I wonder if Apple wasn’t somehow responsible, but, in the days before Apple’s Wednesday media event, rumors arose that Steve Jobs would return to the stage as host. When he appeared, still quite thin but spry, he got a standing ovation from the usually calm and collected cadre of reporters who were invited to the highly-anticipated iPad 2 rollout.
While the initial speculation had it that the iPad 2 would be, at best, a modest upgrade, Apple again amazed the critics. The iPad 2 was introduced as a dramatically new design, with an Apple A5 1GHz dual-core processor promising up to twice the CPU performance, plus graphics that are said to be nine times speedier than the original version. The new case is a third thinner than the previous model, even thinner than the iPhone 4 by about half a millimeter. It also weighs almost two-tenths of a pound less, and comes with the standard aluminum case, with a front surround that’s either black or white, and I hope Apple will actually be able to ship the latter from Day One.
And, yes, there are both front and rear-facing cameras. The specs list the front as VGA, the rear promises HD-quality video. Clearly Apple isn’t anticipating the latter’s suitability for regular snapshots.
One notable disappointment is the fact that there are separate AT&T and Verizon Wireless versions of the 3G model. I had hoped Apple would have considered a “world” iPad, presaging a similar approach on the next iPhone. Well, maybe next year.
The iPad 2’s model lineup is essentially the same as the previous version, with prices starting at $499 for the 16GB Wi-Fi entry-level configuration. It will ship starting March 11th, which also largely defeats speculation that the product would be substantially delayed. The rollout will begin in the U.S., and expand to 26 more countries starting March 25th, which means that they expect to have enough stock on hand to satisfy the initial demand.
In response to the offerings from competitors of HDMI output, Apple’s HD option requires a $39 adapter that attaches to the dock connector. That means they don’t have to add an extra port to the unit, which, I suppose, might upset Apple’s design sensibilities. Another accessory, Smart Cover, is a tour-de-force as cases go, attaching to the iPad 2 with magnets. Smart Covers automatically awakens the iPad from sleep when it’s opened, and protects just the top of the unit, incorporating a micro-fiber lining designed to clean the screen.
In response to a video displaying the capabilities of Smart Cover, Macworld’s Dan Moren, who was covering the event for the magazine, pronounced it, “one of the strangest Apple videos I’ve ever seen.” They’re priced at $39 for polyurethane, and $69 for leather, and each version will be available in several colors.
As far as the early predictions went, the iPad 2’s screen appears to be essentially the same as the one in the previous version, as far as specs go. A Retina Display alternative will have to wait for a future upgrade, I suppose. The current feeling around the industry is that flat panels offering all those extra pixels are still too expensive. There’s also no SD card slot.
The expectation that the existing iPad will be continued at a lower price doesn’t seem to be in the cards either, since Apple wiped all evidence of the previous model from their online store.
In other developments, a greatly enhanced upgrade to iMovie was demonstrated by developer Randy Ubillos, Apple’s chief architect for their video apps. Supporting both the iPad and the iPhone 4, the new version of iMovie includes audio editing and other enhancements that bring it closer in features to the desktop version. Of course, there’s a way to go, but it becomes ever more clear by the moment that Apple expects you to create and not just consume on the iPad.
Indeed, that impression was buttressed by the introduction of GarageBand for the iPad, which will debut on the App Store for $5 on March 11. It is similar in concept and compatible with the Mac version, promising up to eight-track recording and mixing, AAC support, sampling, plus a standard repertoire of more than 250 audio loops. Your projects are also compatible with those on the Mac version. I imagine that, as iPad processor power and built-in memory are enhanced in future versions, more tracks will be supported, and, perhaps the same number as the desktop version. But not yet.
Towards the end of the presentation, Jobs announced that the 1.3 pound iPad 2 “blows my mind.” I expect customers will agree, and the makers of would-be iPad killers will rush back to the drawing boards.
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