iPad 2 beside iPhone 4 - notice the thickness and reflectivity (however, note that the iPhone 4 looks much less reflective when screen is on in the picture below)
iPad 2 beside iPhone 4 – notice the thickness and reflectivity (however, note that the iPhone 4 looks much less reflective when screen is on in the picture below)

After much research and scouting, I got an iPad 2 on launch day — and without any waiting in lines! (It helps that I live in a small city where the demand for technology is very low.)  I did a little legwork to find out which stores would have it, and then I showed up at 5 p.m..  It was that simple!  (I did have a backup plan by also ordering one at Apple.com that same morning.  I’ve since cancelled that order.)

I’ve been waiting on this day for a long time — a year to be exact. I decided that I wouldn’t buy the first generation iPad when it came out because I wanted to give Apple time to work out all the kinks and incorporate customers’ critiques of their product.  It turns out some of that waiting was in vain because the iPad 2 isn’t really that much greater than the first generation iPad.

The new iPad is great, but it doesn’t render the first generation iPad obsolete by any stretch of the imagination. Many were expecting Apple to listen to their customers and add a USB port, add an SD card slot, upgrade the display, etc.  But Apple doesn’t design by democratic vote, and none of these became reality.  (If I had a vote, I would’ve made OS X part of a tablet, but that’s another blog post for another day…)

Thinner, lighter, faster

What did become reality, though, is that Apple made the device even more sleek, beautiful and powerful. Apple is a master of marketing, and they drove that message home from the very first announcement.  It’s thinner.  It’s lighter.  And it’s faster.  It’s an incremental upgrade.  The same iPad as before… but better.  Oh yeah, and it has cameras and a gyroscope now too.  But mainly, it’s thinner, lighter and faster.

The design is second to none. It’s a beautiful and elegant device.  It feels as thin as a sheet of paper, and it’s lighter than anything in its class.  It’s a joy to use.

iPad 2 beside iPad 4 reflectivity comparison with screens on

Same battery life, same price

As Steve Jobs said when he presented the iPad 2 to the world, you would think that something would have to give to be able to make the device both thinner and more powerful. But, thanks to technology, the battery still lasts 10 hours!  I tested it out, and that is a very accurate figure!

More importantly, somehow, they’ve kept the price down — starting at under $500. That may sound like a large chunk of change to some, but let me put it in context.  I was shopping around for a camera prompter last year.  (A prompter uses a piece of two-way glass to reflect a script to the reader, who appears to be looking directly into the video camera.)  I saw two great options.  The first was $500 but didn’t include the monitor, so you had to use an iPad in it.  The other was $1,500 and did include a monitor.  So, basically, you pay an additional $1,000 if you want a monitor included.  And even then, all you get for your $1,000 is a monitor (no processor, no touchscreen, no Bluetooth, no WiFi, no software, no battery).  You still have to worry about running the prompter software on a computer and getting the video and power to that monitor.  Plus, unlike the iPad, you can’t play Angry Birds on it in your spare time.

That puts the $500 price tag of the iPad in perspective! Where else are you going to get a touch screen monitor, dual-core processor, memory, WiFi, 3G, Bluetooth, speaker, microphone, video camera, etc. for $500?  You can’t do it.  Or can you???

iPad Alternatives

There are alternatives out there, but none I’ve seen are worthy competitors. I saw an Android tablets when a coworker bought one for his daughter.  Sure, it was cheaper than the iPad, but it was a hideous device — poorly designed, dimly backlit screen, hard to setup and no good apps.  He ended up taking it back.  You get what you pay for!

Some say the competition is catching up to the iPad, but they’re definitely not there yet. The best competition to the iPad, in my mind, is the 11-inch MacBook Air.  If you need OS X and a keyboard, go for that instead of the iPad.  But, as far as ultraportables go, in my book, those are the winners, and they own the playing field!

Don’t Forget The Little Brother

After I got the iPad 2, I played with it nonstop for two days, so much so that I forgot all about my poor old iPhone 4. Left in the corner all by itself, it ran out of battery.  It was yesterday’s news.  When I went back to it on Sunday and charged it up, I saw it in a whole new light.  It was like holding a mini-iPad!

Maybe the biggest magic of all isn’t what Apple’s been able to do with the iPad, but the fact that they’ve squeezed all the specs of the iPad and more into an even smaller package — the iPhone 4. It’s got the gyroscope and accelerometers.  It’s got great processing power.  It’s got cameras (even better ones than the iPad 2).  And it’s got a beautiful touchscreen (with better resolution and better glare reduction).  It’s got all the iPad has, plus more, and it fits in your pocket!  Wow!!!  Let’s not take that for granted.  The iPad makes the iPhone seem all the more magical when you think about it.

fingerprints show up on the iPad 2 like they did on previous versions of the iPhone
Fingerprints show up on the iPad 2 like they did on previous versions of the iPhone

As I look at my iPhone 4 and iPad 2 side by side, I’m reminded of some corners Apple had to cut to keep the iPad 2 under $500. Without cellular companies subsidizing the price of the iPad, they definitely had to make some compromises on hardware specs.  They could’ve used better glass on the display to reduce finger prints and reflectivity.  They could’ve upped the screen’s resolution to at least 1280 pixels wide (720p resolution).  They could’ve included a camera with higher than .7 MP resolution.  They could’ve included a vibration motor.  But, with those improvements, the price would have soared up at least another $100, and this was meant to be a tablet for the masses.

I’m OK with those compromises for now, even though I secretly can’t wait for the next iPad to get Retina Display technology. In fact, the entirety of the iPad 2 seems like an iPhone 3G — from the dpi of the display to the curve of the casing.  It seems a bit outdated from day one.

iPad 2 vs. Retina Display - notice resolution and color temperature difference
iPad 2 vs. Retina Display – notice difference in resolution and color (click to enlarge)

Body and Brains

The single biggest selling point in the iPad for me, though, is not the hardware but its software. (If I were buying on hardware specs alone, I’d pick a tablet with 1 GB of RAM instead of 512 MB, for example.)  No, what’s most important to me is the variety of apps available and how smoothly they run.

Imagine the most beautiful tablet in the world — even thinner and lighter than the iPad.  Now, imagine that there are no apps to run on it. Kind of a bummer, huh?  It’d be like an empty jug of milk — not much use, no matter how beautiful the jug is.  In my field (audio/video), there are some seriously awesome apps for the iPad.  Why would I buy a tablet from RIM or Android or HP if the apps I want to run don’t work on their devices?

It’s all about the apps — so much so, that I’m going to write a whole blog post devoted to my favorite iOS apps. (And I’ve downloaded over 300 of them, so I have a pretty good selection to draw from.)  If you thought Angry Birds was as good as it gets, wait until you see what I can do with my iPad!  We’ll see you in a few days!