Like many tech enthusiasts, I followed last week’s Apple event closely. Steve Jobs unexpectedly took the stage, but the company announced an expected product: the iPad 2. Although not nearly as revolutionary as the original, the second generation model brings refined hardware improvements. Extras such as cameras are also a great addition, however there is one major flaw: iOS.
Do Hardware Specs Matter?
This questions comes up quite often and the answer is not simple. Apple’s original iPad was a game changer since there was nothing else like it on the market. Tablet PCs had been around for ages, but they still ran a desktop operating system. While I adore Windows 7 and use it primarily for all my work, it is far from being ideal for tablets. With the introduction of iOS, hardware specs for tablets became more along the lines of a smart phone rather than a laptop computer.
Although 2010 was definitely the year of the iPad, 2011 has an entirely new landscape. Competition such as the BlackBerry PlayBook, HP TouchPad, Motorola Xoom, Samsung Galaxy Tab 10, and LG G-Slate each offer a very similar set of features. There are some benefits and drawbacks to each which we highlighted in our series of infographics, but the specifications are roughly the same. They are so close in some regards that it truly does not make a difference to consumers.
Software Matters Too
While hardware specifications were all the rage for ages, easy to use and intuitive software has pushed for consumer friendly devices. Apple made a great decision when they chose to run iOS on the iPad instead of Mac OS X last year. The interface was efficient, familiar, and simple. The iPhone was already a hit and the iPad was a perfectly complement to the family.
Although I do not own an iPad, I spent some time using and reviewing it last year. There were many missing features at the time, however iOS ran incredibly smoothly. Fast forward a year later, not much has changed aside from the addition of multitasking. The new iPad 2 makes things faster with a dual-core processor, but the operating system is nearly identical.
This creates a major issue for Apple as we head into the flooded market of tablets in 2011. The current iOS for the iPad is essentially an enlarged version of the operating system for the iPhone and iPod touch. The platform was a great start, but the original design does not take advantage of the tablet form factor. Although I was hoping for a new refreshing interface, Apple did not announce a major software revamp for the iPad 2 aside from a few minor enhancements.
The Competition Has Caught Up
There are many amazing iPad apps that take advantage of 9.7 inch screen, but the operating system does not go far enough. Google, HP, and RIM have started from the ground up with new tablet operating systems that take the slate form factor into consideration from the OS level. BlackBerry Tablet OS, webOS 3, and Android 3.0 Honeycomb each offer many user interface improvements which are more innovative and intuitive than iOS.
For instance, HP’s latest webOS 3 lets users stack sets of applications together for organized multitasking. Google’s Android 3.0 Honeycomb has an impressive notifications panel for keeping up to date with the latest information without letting pop ups disrupt work flow. It is not just about multitasking and notifications either, these new breed of tablets offer creative home screens with widgets and improved navigation for getting things done fast.
It’s Also About The Apps
In addition to beyond impressive sales, Apple’s App Store count is far ahead of competition. Steve Jobs proudly noted that there are over 65,000 iPad optimized apps while less than 100 are optimized for Android tablets. It is also important not to forget that the quality of apps also matter. Apple’s out of the box apps are amazing and many third-party apps are even better.
However, you will probably change your mind once you try Android 3.0 Honeycomb. The default bundled apps truly highlight the true potential for Google’s new operating system. Everything from the Browser, Calendar, Chat, Contacts, Email, Maps, and Music apps are incredibly innovative. They look gorgeous, have more features, and actually very easy to use. This is a small indicator of the likely nature of upcoming third-party Android tablet apps.
Keep in mind that the Motorola Xoom is the only Android 3.0 Honeycomb tablet on the market so far and it is less than a month old. Apple iOS for the iPad is about a year a more mature than all the others. Competitors, including Google, are still far behind Apple when it comes to tablet sales, but they are moving up the ladder faster with better technology.
To Buy Or Not To Buy
If you are ready for a tablet, you may want to think a moment before dropping cash for the iPad 2. It is a great product, but it is only a slight advancement to the previous iteration. Apple has yet to announce or make any mention of iOS 5. It is unclear what the next generation operating system will offer or if every feature would even carry over to the iPad 2. Other tablets are already getting a head start with features such as 4G connectivity, integrated mobile hotspots, flash player, video chat over a cellular networks, and expandable storage. While the iPad 2 will by no means disappoint if you know what you are buying, consider the available options if you are open to unique alternatives.