Today, Steve Jobs took a sabbatical from his sabbatical to hop up on stage and tell us all about the iPad 2, the next revision of Apple’s wildly popular tablet PC.

The announcement concerned both hardware and software – the iPad 2 is coming to the US on March 11, and with it will come the iOS 4.3 update, iMovie for iPad, and GarageBand for iPad. It will launch at the same capacities and price points as its predecessor, will come in both black and white, and launches internationally on March 25.

The iPad 2 - More of the Same

The iPad has had, for all intents and purposes, the tablet market to itself for most of the past year. That’s all set to change in 2011, based on the plethora of Android and Windows tablets we saw at CES, so the iPad 2 must be not only a solid extension of the original product’s strengths, but also a worthy competitor to the first wave of products from Google, Microsoft and the rest.

For convenience’s sake, I’ll be comparing the new iPad’s specs to both the old iPad and to the Motorola Xoom, which we reviewed last week. While the Xoom certainly doesn’t represent all of the Android/Honeycomb tablets that will come to market in the next few months, it does represent Google’s reference design for Honeycomb, and as such I feel safe considering it the standard (or perhaps the ideal) hardware configuration for Google’s new tablet OS.

Tablet Specs
  iPad iPad 2 Motorola Xoom
Processor 1GHz Apple A4 1GHz Apple A5 1GHz NVIDIA Tegra 2
Memory 256MB Unknown 1GB
Storage 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB 32GB + microSD card
Display 9.7-inch 1024 x 768 9.7-inch 1024 x 768 10.1-inch 1280 x 800
Dimensions 242.8mm x 189.7mm x 13.4mm 241.2mm x 185.7 mm x 8.8 mm 249.1mm x 167.8mm x 12.9mm
Weight

1.6 lbs (3G model)

1.5 lbs (wi-fi model)

1.34 lbs (3G model)

1.33 lbs (wi-fi model) 

1.6 lbs

Apple took this opportunity to move from the Apple A4 processor it used in the iPhone 4 and original iPad, which combined a Cortex-A8 processor with a PowerVR SGX 535 GPU. The A4 is very closely related to the processors used in the iPhone 3GS, so that should give you a frame of reference for how long we've been waiting for a true architecture bump.

The new A5 processor is a dual-core affair running at the same speed as the A4 in the original iPad. Just as Apple was coy about mentioning the A4 being powered by an ARM Cortex A8, it's quite possible that the A5 is powered by two ARM Cortex A9 cores. Thankfully, the increased performance doesn't come at the cost of decreased battery life - the iPad 2 is rated at about 10 hours of battery life, same as the original iPad.

The new iPad's graphical capabilities should be impressive, though; Apple claims that it is up to nine times as fast as the original iPad. The improvement in GPU performance is likely due to the rumored PowerVR SGX 543 that's inside the A5. We'll need to wait until we have the device in hand to separate the actual speed from the on-paper speed, but if this claim holds up we should be seeing games and apps that look an order of magnitude better on the new iPad.

System memory is also a bit of a wildcard at this point, and my best guess varies based on the precedent I use. The original iPad has 256MB of system memory, which was the same amount as the then-current iPhone 3GS. If Apple follows this pattern, then the new iPad should have the 512MB of system memory that the iPhone 4 has. However, if Apple is more interested in staying abreast of Android, the new iPad will have the 1GB of system memory encapsulated in the Xoom. Either way, we'll probably need to wait until we have the device in hand to figure this out, since it isn't mentioned on Apple's otherwise exhaustive spec sheet.

The iPad 2 comes in both wi-fi only and 3G flavors - separate 3G iPads will be available on both the Verizon and AT&T networks from day one. It remains to be seen whether the iPhone 5 will be a universally compatible device, but based on the iPad 2 the next iPhone may continue to come in two slightly different flavors. Just as before, Assisted-GPS is only available on the 3G versions of the iPad 2.

Moving from the inside to the outside, the new iPad also receives the front (VGA) and rear-mounted (720p) FaceTime cameras that have become nearly ubiquitous in Apple’s products since FaceTime’s introduction in the iPhone 4 - the original iPad had a space inside the case where a camera would fit, but manufacturing troubles led the company to leave the camera out.

Apple delivers all of this new stuff in a package that is slighlty lighter and significantly thinner than the previous iPad at the same price points, which I don't think anyone can complain about, and it comes in both black and white varieties.

Moving into the Land of Accessories, Apple showcased two things today. The first was a new case design for the tablet - using magnets built into both the iPad's chassis and the case's hinge, it manages to protect the device's screen and serve as a stand without adding a lot of additonal bulk to the tablet.

 

The previous iPad case was a foamy, bulky thing that made the tablet more unwieldy while also restricting access to its data port and obscuring its pretty exterior. The new case looks to protect the tablet's most vulnerable asset while also maintaining the device's aesthetics. The new cases will run $39 for a polyurethane cover, and $69 for a leather cover.

Also demoed was an HDMI adapter, which promises to output any app at 1080p resolutions with a minimum of setup and fuss. You'll pay $39 for the privilege - it's up to you to decide whether this is useful to you.

The Software - iOS 4.3, iMovie, and GarageBand
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  • Tyhr - Thursday, March 3, 2011 - link

    Without issues? My iPhone often has issues. Apps won't start up, or crash. Just the other day I wanted to look at my calendar while on the phone - multitask - and while it USUALLY works, my iPhone failed miserably to do it.
    I have to reboot my iPhone 3GS about once a week. Which interestingly enough, is a lot more than I reboot my Windows 7 computer.
    Reply
  • Juzcallmeneo - Thursday, March 3, 2011 - link

    The bugs in Apple products are the reason I stopped using them. They just never seem to go away, like you're always waiting for that one fix. People complain about the slow updates of my Galaxy S, but the truth is I've had to reboot maybe once because of a beta app that I wanted to try out. I've had it since it was released.

    @sean.crees
    When you ignore hardware, you ignore the fact that this is a technological world and is advancing faster and faster. In order to have a faster, more versatile machine you need the hardware to back it up. Without it you hit a wall of what you can do and then you're done. With the new line of Android products, they all seem to have the same internal specs (thanks to nvidia), with only a few slight differences.

    And are you trying to tell me that a buggy, closed smartphone OS is better than a fresh new Tablet OS..for Tablets? Trying to tell me more integration is a bad thing? including creative apps is a bad thing?
    Reply
  • robco - Thursday, March 3, 2011 - link

    I suppose it depends on how common your personal experience is. My 3GS works pretty well and is anything but buggy. I did get a replacement because the back started cracking, likely the reason Apple switched to glass as I'm told it's not an uncommon issue with white 3G and 3GS models. But don't assume everyone has had the same experience you've had.

    The hardware is important, but so is the availability of software. Right now Apple has a huge lead. That is what is important for Google and others and the real hurdle they need to overcome. If I can get the apps I want on the iPad, but not the Xoom, why would I buy the Xoom? It's better to be able to do something more slowly than not at all. Bragging rights with respect to hardware specs doesn't really work if I'm playing games, making music, editing movies, etc. and you can't because the software isn't available for your device.

    I know lots of people with iOS devices and none have complained about a lack of a card slot, non-removeable battery or slow processor. Overall they're quite happy with them. If Apple had really made crappy, buggy products, I doubt they would have sold well. But they're good products, with a solid ecosystem for delivering content and attracting developers by creating an easy way to get apps to users. Until Android/webOS/Blackberry/MS can match that, Apple will remain on top of the tablet market. Faster SoCs, more RAM and more storage aren't going to change that.
    Reply
  • Juzcallmeneo - Thursday, March 3, 2011 - link

    They are having the same issue with the glass back..its just cheap parts. IF they used Gorilla Glass it wouldn't be an issue..
    You must be one of the very few lucky ones..All I hear about is problem after problem after problem with the iOS stability, constrainment and cheap manufacturing.

    When the iPad first came out, it was the same story with the Brand New Honeycomb OS..not many apps at launch but compatibility with all the old ones and Tons of developers aiming towards them immediately. Give it a few months and you'll be satisfied with the App aspect of it and not just the fluidity, integration, and customization.

    They can match it, just look at the rise in Android apps compared to how fast Apple got that many. I don't think that webOS will match up, and I think that Blackberry is just concerned with making theirs more business friendly.
    Reply
  • bplewis24 - Thursday, March 3, 2011 - link

    You will be silenced by the Apple sheep very soon who proclaim that these issues are not possible on an Apple device. Reply
  • akula2 - Thursday, March 3, 2011 - link

    Every phone has its own fcuking issue(s) so don't single out Apple. I own couple of smart phones, examples I have bad experience with N96 so should I go ahead and blame all Nokia phones? That's ridiculous. Reply
  • RHurst - Thursday, March 3, 2011 - link

    Widgets, IMHO, are for my two screens (I have a 19"portrait and a 24"). Why would I want to use widget on a 10.1 max screen? I think my laptop screen, how can I use a tablet fully if not having an app fully maximized?

    How long people contemplate the home screen, really? How useful is to have an analog watch on screen, or two partial emails or so? I've seen you tube clips on honeycomb homescreen...it's cute, but...why?

    I think iOS homescreen is fine. It does need better notifications and a better app switch system, a la webOS perhaps.

    But not widgets. I love my daemon tools widgets on windows 7, cpu and network usage, but that's pretty much it.
    Reply
  • Juzcallmeneo - Thursday, March 3, 2011 - link

    Widgets give you quick updates and quick links to the full program. Its so you don't have to open the app every time you want to see who posted the new msg in facebook and what the msg is..who your new email is from..summary of your calendar for the day..quick look at the weather, time, battery life. Not to mention the entertainment value of some (which I know are not for everybody). One widget I use constantly is the one that turns on the light in the back with one push. Another is the Pandora Widget. Just hit play or pause, skip tracks at any time. It's all about the little things. Reply
  • Juzcallmeneo - Thursday, March 3, 2011 - link

    One of the great things about Android..is you can CHOOSE to have the widgets or not..same with how many home screens you have. Customization is never overrated. Reply
  • bplewis24 - Thursday, March 3, 2011 - link

    Well I tell you what, you continue living in 1984 where you are told what you do and don't need and can't envision a reason to ever think outside of the box you've been placed in. Other people will consider products that give them a choice of widgets or not, and you can have what you like.

    Brandon
    Reply

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