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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  • Chloiber - Friday, March 4, 2011 - link

    To be honest, using widgets on small, <4" smartphone screens isn't very good, because you can only place like 1, maybe 2 on one single homescreen.
    But it's still pretty useful. Example:

    On my main screen, I immediately see my upcoming appointments, the weather. Swipe to the left and in the next second I see my full calendar, with every appointment. Swipe to the right and I see a scrollable list of all my mails, messages, calls. If you are a very social person you can also include facebook and twitter messages.

    Yes, you can do the same things with apps, but it takes longer and is just more troublesome.

    And now, on a tablet, you can have everything I mentioned before and MORE on one single screen. Using the AppLauncher (the only thing "apple people" know) is kind of pathetic nowadays - you only use it for rarely used apps.

    And as Juzcallmeneo says: you don't have to use them and can fill all of the precious space just with icons, like on the iPad or iPhone...it's up to you.
    Reply
  • Azsen - Thursday, March 3, 2011 - link

    Can Skype or Google Chat make use of the front facing camera on the iPad 2 or iPhone 4?

    Would be a real shame if everyone was forced to use Apple's Face Time app. I'd rather use Skype as I have a larger contact list on that. I don't see why Apple should be allowed to block access to the camera for this use, would be pretty anti-competitive.
    Reply
  • RaggedKarma - Thursday, March 3, 2011 - link

    Skype for the iphone can use it, so it would make sense that they would port this to the iPad too. Reply
  • jcandle - Thursday, March 3, 2011 - link

    No, the iPad 2 isn't overspecced or even revolutionary in specs. But as tech minded people we need to consider why the iPad was popular in the first place. If it was all about specs, convertible notebook tablets of many years past had the iPad dead to rights. It's not about the flexibility or customizability of the underlying OS. When Jobs trotted out on stage to give his presentation he clearly reinforced Apple's commitment to combining the liberal arts and technology. Apple is introducing the experience top to bottom with everything from standout store fronts and best-in-class customer service to fashionable aesthetics and underlying utility in the product. Apple doesn't compete on true specs, they compete on faux marketing specs. You may find that deceptive, but Joe public doesn't even understand what a pixel is; only perhaps that screens contains them. You can ask any non-techie friend why their iPhone 4 screen is so awesome and they won't quote you some ppi spec because frankly they don't remember it and it just isn't important. The screen is decently readable in sunlight, has razor sharp text and graphics, and has a cool sounding name like Retina Display. Now they may have even forgotten about the last part but they're constantly reminded of how nice the product looks overall. But then why even trot out a new product every so often to meet competition? It's a fair question that you might ask. The answer would be the same as why your son or daughter has 5 iPods. Its likely because it's new and in-style.

    Apple competes the same way a fashion designer releases the new spring collection. Apple keeps it's products at the forefront of style; always trotting out a feature or two that sure to ooh or awe, but only serves to provide an excuse for consumers to drop bills on a brand new fashion accessory; because that's exactly what they are. And to that effects that's why apple has certain design standards that they even hold their developers to. They also don't allow you to customize as that would go against the predetermined color, shape, and design of the year. So, no widgets for you! Apple doesn't think they're in style. And it's not like they haven't given it some though. That calendar app that comes with iOS devices is a clear indicator it was investigated and dropped. Perhaps it's just not it's ready for the spotlight.

    But more than simply create an expensive paperweight the second part of the equation requires that Apple fulfill the devices utilitarian purpose. In that goal it's not about how many widgets you can cram on screen, how can stack windows, or multitask them as cards. The interface is simple because it's unobtrusively designed to let you complete your task. If you want to play a game it gets your there quickly. If you want to chat it let's you quickly launch your app. The user experience is also refined so that it flows and appears smooth and natural. Unlike most competitors, the only one that really picked up on these elements is Microsoft with Windows Phone 7. While power users and techies will flock to the logical, customizable, spec driven devices that are most similar to their beloved computers, Apple themselves stated they want to move beyond the tradtional PC experience. And for most consumers that's exactly what they want-- a device that's not a device. If they can forget they're even using something akin to a pocket computer that is a true meter of success. In fact, the most ideal device is likely something that is ubiquitous and simply carries out whatever task you ask of it. No buttons, no fidgeting, and no artificial human interface layer. Natural human communication and transparent augmentation is utimately the goal. Who doesn't want the Star Trek computer for some Q&A or the Holodeck for games and recreation? But since we're not there yet, Joe and Jane will just have to settle for a device that a monkey could figure out and one that just works.
    Reply
  • maxxl - Thursday, March 3, 2011 - link

    "The iPad still lacks a dedicated keyboard, which will probably always hamper its utility as a content creation device for me"

    What are you talking about? There's Apple iPad Keyboard Dock, and Apple Wireless Keyboard as well.

    You really should do research, before you write about something:
    http://store.apple.com/us/browse/home/shop_ipad/ip...
    Reply
  • Andrew Cunningham - Thursday, March 3, 2011 - link

    Sorry, let me clarify:

    If I'm sitting down at a desk (the situation in which the dock would be most useful), I'm going to sit down at the full-sized computer I already have, since it's a dual-monitor workstation with a full range of productivity apps and more capable browsers (don't get me wrong - the iPad browser is fine, but it defaults to HTML editing in Wordpress and Blogger and a lot of the sites where I spend my time, which is just annoying enough to keep me from using it unless there's an emergency).

    I actually have and use the bluetooth keyboard sometimes, but again, if I'm out travelling I'm more likely to bring my laptop than my iPad. The nice thing about the keyboard is that you can put it away when you browse and bring it out when you work, but for all of the stuff I have to do, it's easier for me to work on a full-size laptop and put up with the extra bulk.

    It's also worth noting that both of these peripherals add to the price of the iPad.

    I'm not saying there aren't keyboards available and I'm not saying that it's impossible to work on the iPad, I'm just saying that at this point I prefer working on more traditional computers when given the choice. I could have said this in the article but it's a bit off-topic. :-)

    Does this help clarify?
    Reply
  • maxxl - Thursday, March 3, 2011 - link

    Yes, it helps me understand what you mean. But then again, in your article you just pointed out the lack of dedicated keyboard for iPad in wrong perspective. The conclusion is, that every tablet is not for you as content creation device, not just iPad 2. Lack of integrated phisical (not dedicated!) keyboard is one of these things which makes tablet... a tablet, you know ;) It's a feature, not a flaw. To make things worse, there are dedicaced keyboards for iPad, so your statement in above article is just misleading in my opinion. Reply
  • tipoo - Thursday, March 3, 2011 - link

    There was a rumor that it would use the SGX 543MP2, the dual-GPU version of the 543. If they are claiming 9x the graphical performance, isn't that more likely than the single GPU version? Reply
  • vol7ron - Thursday, March 3, 2011 - link

    "up to nine times as fast as the original iPad"

    So if it's as fast, does it make it the same speed? Perhaps you meant faster?
    Reply
  • tipoo - Thursday, March 3, 2011 - link

    His sentence was semantically correct, if your going to break in the new guy at least find a real mistake.

    If I have twice as much money as you, do I have exactly as much money as you, by your logic?
    Reply

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