IPad 2. Who’s Xooming who?
Tomorrow, Apple is expected to announce a next-generation iPad, an iterative upgrade of the breakthrough product whose radical original Steve Jobs described as “magical.”
Jobs may be excused his poetic license, but in the 11 short months since the first iPad was sold itâs pretty clear Appleâs tablet has changed our relationship with computing in big, noticeable ways. Once-hot netbooks suddenly arenât selling, PC sales are flatlining and even hard drives are having a hard time.
The causal link is debatable, the observable facts are not. Apple sold nearly 15 million iPads through Christmas Day last year, nearly half of that in the final quarter alone. Thatâs more than 45,000 iPads a day for a device that had been tried before but never captivated buyers, doesnât exactly do anything different and which everyone knew would be updated within the year.
Dozens of tablets were hyped at this yearâs Consumer Electronics Show versus zero last year and a few have hit the market. Wiredâs take on the 7-inch Galaxy Tab was âthat it takes direct aim at iPadâs shortcomings and does a credible job at addressing nearly all of them.â But we called the JooJoo âa piece of DooDoo,â the Archos âa kidâs toyâ and said the Dell Streak âstrikes out.â
And then there is the Motorola Xoom, which runs a version of Googleâs Android operating system designed specifically for tablets, not smaller-screen smartphones. Not only did Motorola choose to start selling the Xoom a few days before Appleâs headline-grabbing event, but they have the audacity to charge more than an entry-level iPad.
Androidâs penetration is already significant: In the second half of 2010 Apple dropped from 95 per cent market share to 75 per cent, while Android grew to 22 per cent. With Android available from multiple hardware makers who pay no license to Google, itâs share can only grow.
But the strongest competition for Apple products tends to come not from things other companies make, but from other Apple products. The next iPad wonât be judged against the Xoom or the growing family of Androids â although that may be the burden of the iPad 3. Itâs usually the other way around in a search for the âi[fill blank here] killer.â
All the next iPad has to be in order for it to be a roaring success is a better iPad. And if past is prologue, Apple will do this in two ways: By enhancing it in ways the faithful appreciates — look for more power and space under the hood, but not a USB port — and by keeping the price level while lowering the price of last yearâs model.
So look for Apple to extend iPhone 4 features and form. After all, the joke about the original iPad was that it was just a bigger iPhone â which also couldnât make calls.
Expect two cameras where now there are none. The iPad is already used by serious photographers to edit and share digital images taken with something else. But the real game is video calling and Appleâs investment in FaceTime.
It could be that the new iPad will square off the edges and introduce a flat glass back. Better placement of the speakers, currently only on one side of the bottom edge, is possible, too. There’s been talk that the “Home” button would disappear (no home button was Jobs’ original vision).
But donât look for the same higher-resolution screen Apple introduced with the iPhone 4. At this larger size it would seem impossible to include and keep that magic price point intact, even with Appleâs astonishing ability to manage costs.
At this point everything is a combination of idle speculation and wishful thinking. But we arenât talking about the viability of a commercial tablet anymore, a product category which didnât exist a year ago. No matter how revolutionary or evolutionary the next iPad is, one thing is for sure: In less than a year, tablets have become the new black.
Picture: Screengrab of the Apple iPad website