Apple fans are giddy about the iPad2, announced with the typical fanfare this week, but Apple could have kept to a single-core processor and dropped the clock speed and Apple nation would have found a reason to cheer. Most others were underwhelmed because Apple announced nearly everything it was expected to. Such is Apple's plight that it could take an unprecedented success story, improve on it dramatically in less than a year, and leave people feeling slighted. What's wrong with us?
Let's get this out of the way: Many expected USB, SD, HDMI. We got HDMI out, via an adapter. As usual, Apple will let plenty of content leave the iPad but will do anything it can to prevent it from coming in, at least through channels it can't control. The clock speed of its new A5 dual-core processor is 1 GHz, not 1.3 or 1.5. The screen resolution hasn't changed.
Apple achieved a level of parity with other emerging tablet makers: dual-core processors and both front- and rear-facing cameras.
But Apple stood out in another way. Its March 11 ship date for iPad2 must have sent shockwaves through every other tablet manufacturer, most of which, it should be noted, have yet to ship anything. Each of them was waiting for Apple to make the first (or second) move and each surely thought it would have at least a month or two head start. Surprise!
Steve Jobs, looking frail but spry, delivered almost the entire show. After, he looked happy and completely plugged in as he greeted well wishers. A sight to behold, especially by those who stood to benefit from a spike in Apple’s stock price the moment he took the stage. If competitors thought he was fading away, they were mistaken.
But all of that fanfare is window dressing to the single thing that sets the iPad2 apart: its stunningly smaller overall size. It’s extremely thin, and while it's only a bit lighter than the original, the overall feel of the device is substantially better. In other words, Apple packed in more features (OK: achieved parity) in a dramatically thin tablet, with exactly the same battery life and at exactly the same price. Isn't this innovation? Isn't this what version 2.0 is supposed to be? Isn't this what Apple is supposed to do? Not every step has to be a revolution--Apple's playing of the song with that title moments before Jobs took the stage notwithstanding.
Jobs spent far too much time on accessories, though the iPad’s new cover is yet another innovation. Anyone who has a tablet can appreciate the ability to protect the device with a cover that serves as a low-footprint stand, puts the device to sleep (and wakes it up), and does all of that with the style we've come to expect from Apple. But it's a cover, for goodness sake.
Seemingly half of the announcement was devoted to demonstrations of iMovie and GarageBand. Those new versions, Jobs said, are not only great new Apple tablet applications, but they also to demonstrate what is possible, to set the bar higher for developers. Mission accomplished. He also said that these were not toys but apps meant for serious work. Jobs never shies away from hyperbole. But let's face it: Jobs and Apple have earned it.
The new version of iOS (4.3) included some welcome enhancements, like support for the Nitro Javascipt engine from Safari on OS X 10, some enhancements to AirPlay (applications can share audio and video, for instance), and personal hotspot support.
Improvements. Good ones. Haters will hate the new device. Lovers will love it. Companies will deal with it as they always have: embrace or ban it (or look the other way). Sometimes the biggest surprise is no surprise at all.
Fritz Nelson is the editorial director for InformationWeek and the Executive Producer of TechWebTV. Fritz writes about startups and established companies alike, but likes to exploit multiple forms of media into his writing.
Follow Fritz Nelson and InformationWeek on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn: