Why I’ll Bite on the iPad 2 Update

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Apple introduced the iPad 2 yesterday, the rightful heir to the tablet throne and a device that’s more than likely to keep Apple on top of the pile for yet another year. But is the iPad 2 worthy of the attention (and hard-won dollars) of original iPad owners? Om says no, but I can’t help but feel otherwise.

Less Laptop Envy

For at least this first-gen iPad owner, the iPad 2 seems like a major step up in a few areas that count. The iPad 2 might not be a complete reinvention of the original design, but it does hit all the right notes for users who like their tablets, but wish they could be just a little bit more like the notebooks they’re increasingly replacing.

When I bought the original iPad, I was really hoping that it could fully replace my MacBook as a mobile work machine. And it almost could, especially when Apple introduced multi-tasking to the platform. But in many ways, the iPad fell just short. With a much more powerful processor, built-in cameras for FaceTime and video calling (others will no doubt get on board, just as Skype and Vtok have for the iPhone) and video-editing capabilities, the iPad 2 makes up a lot of that ground.

Don’t Underestimate the A5

Apple isn’t big on playing up specs, and instead focuses on user experience. It’s smart, but in this case, it might not do justice to the tech. The new iPad 2 features an in-house designed A5 chip, the successor to the A4. The A5 is a dual-core, 1GHz system-on-a-chip, with a reported 512 MB of memory, double that of the A4. According to Apple, the new A5 provides the ability to do at least twice the work at once as its predecessor, which will make a huge difference for processor-intensive tasks.

The A5 also provides the iPad 2 with up to nine times the graphics performance of the original iPad. A nine-fold improvement means worlds of difference when it comes to using the new iPad for video and photo editing, and for gaming and watching movies. All with the same long, notebook-beating battery life that the original iPad offered.

It sounds good on paper, but it should perform even better in terms of actual use. And just like iMovie won’t be available for the original iPad, many other apps will spring up that can take advantage of the muscular A5 but would wilt on the older A4. We probably can’t yet imagine what developers will do with a beefed-up iPad.

A Game of Inches and Ounces

When it comes to tablets and other mobile devices, size and weight are factors that have a greater effect on usability than many realize. It was a lesson that really hit home with me when I tried using the 7-inch Galaxy Tab for two weeks, and one that was at the forefront again when Kevin and I were debating the merits of an iPhone with a 4-inch screen.

Apple made the iPad 2 quite a bit thinner and lighter than the original, shaving off a full third of its depth, and 15 percent of its weight. The iPad 2 is actually thinner than the iPhone 4. Even small changes make a big difference when it comes to device portability, and these changes aren’t that small. Even Om admitted that the 3.2 ounces the iPad 2 saves feels substantial when held in the hand. Now imagine using it day after day, carrying around in your bag wherever you go. A device that feels considerably more portable is one you’ll more often have on you, which is one of the key selling points of a tablet.

The iPad 2 may not have wowed those who had inflated expectations, but it’s by no means an insubstantial update. You could wait for the possible arrival of an iPad 3 in fall, something I think is unlikely, but if you’re looking for a better tablet experience, the iPad 2 is a sure bet, and one that’s a physical reality, not a speculative phantom.

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