Steve Jobs returned briefly from medical leave for the launch of the iPad 2 to a standing ovation where he clearly and persuasively articulated why Apple believes that 2011 will be the year of the iPad2.
The iPad2 (available in both black and white from March 11th) may irk some critics with missing features such as a SD slot, USB connectivity and no upgrades to memory, or improved speakers or higher screen resolution (and of course support for Flash),4G support but Apple delivered an extremely impressive next generation device that will continue to flummox the competition.
The iPad2 retains the same screen size (9.7" diagonal) but is lighter by 15% at 1.33lbs and its thinner by 33% at 8.8mm. The iPad2 uses a new dual core A5 chip that delivers 2x faster CPU speed and 9x faster graphics processing, adds front and rear cameras to support FaceTime video conferencing. Apple would not confirm rumors if they had increased the RAM from 256MB. All these new features are added without reducing the impressive 10-hour battery life and all for the same price as the original iPad. Pricing starts at $499 for the 16GB versions and for those who recently purchased an iPad, Apple is offering a $100 refund.
Apple iPad2 shows very steady but not revolutionary improvement over the first generation device. However, in the months ahead I hope Apple will focus on much needed enhancements to the Operating System. These is still a lot to be done with multitasking and improving the mobile browser both areas where the Android OS has some advantages. I’d also like to see improvements in device syncing plus the iPad2 would benefit from multi-user account switching.
Once the initial demand for the iPad2 has been met Apple will likely use pricing to unsettle the competition. A $100 price drop by the holiday selling period is certainly possible or Apple may simple increase perceived value via a memory upgrade and setting the entry level at 32GB.
Major technology enhancements such as the iPhone4’s Retina Display, Thunderbolt (a USB replacement) introduced on the MacBook Pro laptops, and the NFC near field communications for digital payments, expected in iPhone5, no doubt will be under consideration for the iPad3. Unless Apple's hand is forced by the competitors I don't expect to see the iPad3 before next year.
Apple has carefully selected features and functionality that can be delivered at an attractive price point for consumers, do not drain the battery nor cause developers to re-write their apps for an increased display resolution. The magnetic Smart Cover, perhaps inspired by Japanese bath lids is very cool if a tad pricey at $69 for the leather versions. They are available in a range of colors. I liked the HDMI out and mirroring and hope mirroring is also available for VGA output.
For Apple, 2011 is all about consolidating a dominant position in the post PC era while keeping a careful eye on the competition.
Apple has relied on adoption of the iPad by corporate executives as a way to drive adoption in the business markets. The year of the iPad video focused on their success in education, medicine and business applications. There are currently around 65,000 iPad specific apps in the App store and as the functionality of the iPad improves, Apple expects adoption in business to be driven by influencers who want a device both for business and home use.
Apple also announced iMove and GarageBand apps that emphasized the devices functionality such as using the acclerometer to sense and adjust the sound based on how hard you were playing an instrument.
The HP TouchPad and RIM’s Playbook may have opportunities in the SMB segments but these devices will also need significant success in the consumer space, as corporate executives are likely to want a tablet covering both their business and personal live - they are highly unlikely to buy a secondary tablet.
The Android market will become increasingly fragmented with overwhelming choice confusing consumers. Security on the Android platform and within Android Marketplace apps is a major issue and will have to be addressed before corporations will allow the devices in.
While the sheer volume of competitive devices is going to put some pressure on Apple’s overall market share, there is currently no device on the market or on the horizon for 2011 that can deliver such a complete user experience at the price point. A fragmented competitive marketplace cannot match Apple's tremendous buying power across iPhones and iPads. This will continue to give Apple a huge price advantage.
Maybe by 2012 Apple will see some really serious competition but the company is likely to once again dominate the tablet world in the year ahead. It's focus on technology combined with the liberal arts sets it apart from the copycats who are focused on speeds and feeds and miss this subtly.
Apple’s claim that 2011 will be the year of iPad2 seems well founded.
Now why can't I pre-oder at the Apple Store ? I don't want to wait until March 11th.