The iPad (2) Scores Again

To avoid the suspense, I’ll start with the bottom line: The just-announced iPad 2 (shipping on March 11) is a winner. If the original iPad (now referred to as the iPad 1) was an “inside-the-park” home run (as I originally described it), the iPad 2 is a straight-up home run. The ball lands squarely in the stands. Not out-of-the-park, not even in the bleachers. Still, good enough to score. And, given today’s increasingly competitive market, that’s impressive.

Getting past the baseball metaphors, here’s what I’m saying: The iPad 2 is superior to the iPad 1 in all the most critical statistics. It’s thinner and lighter and promises to be much faster. Plus, it adds front and rear-facing cameras — and a gyroscope. It even comes in white. And it does all this without increasing the price! This makes for a product undeniably more compelling than the iPad 1.

iPad 2

Still, to hit it out of the park, I would have expected more. The screen resolution remains unchanged, the storage sizes haven’t been bumped up, and the speakers are not improved. I was especially disappointed that there were no new features for connecting external storage devices to the iPad or for accessing new cloud-services. My hoped-for killer feature, assuming my prediction is correct, is presumably not yet ready-for-prime-time. Perhaps we’ll see it when the iPhone 5 arrives this summer. [For a chart of how the iPad 2 specs compare to the iPad 1 and Motorola Xoom, click here.]

A more general problem with what’s new in the iPad 2 (assuming you’re looking to find a problem) is that, except for the cameras, they don’t immediately allow you to do anything obvious that you couldn’t already do with an iPad 1. By themselves, features such as slightly thinner and lighter don’t make a compelling case for why you should trade-in your old iPad for a new one.

However, Apple’s announcements today were not limited to the iPad 2 itself. Apple also showed off an assortment of new peripherals and software that significantly enhance the iPad 2 experience. A downside (for convincing you to buy an iPad 2) is that many of these new options also work with the iPad 1, iPhone and/or iPod touch.

Here’s what most caught my attention:

Video Mirroring. This is gigantic news for me. Via the new Apple Digital AV Adapter, Apple has eliminated one of the primary reasons I still jailbreak my iOS devices. I will now be able to display anything (not just movies and slideshows) that is on my iPad to any large screen HDMI-capable device — both video (in 1080p) and audio. And you can charge the iPad at the same time — via the same adapter.

According to the iPad specs page, the new video mirroring feature will also work with Apple’s existing VGA adapter. Very nice. Whenever I give a talk, the projectors are always VGA. It’s good to know that I won’t need any adapter-to-adapter kludge to get this to work.

According to the Apple Store listing, the Digital AV Adapter will also work with the iPad 1, iPhone 4 and latest iPod touch — for “video out” but not for mirroring. I assume this means you can only use the new adapter with these other devices for the sort of “video out” you can already do with other adapters (e.g., movies and photo slide shows). I expect mirroring support will be added to these other iOS devices in their next generation.

On reflection, the new Adapter doesn’t entirely eliminate what I can do with jailbreak mirroring software. Jailbreaking allows me to display my iOS device screens on a Mac, which is convenient for recording video of the display. Still, Apple’s new Adapter and mirroring support is a big step forward.

Smart Cover. The new cover is presumably just for the iPad 2. To see how it works, watch the video. It’s better than any text explanation I could offer. The Cover definitely exudes coolness, but I see lots of opportunity for case makers to offer products that appeal to users who want something more substantial.

AirPlay and the rest of iOS 4.3. An iOS 4.3 update ships with the new iPad on March 11 (and will be generally available for all recent iOS devices at the same time). The biggest new feature here is an upgrade to AirPlay. Apple is now opening up AirPlay to third-parties, so that any app in the App Store will be able to wirelessly stream to an Apple TV. As I’ve discussed before, it won’t be fast enough to work with games. However, for any app that uses video or photos, it will be great to be able to easily and wirelessly shift the display to an HD TV.

In general, the new features in iOS 4.3 are not specific to the iPad 2. Home Sharing, for example, allows any iOS device to access your Mac’s entire iTunes Library. No downloading is required (you’ll need the just released iTunes 10.2). The Personal Hotspot feature doesn’t apply to the iPad at all; it’s just for the iPhone 4.

New iOS apps from Apple. Apple announced four new apps for the iPad today: FaceTime, Photo Booth, iMovie and GarageBand — all available March 11.

FaceTime and Photo Booth are built-in apps included as part of iOS 4.3. A version of FaceTime already works with the iPhone 4 and the latest iPod touch. Photo Booth appears only compatible with the iPad 2.

The other two new apps will be sold via the App Store. The iOS version of iMovie is an extension of the version that already runs on the iPhone 4 and iPod touch — and will now also work with the iPad 2.

I’m especially intrigued by GarageBand. This iPad-only app (apparently both for iPad 1 and iPad 2) is not just a touch-screen-based port of the Mac version of GarageBand. It offers new touch instrument and smart instrument features. These promise to make playing music on an iPad incredibly easy, even for those with little or no musical background. Of course, you can also use GarageBand as a multi-track recording studio. Do a quick search of YouTube and you’ll find a wealth of videos showcasing the iPad as an impressive musical instrument. With GarageBand, it just gets better.

There are dozens of third-party music-playing and music-recording apps currently in the App Store. GarageBand will probably mean the end of many of these apps. Overall, this may prove to be a good thing. I prefer one app that does most or all of what I need for a specific task — rather than having to acquire a dozen apps and shifting among them.

As for connecting external instruments to GarageBand, Apple’s video on the iPad 2 shows an adapter for connecting a guitar. It’s not from Apple. It’s apparently the new Apogee JAM adapter, available March 31. JAM only works to connect electric guitars. While it’s made specifically for GarageBand, Apogee says it will work with “other iOS compatible music and guitar applications” including ones that run on an iPhone or iPod touch.

Can we expect other adapters for connecting other instruments, such as digital pianos, to the iPad? I would guess yes, but have seen no announcements as yet.

The big question: Which 3G model? The biggest as-yet-unanswered question for me concerns which iPad 2 to get. I am already committed to getting a Wi-Fi + 3G model. The question becomes: Should I get the Verizon or the AT&T model? That’s right, there is no hybrid version of the Wi-Fi + 3G iPad 2. You have to decide when you purchase an iPad which carrier you want. 

The answer will depend upon several factors. Will the data plans for the two carriers be different? If so, which carrier will be cheaper or otherwise offer more flexible options? How important will it be that the carrier for my iPad 2 match the carrier for my iPhone? Will I be able to connect the iPad 2 to the Personal Hotspot of an iPhone 4 regardless of any carrier differences? I assume so (as the Wi-Fi connection should be carrier agnostic), but I’m not sure. Finally, the consensus is that AT&T’s network is faster but Verizon’s is more reliable. Which quality should more influence my decision?

It’s really too bad that there is no hybrid iPad 2. It would be great to be able to switch carriers and try them both — and shift carriers down the road as new pricing plans alter which one I like best. Alas, it is not to be.

Finally, speaking of purchasing an iPad 2, Apple changed its policy this time around. There is no online pre-ordering of the iPad 2, with delivery the same day as it goes on sale at Apple Stores. Rather, you have to wait to March 11 to order an iPad online. If you want one in your hands that day, you’ll have to wait on a line (as opposed to “online”) at your local retail Apple Store. Perhaps Apple wants to make sure the lines outside their Stores will be impressively long (unlike when the Verizon iPhone debuted). If so, I suspect their wish will be granted.