Even without a "Retina" display or top-notch cameras, the second-generation tablet should be a useful business tool.
Anyone who's ever been in a bar band will confirm that it's
usually better to be the second act, unless the opener turns out to be wildly
popular with the first arrivals in the audience. That seems to hold true with
mobile devices as well: if the early adopters create the right buzz, the second
iteration doesn't have to be a dramatic improvement to go over big. The difficult
part is avoiding the "sophomore slump."
Although the iPad 2 isn't as boffo compared to the original
Apple tablet as some observers had hoped it would be, the company has
the difficult feat of balancing expectations and economics. The new
includes front- and rear-facing cameras, and a new dual-core processor
lighter and thinner than the original. It's available in any color you
want, as long as it's black or white. But the pricing hasn't changed
from last year:
the iPad 2 starts at $499 for the WiFi-only 16GB model, and the
unit (with Wi-Fi, 3G mobile networking from AT&T or Verizon and
64GB of storage memory) still comes in at $829.
I spent the better part of a recent week with a 64GB unit
with Wi-Fi and AT&T 3G service. The unit shipped to me with iOS 4.3
installed, and when Apple released iOS 4.3.1 a few days before writing this, I began
using that version. I found no discernable difference between the two on the
iPad 2, although an older iPad that had balked at 3G connections following its
upgrade to iOS 4.3 behaved better once the 4.3.1 update was installed.
This year's iPad is all about the accessories. The slimmer
body of the iPad 2 makes many of last year's geegaws such as docks and sleeves
obsolete. I'm going to hive off most of my thoughts in that area into a blog
post, but I wonder when customers will begin accusing the 31 magnets in the
iPad 2 and its Smart Cover of wiping bank cards, transit cards and other media
that use magnetic strips.
For me, the most exciting iPad 2 accessory turned out to be
the Apple Digital AV Adapter, which allows iPads and the iPhone 4 to
output 720p and better digital video to television sets equipped with an HDMI
interface. Until now, output from the iPad has been an analog affair, but this
new adapter can make presentations look crisper than ever before.
The new iPad is lighter than the original by a few ounces;
it's noticeable when you compare the two, but with the help of a few
colleagues, I conducted some extremely informal tests to decide if it's enough
to really make a difference. Although everyone in my statistically
insignificant sample could tell that the iPad 2 was indeed less heavy than the
first iPad, whether it was enough to be noticed by users who carry it
everywhere proved an almost perfectly split decision.
The front-facing camera in the iPad 2 works at VGA
resolution and is barely adequate for videoconferencing. Images are grainy when
the subjects are still, and when they are moving, the blur can be downright
disorienting. The camera sits a little too high for anyone using the iPad 2 in
portrait orientation to hold the tablet naturally and appear on camera at the
same time. Rotating the iPad into landscape mode makes one look as if they're
constantly looking off-camera, in what some would call a "Michele Bachmann
effect." The rear camera is better suited for high-quality stills and video
but falls a few megapixels short of the comparable camera in last year's iPhone
Upon reflection, the most serious flaw I can find in the
iPad 2 is in the design of the SIM card tray: As in the original iPad, the SIM
card (actually a 3FF-format MicroSIM) is inserted into the tray from the
"front" side of the device. The problem asserts itself when one wishes to
remove or replace the SIM card; in order to do so, the SIM extraction tool must
be inserted at an angle that can only be achieved by orienting the iPad 2 face
down. If the SIM card tray is removed without first returning the iPad to a
face-up position, the card will simply fall out onto the workbench, floor or
an intermediate surface.
Anyone who has a reason to remove
or replace the SIM card will wonder why the engineers responsible for the card
tray couldn't have simply redesigned it to cradle the card in the same
orientation that one would use for removing the tray. But Apple has a track
record of making its products deliberately difficult to service, and this hang-up
is only likely to affect those users who purchase a used device, or overseas
customers who regularly take their iPads across national borders but don't want
to pay data roaming fees. For most American users, this won't be a problem at
all. The burden of this blunder will fall more on the people who service these
devices, who are in many cases employees of Apple, AT&T or their
Otherwise, the iPad 2 is an improvement over its predecessor
in many respects. The big question in my mind is whether developers will be
able to take full advantage of the dual-core processor environment upon the
expected release of iOS 5 later this year. If so, the new CPU and the apparent
doubling of the device's working RAM to 512MB should open up significant new
possibilities and provide users with a more stable platform than the original
iPad, so I'm stoked to see what Apple's newest tablet will lead to. As a
business tool, the device itself remains somewhat of a gadget. What remains to
be seen is what developers are able to do with the platform. That, my friends,
is what computing is all about.
P. J. Connolly began writing for IT publications in 1997 and has a lengthy track record in both news and reviews. Since then, he's built two test labs from scratch and earned a reputation as the nicest skeptic you'll ever meet. Before taking up journalism, P. J. was an IT manager and consultant in San Francisco with a knack for networking the Apple Macintosh, and his love for technology is exceeded only by his contempt for the flavor of the month. Speaking of which, you can follow P. J. on Twitter at pjc415, or drop him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.