Second on the user-suggested improvements is the hardware switch on the iPad 2 is now configurable as either a rotation lock or a mute button. Having had an iPad since it's launch, we were pretty annoyed when the switches purpose was changed, and very much welcome the ability to return it to its original function.
Less laudable is the addition of front and rear-facing cameras to the iPad 2, for use both with FaceTime, for recording video, and with an iPad implementation of Photo Booth. It's not that we don't welcome the addition - in fact, we found the implementation of Photo Booth particularly cool, and although we can't ever see ourselves actually using FaceTime, we'll concede that it does work particularly well on the iPad's large screen. We simply can't bring ourselves to praise Apple for putting cameras in the iPad 2, when they should have been present on the iPad.
Lucky for Apple, we're easily impressed by cool accessories, and the iPad 2's alternative to the iPad's case definitely fits that description. The Smart Cover, as it is called, uses a clever magnetic hinge to attach itself to the iPad 2. The major advantages of this over a case are twofold. First, the Smart Case is much easier to remove and put on the iPad 2 than a case. Second, and more vainly, it's a much leas bulky solution, so it doesn't detract from the looks of the iPad 2; and let's face it, owners of Apple products want to show them off. As a perfect example of how Apple tends to please with the little touches, we also love the way it activates and deactivates the device automatically when you open and close the cover.
The iPad 2 launch isn't just about the hardware, of course. We're pleased to learn that despite the iPad 2 packing a faster processor than the iPad, the two latest in-house apps from Apple â€“ GarageBand and iMovie, will run on both versions of the tablet - this version of iMovie will even work on the iPhone (that is to say, it's not a replacement to the iPhone version of iMovie).
iMovie is an excellent showcase of how much power the iPad's touchscreen interface affords. We're decidedly not up to Steven Spielberg's level of editing prowess, but we had absolutely no trouble cutting together a serviceable short film. Admittedly this was helped by the the raw footage Apple provided on the sample iPad 2 we had to play with being particularly well-filmed, but nonetheless we can see iMovie on the iPad 2 proving very popular.
GarageBand might not be as universally appealing as iMovie, but it's at least as interesting to use. Most appealing to us was the huge range of digital instruments available to play. We especially liked the way the iPad 2's gyroscope let's it register the force with which you strike drums or keyboard keys, changing the loudness of those hits. Additionally, the eight-track editor is powerful enough that you might not even need to import tracks from GarageBand on the iPad into the Mac version, though the two are compatible.
All of the aforementioned features add up to make the iPad 2 a compelling purchase. If, as Steve Jobs says, Apple's competitors were flummoxed by the iPad, we think the iPad 2 will really throw them. It's more powerful, packs more features, is more comfortable to use, thanks to being thinner and lighter, and no more expensive. Put simply: the iPad 2 is very much an iPad, but more so, and that's exactly what it needs to be.