The iPad 2: It's a Game of Millimeters and Ounces, or the Lack Thereof

By  |  Wednesday, March 2, 2011 at 5:30 pm

More than most unannounced Apple products, the second-generation iPad–which we now know is the iPad 2–has been subject to wild swings of the Expectations-o-Meter. It was going to have a “retina display.” But only for awhile. Then it was going to be the meatier of two iPad revisions for 2011. It was also going to have two cameras. Until it wasn’t.

Finally, as of yesterday morning, the new iPad was supposed to be a “ho-hum” speed-bump of a refresh. Nothing to see, folks–move along.

At this morning’s press event, I sat next to gdgt’s Ryan Block. While I was gawking at Pixar’s John Lasseter, Ryan noticed that Apple COO Tim Cook and marketing honcho Phil Schiller were hobnobbing with the audience. Which meant they weren’t backstage prepping to host the event. Could that mean that Apple’s CEO would do the honors, Ryan wondered?

Yup. And the iPad 2 that Steve Jobs introduced easily cleared the low bar set by the last round of rumors. Everything about it is evolutionary, not revolutionary. But that’s okay: It means that Apple will have an even more fully-evolved, even more polished product out before most of its major competitors have managed to get their first-generation competitors out the door. (Motorola’s Xoom is good enough to get me hopeful about Google’s Android 3.0 Honeycomb, but it feels like an 0.9 release–not a 2.0.)

The two most interesting things about the iPad 2 don’t involve (de facto) new features like the cameras and dual-core processor or the (minor) iOS 4.3 upgrade or the (very cool) iMovie and Garage Band apps. They don’t even relate to the Smart Cover–although the magnetic, articulated doohickey is remarkably interesting for a cover. No, what’s most significant about the iPad 2 are a few millimeters and a few inches, or the absence thereof. The iPad is .34″ thick (8.6mm) , vs. .5″ (12.7mm)  for the first version; it weighs 1.33 pounds (Wi-Fi version), vs. 1.5 pounds for the original.

That doesn’t like a big whoop, but it is–as I discovered in Apple’s demo hall after the presentation, the iPad 2 is much easier to lift and easier to hold. The difference would be instantly recognizable even if you did it blindfolded. All in all, the device is more like a magazine that happens to be made out of aluminum and glass, and less like a (very stylish) notebook that’s lost its keyboard. (The more highly-tapered case edges also help a lot–they’re slimming, like a flattering outfit.) It still doesn’t have the go-anywhere, cute-little-paperback-book feel of Samsung’s 7″ Galaxy Tab, but it does feel more portable than its predecessor.

Steve Jobs repeatedly referred to the iPad as a post-PC device, and its svelter makeover certainly helps move it in that direction.

Other than that? Well, the Smart Cover is remarkably clever: It snaps to the side of the iPad using magnets that guide it into place, can be folded back in a way that doesn’t obstruct the rear camera, folds up to put the iPad at either a typing or a movie-watching angle, and has a microfiber lining designed to help keep the notoriously smudgy iPad display tidy. It’s not going to eliminate the need for standard cases–it doesn’t protect the iPad’s back or edges from scratches and other damage. But it’s earned a place in the Brilliant Accessory Hall of Fame among such gems as Think Outside’s Stowaway PDA keyboard.

Additional quick thoughts:

  • Just for the sake of comparison to the iPad 2’s .34″ and 1.33 lbs: The 7-inch Galaxy Tab is .4″ thick and weights .8 lb., the 7-inch BlackBerry PlayBook is .4″ thick and weighs .9 lbs, the 10.1″ Xoom is .51″ thick and weighs 1.61 lbs, the 10.1″ Galaxy Tab is .43″ thick and weighs 1.32 lbs, and the 9.7″ HP TouchPad is .54″ thick and weighs a hair over 1.6 lbs.
  • By keeping the same price while upping the features and refinement, the iPad 2 continues to benefit from voodoo economics (Apple would call it “magical pricing”): It’s a distinctly more more lux-feeling product than its competition at  a meaningfully lower starting price. I’m still not sure how any other tablet maker intends to compete with that proposition…
  • I was glum over the fact that iOS 5 wasn’t part of the announcement–iOS 4.3 is, as its version number suggests, a modest-sized deal. (Pollyannish take: That means there’s presumably a meatier iOS update to come in the next few months.)
  • Anyone who can look at the new iMovie and GarageBand and insist that the iPad is a consumption-centric device for passive sheep is  either a dolt or a poltroon.
  • I’m still somewhat uncertain about front-facing cameras and video calls on tablets, in part because it’s hard to hold the tablet at an angle that (A) shows your whole head, and (B) is flattering. (Until I adjusted the angle of the iPad 2 carefully, I looked a little bit like I’d been Photo Boothed into a pinhead.) But I’m pretty sure that Apple made the right decision to place the camera at the top of the iPad 2 in portrait orientation, so it’s more likely to be closer to your face than the Motorola Xoom’s camera, which is oriented for landscape-mode use.
  • I love SD slots. Love ’em. (One of the best days of my life as a user of devices made by Apple was when it finally put SD readers in MacBooks.) I was up enough on my iPad rumors that I already assumed the iPad 2 had no SD slot and was therefore not crushed when that turned out to be the case. But with its newly skinny profile, I’m now concerned that it might not be possible to squeeze one onto the edge of any future iPad.
  • I don’t remember Jobs calling the iPad 2 a post-PC device before. Maybe he’s using the term in part because other tablets–especially Honeycomb ones–do have a more computerish feel to them. (I don’t mean that as a criticism, just a statement of fact about stuff like Honeycomb’s more traditional drop-down menus and pop-up notification panels.)
  • Jobs pointed out that the iPad has 65,000 apps to Honeycomb’s one hundred. That’s an entirely valid argument in favor of the iPad. But the big unanswerable question is one you wouldn’t assume Jobs would try and tackle: Where will Honeycomb be in, say, six months? (Not to 65,000, obviously…)
  • Now that a few hours have passed since the announcement, it’s not irrational to begin speculating about the iPad 3–whether it’s going to come out in the fall or a year from now. If all it does is add the rumored-about features that failed to materialize this time, it’ll have a “retina” display, 128GB of storage, an SD slot, the ability to roam between GSM and CDMA networks, a free version of MobileMe, and a nifty streaming-media service that feels like the second coming of LaLa. Sounds good to me…

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9 Comments For This Post

  1. nick dafo Says:

    You know, i am on android and i may be biased but why Jobs is so obsessed with ‘our competitors’ ?
    He talked about others so much and even the press release statement by him talks about the competition.
    Cant he just talk about what apple brings to the table?
    Even in the end he said something like ‘we have a good chance on being competetive in this market’ instead of just ‘we think we have a great device for consumets’
    I am not saying that only apple is wrong on this, others talk about the other players in the market too
    it is just that apple’s talk always seem more obsessed than what others say….

  2. @ilenesmachine Says:

    People made me think I was the only one hoping for an SD card slot in vain! 😉
    I sincerely hope that the new form factor of the iPad 2 isn't too thin to include an SD card slot. As a sometime photographer, using the iPad to preview shots immediately without other accessories, would be oh, so convenient. The SD slot was the only selling point of the Sungale, which I tested a few years ago. (A tablet in need of much work.)
    Good article – thanks!

  3. ComputerSupport Says:

    Agree 100%, SD card slot is a must as much as a better display and stereo speakers.

  4. David Says:

    @Nick. Have you seen other companies talk. All they mention is the iPad and how much better they are. Go back and read the Motorola’s CEO recent statement. He mentioned the iPad specifically. Jobs mentioned companies and frankly, where was he wrong? All of those guys were caught with their pants down. The Android 3 models all seem to be 9.7″ or better(7 DOA). 5 of 6 iPad models less than $799(which was aimed right at Xoom). And they all look like iPads.

    @ilenesmachine. I appreciate that you want an SD slot. But really, most people don’t seem to so Apple loped it off for size. And you can get the dongle, so what’s the problem? I don’t pay for something I don’t need and you can pay if you do need it. Doesn’t that make more sense than either charging everyone or making two models?

  5. PositivePauly Says:

    As a semi-professional photographer who was first in line for the iPad 3G, I see the iPad as very much an important tool in the photographer's toolbox in the very near future. Studio photographers are already discovering things like Shuttersnitch & Eye-Fi, which although early in their technology cycles — allow for wireless tethering and immediate photo transfer for on-the-fly editing. As an iphoneographer, I quickly learned that the unique combination of being able to shoot, edit, and publish all on one device could transform my photography experience if I could just expand the scale of that to allow my DSLR to be part of that equation. With the iPad, it brought the awesomeness of editing photos with a multi-touch interface to a larger screen and the ability (with the Camera Connection Kit first, and now the Eye-Fi and apps that can use that) to bring in images quickly from my DSLR.

    Considering I'm able to slip my iPad into a pretty small camera case — lighter & faster appeal to me all the more in that I'm able to do iPad/DSLR photo edits quicker. It's a whole lot easier to edit photos on an iPad in a baseball stadium seat than it is to do the same thing on a laptop or even a netbook. I specifically got in line early for the first-gen iPad as a photographer precisely because it would be a game-changer for me. And indeed it was everything I expected it to be.

    An SD card reader built in would be nice to have, but I'm not going to lose sleep over it being missing. Anyone in professional photography who pays any sort of attention to photography can see that quick wireless image transfer is a wave of the future and it's already (in its early phase) here with the Shuttersnitch app (which in addition to working with Eye-Fi cards, will work with the expensive wi-fi adapters in higher-end DSLRs). And even if you're not ready to deal with wireless photo transfer, the CCK dongles work just fine. Not ideal, of course (SD is super slow vs. CF — though I use a CF reader w/the USB dongle on the CCK), but it works.

  6. @dsilverman Says:

    OK, Harry, I'll bite. I still think the iPad is a consumptive, and not a creative, device. Feel free to call me a dolt or poltroon. But just because Apple makes and sells GarageBand and iMovie for the iPad doesn't mean most people will actually use it. There will be a subset of users who'll get past a likely compromised interface and develop a knack for editing video and audio, but the vast majority of folks will continue to use the iPad to consume, not create, content … particularly if the tablet is not their only device. If I have a choice of using a notebook or an iPad to write something or do creative heavy-lifting, I – and most folks, I wager – will reach for the full-featured device every time.

    That doesn't mean the consuming masses are sheep. They're just enjoying the convenience of the device … because that's the iPad's biggest selling point: Convenience. It's NOT convenient for editing video. It IS convenient for watching it.

  7. iPad 2 Prices Says:

    It's still the same price, so if you don't like it. Don't buy one

  8. Alan Smith Says:

    Can't wait until Friday to buy my iPad 2.

  9. Tina @ iPad 2 Says:

    I like it. Although I would have loved it more if it came with a retina display and SD card slot, I still think it's great.