Mar 11

iPad 2: what a difference a year makes

It’s easy to forget what happened a year ago when Apple unveiled iPad.

The most anticipated launch in the company’s history turned out, in many ways, to be a dud. I’m not talking about the device. I’m talking about the launch.

The naysayers went to work within seconds: the name is embarrassing, there are no surprises, it’s just a bigger iPod touch, Apple’s string of successes is finally snapped — it was unrelenting. iPad became a joke for late-night comics. If Apple stock were based on popular opinion, it would have plummeted at least 50%.

Only when people got their hands on iPad two months later did things turn around. You know the rest — it became the most successful new product in Apple history.

So it was with great interest that I read the day-after reviews this morning. Not a lot of overt gushing, but generally positive. Quite a few are in the “met expectations” camp. Which, in some cases, is simply a backhanded compliment from someone who had their heart set on drawing blood.

Personally, I was a satisfied customer. My test is simple: if I look at the old and new models side by side, and I can’t imagine myself using the old one, I feel like Apple has done its job. There are too many things “wrong” with the old one now, or just missing, for me to be interested. A ton of current owners will want to upgrade, and a ton of people who were waiting for a better iPad will eagerly jump in. It more than holds up against the imitators who can’t offer the ecosystem surrounding Apple products.

Here are my reactions to yesterday’s launch event, in no meaningful order.

Hello, Steve. Well, wasn’t that a nice surprise. Good to see Steve back in the saddle. I think it’s significant, because it quashes some of the darker theories out there.

“Don’t expect more than a speed bump.” As most know, a leak one day prior to the event from an “Apple staffer” warned us not to get too excited about iPad 2. It’s just a speed bump. The real fun comes with iPad 3, later in the year. Uh huh. This story was re-blogged over 500 times. Not that we need further proof, but this only demonstrates the uncontrollable drive that many feel to spew any and all details about an upcoming Apple product. You’d hope that by now, people wouldn’t be so eager to go on record spreading false rumors.

The Smart Cover. Damn, it’s cute. Probably one of the best examples of sexy simplicity Apple has come up with in a while. (And kudos to the Apple writer who came up with the line on the website: One great idea on top of another. Good one.)

The chip. Love it. Not only does the dual-core A5 chip deliver that snappy performance, it allows Apple to remain super-competitive in price. The other guys have to pay someone else for a processor, and those little buggers ain’t cheap.

The name A5. Does anyone know the real origin of the naming scheme? What happened to A1, A2 and A3? Just curious.

The iPad 2 video. After every launch, I say the same thing. The video is fine, high quality, hit all the big points, etc. It just looks and sounds like every other video Apple has done in the last few years — right down to the superlative overload. My ideal Apple is never formulaic. This is a formula.

The Smart Cover video. Totally cool. Beautifully done. A great example of how a spot that trumpets only a relatively insignificant feature can give you such a positive feeling about the overall product (and the company that made it). Hope it runs as a commercial.

White. Yippee! But I like black.

The competition. Back at CES in January, over 100 tablets stood up to compete with iPad. Unfortunately, they were competing with the wrong iPad. Like Apple has done since the second iPod, they’ve unveiled a new version just as the other guys are able to say “we got one too.” If you’re a competitor, there’s only one known defense: make an original, revolutionary product yourself. And you know how often that happens.

“2011: The year of iPad 2.” As a theme line for the event … thanks, but no thanks. It’s a bit too self-congratulatory for my taste. I’m used to Apple saying things like “the year of HD” and “the year of wireless.” Not “the year of iMovie HD” and “the year of AirPort.” However, I do agree with the sentiment. Barring any economic disaster, with businesses, schools and consumers lining up to buy, 2011 is going to be all iPad, all the time.

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  • qka

    Concerning “2011: The year of iPad 2.”:

    Hasn’t Apple already used a line to the effect of “Here we go again”?

  • ViewRoyal

    I really like the new iPad 2. Overall it’s a really nice improvement over the previous iPad.

    But that said, I only wish that they didn’t cheap-out on the cameras like they did. Apple used the same cameras that are in last year’s iPod Touch. The front facing camera is a measly 0.3MP, while competitor tablets have 2.0MP or 3.0MP front cameras.

    Apple is starting to introduce Facetime HD 1.0MP cameras on their product line, and receiving a Facetime call from the iPad 2 on another iPad 2 (or new Macs running Facetime HD) will look terrible because the 640×480 video is “stretched” to fit the 1024×768 making it look soft and over compressed. Why didn’t they at the least have a 1.0MP camera so that it could also do Facetime HD?

    Then the backside camera is even worse. Instead of using the current iPhone’s 5.0MP camera as they should have done, they cheaped out and put the crappy 0.7MP camera that’s in the iPod Touch, while competitor’s backside cameras are 5.0MP to 8.0MP! It’s well-known that 720p video shot with the iPod Touch is sub-par compared to the iPhone 4. Also the camera is limited to 960×720 pixel photos… totally useless unless you want an album of “thumbnail” images :-(.

    Also the iPad 2 does not have a flash, similar to the iPhone 4 and to other cameras on competitors’ tablets, so shooting video or tiny “photos” in low-light will be out of the question.

    These things will be a detractor for a lot of people considering buying a tablet this year. And you can bet that all the other tablet manufacturers will be running ads pointing these points out when they compare their tablets to the iPad 2.

    For many people having cameras on a tablet are not that important, and some may feel that using a tablet to take pictures is clumsy. But there is a saying: “The best camera is the one you have with you.”

    If you are somewhere using your tablet, and a “photo op” comes up, wouldn’t it be better to use the device you’re holding to take that photo immediately, rather than having to put down your tablet and looking around for another camera to use (or realizing that you left it at home)?

    It really would have only added literally a few dollars to the cost of the iPad 2 to include the iPhone 4’s camera and flash.

  • EB

    I don’t think the cameras were meant to be used for much more than facetime/photobooth. To get it as thin as they wanted, that was what they had to do – just like to get the iPod touch that thin.

  • Bud

    I don’t know what happened to chips A1-A3, but calling the current chip #5, with iPhone 5 around the corner, and soon enough there’ll be iOS 5, I can guess perhaps they just want all the numbers to be fairly on par.

    Some blogs say that since Apple said “2011 The Year of iPad 2” precludes an iPad 3 in the fall, but it wouldn’t be beyond Apple to say at the end of the year, “Just one more thing”.

    I think with the smart covers, Apple has created a whole new accessory niche.

    To the person complaining above about the camera: I find it so strange to pick on a small part of the whole package. Perhaps Apple could’ve skimped on other areas to save money to fit a better camera. I certainly wouldn’t like the result of that.

  • Jesse Ketchum

    Great observations. Nicely done.

  • Taes

    A4 as in iPhone4?

  • Bmcfadden

    Apple has hit this one out of the park. Just when competitors thought they understood what hit them a year ago … Apple redefines the category again.

    And Apple marketing reinforces the very emotional connection consumers have with this device. It will be a cold day in hell when Dell shows a tablet helping autistic children to learn. They would rather tout the ability to quickly deplete your batteries with flash ads and brute force multitasking.

    One more thought — Apple’s carefully curated “walled garden” approach is going to pay off in spades. Android’s undoing will be an epidemic of malicious viruses and spyware, and its reputation will be even worse than Windows soon.

  • Nice observations, Ken. As an aside, Apple seems to be singled out for an intense ‘under the microscope’ treatment prior to any launch. Rumors and consequently, expectations soar high. And when they are not, it is labelled an ‘underwhelming’ launch.

  • James Ahlschwede

    I always thought the name A4 was a bit of a pun and a tip of a hat to the iPad’s use as an eReader, since it’s the name of a standard paper size.

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