just an impression. The original iPad is still available from Apple at mild discounts, in addition to refurbished models. After selling out, shipments have been easing back out to the Apple Stores and other outlets. But the shipping times for the online store have stretched to 4-5 weeks as of March 20. One other thought, due to the disaster in Japan, Apple may have some problems with availability of the more high tech parts of the iPad that are manufactured in Japan. But that will largely depend on how Apple has organized their supply chain.

Should you buy one? If you’ve been waiting for this version for your first pad, dive in. It’s a very worthy device. If you have an original iPad, the upgrade may be too incremental to drop $500 to $830 for, unless there is some specific feature you’re jonesing for, or shortcoming the upgrade address that’s making you insane. But I am with many reviewers out there that feel that a device of this caliber ought to be useful for more than a year. So next year’s iPad3 will likely offer a more impressive upgrade. Depends on your needs and gadget lust. However, if your in a household that’s fighting over the thing. It’s a nice excuse to get a new one, and pass your old model along and get the kids to leave you alone. My wife often gives me the sad eye whenever I take the Macbook Pro out on a client call or presentation.

Other tablets? If Flash is a deal-breaker for you, then there are a few other choices. The New York Times has a decent outline of the contenders you might actually be able to buy. The rest of the hundred or so announced at CES are still vaporware. The current leading contender, the Motorola Xoom, is on the expensive side. But the emerging competition should serve to keep Apple to continue to improve the iPad.

Changes at The Apple Store

Since I was in an Apple Store, I noticed a couple of things. The front counter is gone. And in most of the store you can purchase Apple gear right on the sales floor from an Apple Associate. IOS and mobile computing are absolutely the stars on Apple’s stage now. Over half the store was iOS devices, iPads, iPhones, iPod Touch. Then most of the rest was MacBooks. Other than Apple hardware, all the third party gear, peripherals,  books and software is now consigned to one section of shelving in the very back. On the other side of the quite busy Genius Bar, was another rear section with an elite selection of iPod, iPhone and iPad accessories.

There were a few iMacs along the side towards the back, and just ONE lonely Mac Pro, neglected in a corner, and it was an entry-level Xeon machine, not a more powerful Westmere Mac Pro. So it kind of shows where Apple’s attention is focused with the mall-walking audience. Note the qualifier. But if I want to look at pro gear, I’d have to haul downtown to TekServe. Just saying. But there are reasons that Pro users are feeling neglected by Apple.

But with the opening and growth of the online Mac App Store, on the same lines as the App Store, Apple is definitely leaning towards an all-digital software experience. And I do admit, that less and less of my software is coming shrink-wrapped in boxes. But for peripherals, printers, hard drives and other gear, especially pro gear, it’s still nice to be able actually look things over before slapping down the credit card. But we won’t be doing much of it at Apple stores, except for Apple kit.

Further Reading

iPad at Apple
iPad2 Features

Tablets, Compared. NY Times Interactive Feature

For a more geeky and in-depth review:
John Gruber on the iPad @ Daring Fireball

A more “regular-person” audience impression:
Appeal of iPad 2 Is a Matter of Emotions
David Pogue, NY Times Personal Tech

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