Last year, Apple released a revolutionary (some even said "magical") product which came to define a new personal tech category. This year it seems to have slapped on a "2" sticker.
Yes, it's thinner. Yes, it's lighter. Yes, it's faster. And yes, it has dual cameras, plus a bunch of other new features that the original iPad didn't. But we think Steve Jobs might have got it the wrong way around when he said: "While others have been scrambling to copy the first generation iPad, we’re launching iPad 2, which moves the bar far ahead of the competition and will likely cause them to go back to the drawing boards yet again."
Really, Steve? While there's no denying the comprehensive features update that Apple has introduced to the iPad 2, especially when comparing the specs of the new model against the original iPad
, you'd have to be living under a rock located inside Jobs' famous "reality distortion field" to believe some of the stuff he said in yesterday's iPad 2 launch keynote, especially with regard to Apple's competitors. Grains of salt in San Francisco must have been in short supply, because the hoopla Steve Jobs was spruiking about the tablet market in 2011 was definitely stretching the truth.
Throughout his speech, Jobs could not resist numerous digs at the opposition. On the topic of the first iPad's success (and its over 90 per cent tablet market share), he said: "Our competitors were just flummoxed... They went back to their drawing boards, they tore up their designs because they weren't competitive." There may be some historical truth in that, but if so, it's pretty passe; that's an early 2010 anecdote, and we're at the business end of 2011. There's a lot more than drawing board designs on offer this year, as Steve Jobs knows, and as the recent tablet-inundated Mobile World Congress
in Barcelona showed.
iPad 2 may well be thinner than the competition - which is nice - but how important is thinness compared to other specs anyway?
As for the assertion that competitors are even now "scrambling to copy the first generation iPad", one look at the basic specs of soon-upcoming competitors
like the Motorola Xoom, BlackBerry PlayBook, Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, HP TouchPad and LG G-Slate reveals this to be patently untrue, and yet Jobs' could not contain the hyperbole.
"What about 2011?" he asked, as the screen behind him displayed the logos of Android (Honeycomb), Samsung, HP, BlackBerry and Motorola, "Everybody's got a tablet. Is 2011 going to be the year of the copycats? Well, I think if we did nothing... maybe a little bit? Probably not so much, because most of these tablets aren't even catching up with the first iPad."
In what sense are they not catching up? Realistically, from a device-only standpoint (and not counting Apple's lead in software volume - ie. the App Store - which is considerable), the only physical specification which sets either iPad apart from its soon-to-market competitors is industrial design.
"All these other tablets are coming out, most of them are even thicker than the original iPad... nothing even approaching [the iPad 2's thinness]," Jobs said. And yes, the iPads 1 and 2 are generally slimmer and sleeker than the rest of the pack (the iPad 2 in particular is thinner than all its major rivals), but frankly, slimness isn't everything and sleekness is subjective. And on weight, arguably a more important metric for a handheld device, the iPad 2 is actually heavier than the Galaxy Tab 10.1 (which has a larger display) and the PlayBook.
Processor-wise, all of the other major 2011 tablets are 1GHz+ dual-core chips, which puts them on a comparatively equal footing on paper with the iPad 2. In his keynote, Jobs, somewhat contradicting himself, did actually acknowledge that the other devices are also incorporating dual-core processors, but qualified Apple's accomplishment by saying that: "Even though others are starting to ship, I think [the iPad 2] is going to be the first dual-core tablet to ship in volume
In terms of other features, camera-wise the competitors all comfortably out-do the iPad 2, topping out with the 8MP rear and 2MP front cameras of the Galaxy Tab 10.1, although the PlayBook's 5MP/3MP setup is also strong. They've also all got in-built gyroscopes (one of the iPad 2's new hyped features) and all of them include stereo speakers (something which the iPad omits). The G-Slate even goes as far as to feature a 3D display, which is something Apple (perhaps understandably) has no answer for.
iPad 2 is equipped with a more powerful dual-core processor this time around (but, in reality, so is every other tablet worth mentioning).
Battery life may or may not be an area where the iPad exceeds the competition, but the issue isn't conclusive at this point. Jobs said: "Again, a lot of these other guys are coming out with substantially less [than the iPad 2's claimed 10-hour battery life, 9 while using 3G]". But Motorola and RIM have both been bullish about their devices' prospects, so it's too early to tell on this front.
The one area where Jobs got it spot-on was price. Speaking of Apple's claims about the iPad a year ago, he joked at his competitors' expense (referencing the fact that seemingly all the iPad 2's 2010-2011 competitors can't seem to match Apple on device cost): "People laughed at us for using the word magical, but you know what? It's turned out to be magical, right? People weren't sure that it was an unbelievable price, but, let me tell you, ask our competitors now
." Jobs returned to this point later in the keynote, illustrating a pricing matrix which demonstrated that in many of its pricing configurations, iPad 2 is the cheapest (announced) tablet, which may well prove a major deciding factor for shoppers.
On the software front, Jobs ridiculed Android Market's lowly 100 apps ("and I think we're being a little generous here") that make full use of the Android Honeycomb tablet spec, contrasting it with 65,000 iOS apps in the 350,000-strong App Store that are dedicated iPad apps. Of course, on this front, Apple's numbers are unbeatable - but once again, give it another year and the figures will tell a different story.
All in all, yesterday's launch was interesting but it'll be even more interesting
to see what Apple has to say about all this in a year's time (or perhaps less, with some rumours circulating that the iPad 3 itself isn't that far away). No doubt iPad 2 will do well this year given Apple's uniquely strong hold on the market, but Steve Jobs knows it's not really going to be "the year of iPad 2". And so, come the launch of the iPad 2's successor, we don't expect to see quite the same level of misdirection and horseplay employed as we have this time around.
Or maybe, on second thought, we will. After all, it's all just smoke and mirrors, right?