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Apple iPad 2 Preview

Apple today announced the iPad 2, a minor and evolutionary update to its market-leading tablet device. There were no major surprises at all, with virtually all of the feature set, accessories, and applications having been previously divulged by various rumor sites and other sources. But the iPad is important, and this update, while disappointing in its lack of scope, will no doubt usher in another year of market dominance and sales for the company. With Apple, it's not how well you do, it's how well your fans love you.

And Apple's fans love this company.

Here are my initial reactions about the iPad 2, which are based on watching various live blogs during the announcement event. I'll later watch and rewatch official video of the event when it's released by Apple, and will of course review the iPad 2 in the coming weeks.

Steve Jobs. The iPad announcement was hosted by ailing CEO Steve Jobs, which excited the audience for obvious reasons. I'm glad he was able to do it.

Announcements. As always at Apple events, it all began with various announcements about product milestones and put-downs for the supposed competition. Apple has now sold 100 million iPhones. 2010 was "the year of the iPad," with 15 million units shipped. This is more than "every Tablet PC ever sold," Jobs claimed. The iPad has over 90 percent market share, which seems pretty low when you think about it: There are only a tiny number of competitors in the market. 65,000 iPad specific apps are available now.

iPad is not a computer. Apple very specifically claims that the iPad is a post-PC device and NOT a computer. I hope that settles that argument.

iPad 2. There was curiously little news about the iPad, which is a small evolutionary update over the original device. (Or in Jobs' words, "an all-new design.") The new A5 CPU is dual-core and "twice" as fast as the processor in the original. Graphics are "nine times" faster. Power consumption is the same as with the original. Front and rear cameras. Built-in gyroscope. It's one-third thinner than the original, 13.4 mm down to 8.8 mm. ("Thinner than the iPhone 4.") Lighter too. All as expected.

They're going to have black and white versions, and white is shipping on day one. (The white iPhone 4 still hasn't shipped.)

Bad news: AT&T and Verizon are supported from day one (but not in the same hardware. So there are actually 18 (!) different versions of the iPad: Three Wi-Fi, three 3G with AT&T, and three 3G with Verizon, and then each in white as well. Yugh. Battery life, while excellent, is still the same as with first iPad. Worse, so is the price. Apple typically keeps the price the same and bumps up capacities. This time, they kept the price AND the storage capacities the same. That is too bad. So Wi-Fi versions are $499 (16 GB), $599 (32 GB), and $699 (64 GB), and Wi-Fi + 3G versions are $629 (16 GB), $729 (32 GB), and $829 (64 GB), just like before.

The iPad 2 ships next week, March 11, in the US, and March 25 in other markets around the world.

iPad 2 accessories. Apple announced two interesting accessories for the iPad 2. The first is an HDMI out cable/dock that mirrors the iPad 2 display, not just for video and audio, but also for apps. I suppose this means you can play iPad 2 games on an HDTV, basically, which is pretty cool. Supports up to 1080p. Unlike, say, the Apple TV.

The second is a cool new take on a case, where a very thin micro-fiber screen sits on top, held on by magnets. You can fold it over for holding the iPad. It cleans the screen while covering it, which is obviously a necessity. And there are many colors, which is neat.

iOS 4.3. As with the iPad 2, most iOS 4.3 details had previously leaked. Dramatically improved Safari performance. iTunes home sharing. AirPlay improvements (photo sharing with transitions, apps and web sites can share over AirPlay). iPad switch preferences (mute or orientation, fixing a user complaint), personal hot-spot (but for iPhone 4 only).

Apple announced some new iOS 4.3 apps: Photo Booth, FaceTime, iMovie, and Garage Band (all as on the Mac). None of these are particularly interesting to me. (The latter two are paid apps, and will cost $4.99 each. This is reasonable.)

What didn't get announced? While most of the iPad 2 stuff was as expected, Apple said nothing about non-reflective screens, even as an option. This is very, very disappointing as the screen is the current iPad's Achilles Heel.

Recap. A few months ago, I wrote an article called How Apple Can Fix the iPad in 2011. Here's how the company did fulfilling my wish list:

Pricing. Nope.

Form factor. Slightly improved.

Storage. Nope.

Cameras. Yes.

Screen. Nope.

Expansion. 1 for 3: HDMI out as requested but no USB or SD.

Overall reaction. Mixed. The original iPad is good, not great. And the iPad 2 is improved. But is it great? The screen may be a deal-breaker for me, and I am very surprised they did not address this. We'll have to wait and see until I can get my hands on one. I will say this, however. The iPad isn't just the device, of course. It's the device plus the ecosystem. And when you add this all up, the iPad 2 really does stand alone atop the nascent tablet device market. And that will be true for a long, long time.

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