The announcement by Verizon Wireless that the Xoom will ship on Feb. 24 was followed almost immediately by an invitation by Apple to a press announcement in San Francisco on March 2. Considering the splash that the Xoom is making in the tablet market before it has even been launched, this is no surprise.
The Xoom, with its collection of new features that the iPad doesn’t have and with capabilities that haven’t even been touched on in discussions about the iPad, makes the iPad look decidedly dated.
While there’s little question that the March 2 announcement will be for the iPad 2, there are still plenty of questions as to what that announcement will entail. Will there be a Secure Digital slot in the iPad 2? Will there be dual cameras? Will there be a better and bigger display? The press invitation only says: “Come see what 2011 will be the year of.”
Rob Pegoraro, writing in the Washington Post, said that since this is officially the Year of the Rabbit in China, perhaps it’s a signal that the iPad 2 will change its name. Or perhaps it’s because Rabbit kinda sorta rhymes with tablet. Personally I think that’s a stretch. Apple will probably declare that 2011 is the “Year of the Tablet,” which is something we’ve already said here, and plenty of others have already said elsewhere.
But beyond officially declaring it a year to be “of” something, what will the new iPad be like? It will probably be a lot like the iPad 1. I’d be very surprised if it were different in major dimensions, although it’s supposed to be thinner. There will be two cameras, one for taking photos and HD video, and one facing the user for video chats. The display will apparently be somewhat higher resolution than the current display, although it won’t be Apple’s Retina display such as what’s on the iPhone 4. One would hope there will be an SD slot, but who knows?
The biggest change for the iPad is that the 3G version will apparently be available from Verizon Wireless in a CDMA version, according to an interview in Bloomberg News. Whether that means that all iPads will come with both GSM and CDMA capability is an open question.
Apple iPad 2 Launch an Attempt to Spoil Motorola Xoom Debut
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Also an open question is whether Verizon Wireless will offer a free upgrade to 4G as the company is doing with the Xoom tablet. If it doesn’t, the iPad will start off at a notable disadvantage compared with the Xoom, and that disadvantage will only become more pronounced-the iPad will be slower than the Xoom as soon as the upgrades start and it would just get worse as time goes along.
While data speeds don’t define a tablet device, they do have an impact on what you can do with it. The AT&T iPhone can only do video chats using WiFi. It’s a pretty safe bet that the new 3G iPad will have the same limitation. With Verizon Wireless already building out its LTE network, it’s a safe bet that video chats from anywhere in the 4G footprint will be supported.
Of course, the 4G network will also make streaming video more effective and less likely to be a problem, as it has been with AT&T’s beleaguered 3G network. But without a 4G upgrade path, the iPad is more likely to be seen as a limited device. Although it would be less limited on Verizon’s more extensive network, still, 3G isn’t the same thing as 4G.
The other battle Apple is fighting is the perception that the Motorola Xoom is winning the innovation war. While nobody will know that for sure until we get a chance to try a Xoom and an iPad 2 side by side, the fact is that the current iPad seems dated already. When the Xoom comes out on Feb. 24, it will seem even more dated. The fact that the Xoom will sell for about the same price as the iPad in a similar configuration and that it is designed to move to 4G for free only hits the iPad a couple more times.
Clearly, Apple has to do something now. The Xoom will launch before anyone finds out what’s in the iPad 2, but long after Apple is in a position to do much about the feature set. Still, Apple needs to pre-empt the claim to innovation before the walls start to fall in, what with another Android 3.0 tablet coming from Samsung, the WebOS tablet coming from HP, plus other models coming from nearly everywhere. While Apple got the tablet ball rolling, this ball has already gained so much momentum that Apple will have to do everything it can to keep up-it might even have to provide things its customers demand like an SD slot.
Whether that actually happens or not remains to be seen. Apple has done very well by being cool even at the cost of design. It’s hard to say whether Apple’s coolness is enough this time.