Despite a Passionate Steve Jobs, iPad 2 Underwhelms

Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs came temporarily off of his medical leave to take to the stage on Wednesday to unveil the iPad 2, which, as expected, will be a little thinner, a little lighter, a lot faster, and adds the camera functionality that was so sorely lacking in the first iteration. It will start shipping on March 11 in the United States, and March 25 to 26 globally. While Jobs was clearly fervently passionate about his technological baby, and took the opportunity to bash the competition, there was very little thats groundbreaking here to stave off the coming onslaught of Android-based, evenly matched rival entries from Samsung, Motorola, RIM and others.

Available as either Wi-Fi only or with data plans from both AT&T Inc. and Verizon Wireless, iPad 2 models will be available in 16 GB, 32 GB and 64 GB versions, and in black or white. The upgrades include a gyroscope, which will be familiar to iPhone and iPod Touch users. Its 33 percent thinner thinner, in fact, than an iPhone 4. Its gone from 13 mm thick to 8.8 mm in width. It also now weighs only 1.3 pounds, down from 1.5.

There is some differentiation in the new iOS 4.3, which will supercharge the mobile browsing experience through Safari. The iPad 2 can also stream content from a computer to the iPad while at home, and also, through AirPlay, allows video from the Web or from various apps to stream from iPad to a TV via Apple TV. To match the new cameras, iPad 2 shipped with FaceTime video chat and PhotoBooth software.

The new edition is also what Jobs called dramatically faster.” It uses a new proprietary A5 dual-core chip. We get twice as fast performance on the CPU and nine times better graphics performance [than the original iPad],” Jobs said. However, this only brings it up to speed, so to speak, with dual-core rivals like Motorola.

The two cameras rear-facing and front-facing  likewise give Apple table-stakes functionality on that front. Theres plenty that stays the exact same, too: It has the same 10-hour battery life (one month of standby), the same display and resolution, and will still start at the same price of $499.

So wheres the secret sauce? Well, it appears that success is the greatest differentiator, for this version, at least. The iPad, which claims 90 percent of the tablet market, represents what Jobs termed the post-PC era,” which began with the iPod, continued with the iPhone and is now being carried by the iPad. He also took the opportunity to note the 20 million units sold last year, pointing out that Apple has succeeded where Microsoft failed. “That’s more than every Tablet PC ever sold ever,” he said. “Tablet PC crashed and burned.”

Its the soul, actually, that matters, Jobs intimated. “It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough,” Jobs said. “It’s the marriage of technology of the liberal arts that makes our hearts sing.

“A lot of folks in this tablet market are rushing in and looking at this as the next PC,” he said i.e., hardware specs become key, and software is made by a different partner. “Our experience in every bone in our body says that that’s not the right approach,” he says. “These are post-PC devices that need to be easier and more intuitive than a PC, and the software, hardware and applications need to intertwine in an even more seamless way than on a PC. We think we’re on track with this.”

Jobs noted that the success of the iPad in nine months from launch last January, Apple sold 15 million units has competitors flummoxed.” Apple has 65,000 apps that take “full advantage” of the iPad, he said, while 100 million books have been downloaded. There are now 200 million accounts with credit cards registered, between iBooks, the App Store and iTunes. The App Store has paid out $2 billion to developers cumulatively.

“The majority of our revenues come from these post-PC products,” he says. “People laughed at us when we described the iPad as ‘magical’, but it is.”

As for the competition, Jobs dismissed the threat. “Lot of people have tried to copy this,” he said. “I think we’re way ahead.”

He added, What about 2011? Is it going to be the year of the copycats?”

Included in todays announcement were also a couple of new accessories: A cable for HDMI can connect the iPad to displays up to 1080p, while an adhesive smart cover” can prop the device up and turn it on and off.

Two apps were highlighted, too: Garage Band for the iPad makes the functionality touch-based so users can play the piano and other virtual instruments. Theres also iMovie, which lets users take your video clips, audio tracks and photos, and load them into a movie format for editing. Its not unlike the movie-editing software that Microsoft showed off at Mobile World Congress.

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