"Nothing new with iPad 2?" What's new is...the iPad.

iPad market is just beginning

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One recurring theme in initial reactions to iPad 2, announced today, is that the new tablet is "incremental," doesn't have any surprises, and "failed" to achieve a big hardware breakthrough

In general, that theme misses the point. Which is: the iPad itself represents The Surprise and today, iPad 2 is no more incremental than iPad 1was when it was first introduced 11 months ago.

Tablets have struggled for over a decade to find traction anywhere except in specialized vertical markets. You can see the rise of the netbook as some evidence of the enduser hunger for smaller, easier-to-use, mobile devices that let them easily access data and services anywhere. With the original iPad, Apple achieved something that few companies do: a product that defines, at least in the mind of prospective buyers, an entirely New Thing.

Except it wasn't entirely new: by using the same operating system and application development environment and apps as the iPhone, annother Category Creator that just recently reached 100 million units sold, iPad was instantly familiar to tens of millions, even as it gave its users a different way of computing, socializing, viewing, uploading, downloading, and surfing, among other things.

So far, says Apple, it's sold nearly 15 million iPads in about 10 months. Steve Jobs today said, and I'm quite certain he's correct, that that number is way more than all the tablet PCs sold...ever. In the next 10 months, Apple likely will sell 3 to 4 times that number according to some estimates. And I'm pretty sure that is correct, too.

The focus on hardware specifications, and whether Apple is leading or trailing its emerging Android-based rivals, also misses the point. Apple's real genius when it comes to hardware is in its product design, which manages to be both highly detail-oriented and big-picture focused. That means that everything in the product is intended to relate effectively to the overall "user experience" (whether it does so, is the stuff that fuels the debates and arguments raging in online forums and the comments section of blogs).

Some expected or wanted a higher resolution display, or something razzle-dazzle like a 3-D display. But there's nothing "wrong" or problematic or defficient in the iPad's current display, at least for a portable tablet. And 3-D remains more of a faddish curiosity for now than an essential feature. From what I can see, Apple keeps pace with a wide range of hardware trends, and looks for the main chance -- the intersection of the capabilities that hardware offers, with the discovery by users of what those capabilities can do for them.

Apple's approach is perfectly illustrated by something that really is new: it's custom-designed dual-core A5 processor. This translates directly into user benefits: 2x the CPU performance, and perhaps more importantly, 9x the graphics performance. Apple controls the processor design as it controls its iOS operating system, and can exploit the full capabilities of both. And it does so to create a compelling "user experience."

This also means that Apple's mobile products are not "just about the software." The software-based online resources of iTunes, the App Store (which so far has generated $2 billion for in Apple payouts to iOS developers, though the payouts surely vary hugely), and the like are clearly part of the appeal of the Apple ecosystem for endusers. But its what Apple's design genius does with the hardware and code -- the interrelationships, the attention to details, the integration into an overall experience that users deem desireable if not valuable, that is really the point.

Apple didn't have to "surprise" with the iPad 2. Because the iPad is still the surprise, and destined to surprise tens of millions more over the next year.

See also: Tablet Tumble: iPad 2 vs. Motorola Xoom

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