If the launch of Apple's iPad 2 tablet computer was expected today, the appearance onstage of ailing CEO Steve Jobs was not. And it set the tone for the entire event: he was welcomed by a standing ovation.
As many predicted, the new iPad is thinner and lighter than the original, packs a powerful dual-core processor and will, Jobs promised, ship in black and white on Day One. Prices, expected by some to drop, are staying unchanged. The new hardware comes with a new version of the iOS operating system, dubbed iOS 4.3.
Early reports that the iPad 2 might be delayed proved false: the new tablet ships March 11 in the U.S., and March 25 in many other countries. (Speculation swirled earlier in the day that the RIM PlayBook might play an iPad 2 spoiler, but rumor is the enterprise-focused tablet won't ship until April 10.)
Jobs, who is on medical leave though was seen last month at a tech executive dinner with President Barack Obama, seemed thinner than usual, in his customary faded jeans and black turtleneck. But that was the only sign of his unidentified affliction: he had numbers readily to hand, and made his points quietly and authoritatively. The numbers show Apple's remarkable emergence as a leader, possibly the defining company, in what Jobs called a "post-PC" world.
Apple has just paid out over $2 billion to iOS developers, and recently shipped the 100 millionth iPhone (and iPhone 5 fever is already rolling) . The majority of Apple's revenues now come from post-PC products: iPhone, iPod touch, iPod, and iPad.
Inside iPad 2
As expected, iPad 2 sports a dual-core processor, Apple's custom-designed A5 chip. It delivers up to twice the performance of the A5, and is nine times faster in graphics performance. Jobs predicted it will be "the first dual core tablet to ship in volume."
Apple's CPU strategy for iPad and iPhone derives from its relentless focus on the end user. HIS iSuppli reports that in 2010, Apple shipped almost four times as many products based on its first custom chip, the single-core A4, as it did of its X86-based computers. “The low-cost, highly-integrated A4 and A5 designs represent an important element in Apple’s philosophy of offering products that are focused on delivering a compelling user interface (UI) and a highly optimized computing platform for Apple’s iOS operating system,” writes Wayne Lam, senior analyst, competitive analysis, at IHS.
“In the new design paradigm of smart phones and tablets, computing efficiency trumps raw computing power,” Lam say. ”Designs like the iPad demand highly integrated microprocessors that emphasize graphics performance, lower power consumption and small space usage.”
Dual-core Android tablets are becoming available. Full iPad 2 specs are online.
The new Apple tablet is "dramatically thinner" than the original: at 0.34 inches, compared to 0.5 inches for the original tablet. That revelation drew another round of applause. It's also lighter: 1.3 pounds instead of 1.5 pounds, "You might not think that's a lot, but when you get down to 1.5 pounds, a tenth of a pound is a lot," Jobs said.
It is marginally narrower and a smidgen shorter than iPad 1: at 7.31 inches x 9.5.
There will be six models, three with Wi-Fi, three adding 3G, including 3G CDMA, enabling iPad users to employ Verizon's data services, for example. All have the same storage options: 16G, 32G, 64GB.
Pricing is unchanged, starting at $499. Jobs noted that five of the six models will be less than the $799 of most of the iPad's announced rivals.
Battery life is unchanged: 10 hours, with a month of standby.
Accessories include an innovative "Smart Case," that is held in place by magnets that auto-align the covering over the tablet screen. It takes only a second to put it on. Polyurethane cases are $39 and leather cases are $69.
Another accessory is HDMI video output, via a dock accessory cable, priced at $39.
The new OS release will also enable iTunes home sharing: media files stored in iTunes on a Mac can be accessed from an iOS device via Wi-Fi.
Finally, iPad 2 adds two cameras, front and rear facing, and support for Apple's FaceTime video chat application. The new iPad can use Wi-Fi to make video calls with any other iOS device supporting FaceTime, which means nearly all of them.
John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.
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