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2011: Year of the iPad 2?


2011: Year of the iPad 2?

It's hard to begrudge Apple calling the iPad a magical and revolutionary device. You don't have to approve of the product to admit that the extent to which the iPad reinvented the tablet PC market was, indeed, nothing short of a revolution. And we think that the iPad's slick and seamless integration of hardware and software makes it sufficiently advanced to count as at least a bit magical, by Arthur C Clark's definition.

With the iPad having proved such a success, in spite of it's vociferous and numerous critics, it's not surprising that, in Steve Jobs' own words, Apple hasn't been resting on it's laurels. Thus it is that although the changes to the iPad 2 versus the first iPad might seem fairly minor on paper, they add up to make a very compelling device.

The size and weight reduction are the two most fundamental changes that make the iPad 2 feel like a brand new product. At 8.8mm thick, and weighing just 590g, the iPad 2 feels significantly more comfortable to hold than the original (9.3mm, 680g). The way the back curves all the way to the bezel also makes it nicer to hold. The new design definitely invites 'giant iPod touch' comments even more than the previous one did, but it works, which is what's important.

The A5 chip powering the iPad 2 is also a major advance; especially as despite the increased power of the A5 over the A4 the iPad 2 achieves the same 10 hours of battery life as the iPad. It's hard to overstate how incredible technical a feat fitting a dual-core processor into a device as small as the iPad 2 is. Apple isn't alone in this - Qualcomm, Texas Instruments and Nvidia all have dual-core CPUs that will be housed in such devices as the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, BlackBerry PlayBook and HP TouchPad - but it reckons it will be the first to ship dual-core tablets in volume. We'd be surprised if an A5 wasn't also powering the iPhone 5.

We're not sure how many apps will utilise the 'up to 2x faster' performance Apple says they can, but performance of the iPad 2 is definitely impressive. Combined with the JavaScript performance improvements of iOS 4.3, Safari is now incredibly fast, with your connection (that of a crowded BBC Television Centre press room) the limiting factor.

We expect the A5 to be an advantage for multitasking, too. With two cores available, it will be much less likely that background apps cause slowdown of whatever is running in the foreground. The 'up to 9x' faster graphics should see a big step forward in the types of games on the iPad 2, bearing in mind that the iPad was no slouch in that department. Infinity Blade, for instance, which is a game that pushed the graphics of the iPad right to their limit, is appreciably smoother on the second generation device.

It's encouraging to see that Apple, a company often criticised (fairly or not) for telling it's customers how to use it's products, rather than listening to how their owners want to use them, appears to have taken at least a few of the iPad's most common criticisms on board.

First, Apple is launching an HDMI-output accessory. As well as enabling the iPad 2 to output a 1080p mirror-image of whatever is on the iPad’s screen – be that a game, a website, or a video – this also has a plug on it letting the iPad be charged while in use. We’d have liked a less proprietary method of outputting video, but at least Apple is making it easier to connect the iPad to a television or projector. Although with AirPlay now able to work with video on websites and in apps, as well as from iTunes, you might well finally be tempted to invest in an Apple TV.

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