Great artists ship

iPad 2 vs. Xoom vs. Optimus Pad vs. Galaxy Tab 10 vs TouchPad vs BlackBerry Playbook -- Spec wars!

When Steve Jobs announced iPad 2 on Wednesday he listed a lot of great features and numbers but perhaps none as impressive as the release date -- March 11, 2011 in the US. That's less than 2 weeks between announcement and release.

Last year it took longer. The Original iPad was announced in January and released in early and late April (Wi-Fi and 3G respectively). As a new product and category Apple needed to give developers time to create apps, and they responded with roughly 5000 ready at launch. This year Apple doesn't need that runway. There are already 65000 iPad-optimized apps in the iTunes App Store. This year Apple just ships.

That might not sound impressive until you consider Apple is poised to deliver iPad 2 -- their second tablet -- before almost all of their competitors have shipped even a single one.

There have been 10 years of tablet PCs, championed by none other than the equally iconic Bill Gates of Microsoft but they've been almost meaningless in the consumer market. Their desktop Windows UI was simply never optimized for tablets. Samsung shipped the 7-inch Android-based Galaxy Tab with fairly good results but even Google stressed the OS was not tablet-ready yet. Same goes for the myriad of small Archos tablets over the years. It took until 2011 for Google to release the first tablet version of Android, Honeycomb, and only Motorola has shipped a Honeycomb-based tablet, the Xoomt. Even that -- according to my friends at Android Central -- is unfinished, still waiting on a USB fix, Adobe to deliver Flash, and will require a mail-in hardware update to enable LTE. (To be fair, iPad 2 won't ever have USB, Flash, or LTE.)

HTC is bringing out a tablet that will use Sense on an earlier version of Android while LG, Samsung, and Toshiba have announced Honeycomb tablets but no firm release dates or price points. (And Samsung is reportedly now re-considering the Galaxy Tab 10 post iPad 2 announcement.) Palm has shown off their TouchPad but it won't ship until Summer and likewise has no pricing yet. RIM's 7-inch BlackBerry Playbook is also coming at some point, perhaps as early as spring, but also still absent pricing.

Every single one of these was announced before iPad 2 and almost none of them will ship before iPad 2. Almost all of them have some or many specs, power, and flexibility that outclass iPad 2 but none of them have the number of apps, the level of design, the supporting ecosystem, or the overall experience of iPad 2.

I'm not a huge fan of Apple's heavy "post-PC" push -- was the Apple II a post-mainframe? -- but like we discussed on the Android Central podcast last night, Apple has reframed the discussion from one of technology, one of processors and checkboxes, to one of experience, one of interactivity and imagination. (Feel free to substitute magic and miracles if you simply must.) My mom doesn't care about processors or megapixels, she cares about swiping smoothly through her photos and seeing her family over FaceTime. My 2 year old godson knows nothing about frame-buffers to RAM but delights in paging through his story books and crashing cars in his racing game. Me, a blogger and geek, I do care about those things but when I'm streaming video or sword fighting or using remote desktop, you know what? I utterly and completely forget I care.

Not to get all Jony Ive but the experience is really that immersive. The device vanishes. The OS vanishes. It simply becomes what you're using. It is a TV. It is a gaming console. It's an uncluttered window into the Web. It's physical manipulation of productivity and creativity. It's digital clay.

Last year I went to an Apple Store the day before iPhone 4 launched and people were in there, oblivious, buying iPhone 3GS. Yesterday I went to an Apple Store and people were coming in and asking to buy iPad 2 -- which is still a week away from going on sale in the US.

The message was made for mainstream and mainstream has gotten the message. 15 million of them in just 9 months for the original iPad and who knows how many for iPad 2?

For the most part the competition aren't even on the market yet, and it's unclear how they'll differentiate themselves from iPad 2 -- and from each other. The Optimus pad will try 3D. HP will try webOS and their enterprise power. RIM will try the BlackBerry card. But in order to counter-program Apple they'll need at least one killer advantage and an incredibly compelling story. They need to convince mainstream consumers to buy them instead of iPad -- first not to buy iPad, then to buy them rather than another not-iPad. Fringe use cases and loyal enthusiasts aside, that's a tough sale, especially when Apple will have iPad 2 in Apple Stores and dedicated Apple areas in many big box retailers. Motorola, HP, HTC, Samsung, RIM, etc. have no stores. Sony does, and they have content as well, but they have no Tablet (gone is the Trinitron and Walkman Sony powerhouse of old.) Competing tablets have a huge, uphill battle to wage and win.

That's when and if they ship.

Apple is shipping on March 11.

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

Great artists ship


That's a great point about the "Post-PC blockbusters" being an odd phrase from a company that still sells ever increasing millions of PC's every quarter. The Apple-II didn't supersede the mainframe, but it did take the computing lessons learned and apply them in a revolutionary new way that changed how people live their lives. Maybe its just the "post" in Post-PC that itches.

Great analysis Rene - the kind of thoughtful article that keeps me coming back. Apple have demonstrated they know how to blue sky something, define it, and push on while everyone catches up. You put it very well.

The iPad 2 looks like what the iPad should have started as. Not so much the dual-core or the lighter weight but the new lines/dimensions, at least a camera, and double the RAM.

The headline "Great Artists Ship" somewhat misses the point, as it implies the competition is too busy refining and fiddling to release a product. (Ok, maybe it fits for RIM.) The reality is just that making a good tablet is damn hard, and it takes time to get it right.
Including lab time, we know Microsoft has failed at it for almost a decade. We know RIM has promised it for 2 years. We know that Google has been working at it for at least a couple of years. HP (Palm) has been at it for 2 or 3 years. By Jobs' own account, the iPad was envisioned before the iPhone, so Apple has been working towards it for at least 5 years -- much longer than any other player except Microsoft. Given equal working time, one of the other players may have created a worthy competitor, because they employ talented designers, too. Going forward, they still might.
But competitors have not had equal time, because Apple caught the whole market flatfooted. Apple's tablet lead does not come from superior artistry, but from superior vision -- they had the foresight to see this product need, the skill to translate those needs into a solid design without any models to imitate, and both the resources and the patience to work on it for years without any immediate return. That rare confluence of factors gave them a well deserved headstart. I may criticize Apple quite a bit on tipb, but here I am going to say Rene is not crediting them enough.

"The device vanishes. The OS vanishes. It simply becomes what you’re using."

This is so true, and what competitors still don't get... and don't even seem to care about.

Eh, look how long we waited for the Android smartphone market. A year from announcing the Android smartphone alliance till the G1, then another year before Android took off. One without any knowledge of the tech sector could have easily exclaimed game over as the iPhone took off Now google is the #1 smartphone OS in the States and has already surpassed Symbian in sales worldwide(not that symbain matters now). Its manufacturing partners are riding that little android to growth and profit. If there is one thing we know about the technology world is that being first or being on top means absolutely nothing in the long run. Apple knows this all too well and I commend them on the vision and execution, but the tablet market is way too nascent and there is far too much room for growth for multiple players for anyone to think Apple has this locked.

Its true that eventually Android will probably have a bigger tablet marketshare than ios, just like in phones and it will mean the same thing. We'll have sheer numbers on the Android side and sheer profit on Apples side. At this point I don't think Apple cares if they're number two in numbrs so long as they make than all the Android Manufacturers, RIM and HP combined.

i hate when people cry about lack of flash.
I downloaded skyfire and i literally couldnt think of a site that I could test. Most of the ones i go to are all html5 now.

Good article, with one exception: the whole part about people oblivious because they bought 3GS phones the day before the 4 launched? I just bought a 3GS two weeks ago, because I prefer the form factor of the 3GS to the 4. I don't like the way the 4 feels in my hands (and yes, I have one for my job; the 3GS is my personal phone.) So not everyone is oblivious. :)

Does the way it feels in your hand trump the speed, HD video, retina screen of the iPhone 4? For me, no way. Just asking.

Word. And the bumper makes all the difference when it comes to feel (now perfect) and keeping the thing from sliding all over the place (friction baby)!

Should add battery life to the table. I have not heard much on the competitors' battery life claims.

What's telling is that the competitors aren't even starting from scratch, like Apple. Apple showed them how it's done, yet they can't even manage to field (decent) copies in a reasonable timeframe. I suspect Apple's tablet lead is even greater than we think.

"Post-PC" doesn't worry me at all, it's been obvious for some time that the iOS touch interface is the future of computing, just as the GUI was in 1984 when the Mac was released. The Apple II continued to be their cash cow for years after the Mac came out, but this time the Mac has already been pushed into second place when it comes to revenue. The Mac will continue to become more iOS-like (i.e. easier to use and more appealing to non-geeks, a good thing!) while the iPad and it's siblings will continue to expand their role and more into territory formerly occupied by traditional PCs (e.g. iMovie and Garage Band for iPad). And Apple will have nice fat margins on everything they sell!
Meanwhile the competition will be stuck with spec-sheetitis, tablet OSs that look and work like desktop and laptop OSs (e.g. multi-tasking management apps, Flash crashes, viruses, malware, anti-virus apps that need constant updating and management, plus hierarchical file systems only geeks understand and can use) and commodity processors, etc. And every manufacturer will be fighting over the scraps, battling thin margins at every turn (a very PC-like situation). All in all a very nice place, for Apple!

It was a magical performance from a consummate performer, on that we can all agree.
Speaking for a little more than an hour, in a voice that has lost little of its calm intensity, Steve Jobs mesmerized the audience Wednesday at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, and by extension the world.
His introduction of the iPad 2 did quadruple duty — it enticed mainstream customers, wowed spec-hunting tech geeks, tweaked his competitors and pleased Wall Street. Future presidential candidates would do well to study it.
Essentially, Jobs was selling a dream that could set your rib cage thumping with desire.
“Technology alone is not enough,” he said in one of the day’s more lyrical asides. “Technology married with liberal arts, humanities, yields the result that makes our hearts sing.”
Full disclosure: Yeah, I want to buy one, too.
Do you think you’ll buy the new iPad? Tell us why.
But a dream-made reality comes with limitations and imperfections, especially in the gadget business. Like any good magician, Jobs used sleight of hand to distract from the things we’re not supposed to see.
On the morning after, it’s time to take leave of our hearts, return to our heads and name them.
Man on wire
Magicians who use wires in their act don’t let you see them, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. In this case, the wire is the same old white cable that you’ll have to use to sync your iPad to your PC or Mac from Day One. Yes, apps such as Audiogalaxy or Air Server let you stream music and video to the iPad via Wi-Fi, but they don’t remove the need to hook up to iTunes to back up or sync content for most apps.
In a device that’s supposed to be about effortless connecting, and a world that is moving to cloud syncing, this is an increasingly clunky throwback.
Memory man
How much memory will the new iPad have? We don’t know, because Jobs didn’t tell us. Given that he ticked off all the other major specs of the device, it seems an odd omission. Could it be because its memory is exactly the same as the original iPad — 256 megabytes?
That would look embarrassingly paltry next to iPad competitors such as the Motorola Xoom or the HP Touchpad, which both boast 1 gigabyte of RAM.
Gadget blog Gizmodo claims an Apple employee quoted 256 megabytes when demonstrating the product, only to have the claim walked back by a PR handler. We’ll wait for better proof.
But there is another kind of memory that we know is exactly the same on iPad 2: storage space. The Apple tablet still maxes out at 64 gigabytes. Sure, the competition isn’t beating that yet. But given the standard pace of technological improvement, one would expect a 128-gigabyte hard drive by now. Could tablet design have reached some kind of inherent size limit?
Behind the screen
Contrary to what the rumor mill had been expecting, there was no improvement in screen resolution — meaning the iPad 2 is already lagging behind the iPhone 4, with its much-touted retina display. (An iPhone 5 is expected later this year.)
And while Jobs told us how many frames per second of video the new iPad’s cameras would shoot, he didn’t mention megapixels. This is not a spec he has been shy about announcing when it came to iPhone models.
Holding back?
In all the hoopla, it’s easy to forget that many features announced for iPad 2 were expected — and were technically possible — in iPad 1. It was widely remarked at the time that Apple was deliberately holding back built-in cameras, for one, so that the iPad 2 could launch with a larger splash.
Barring some mass outbreak of leaks at the notoriously tight ship that is One Infinite Loop, we’ll likely never know the truth. But we do know that one “new” feature touted Wednesday — the ability to use the mute button to lock the orientation of the screen — was originally available in iPad 1. The button only changed its purpose when iOS4 was introduced.
So what, if anything, is Apple deliberately holding back for iPad 3? A memory boost? Retina display? Cloud sync? Stereo speakers? (Yes, the iPad 2 is still mono.)
One thing we can be pretty sure of — there will be another peerless presentation of achingly beautiful tablet technology this time next year.

What are you smoking? Jobs didn't tell us how much RAM the iPad 1 had either and the iPad 1 didn't have any competition. The same with iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4.

Great article Rene!! Well said and so, so true. The majority of the public will think of two things when they think tablet...Apple & iPad. Apple is in the minds & hearts of the public, which means they will be ahead of the game for a long while. The design, apps, numbers, price point, etc...seals the deal even further.

'in order to counter-program Apple they’ll need at least one killer advantage and an incredibly compelling story.'
Well, killer advantage is likely to be the lack of 'this page requires flash'. And compelling story is likely to be 'we haven't driven major content app providers away with a 30% content tax'
I know I've based this drum before in comments, but yes, I own an iPad, and whilst I agree it is a brilliant piece of engineering, and that its successor is even more so, the ' no flash' policy affects a number of my must have websites, forcing me to revert to a pc our my android phone far too often. And the thought of losing Kindle in the wake of 30%gate fills me with dread. No argument re: Apple's engineering and UI prowess, its their exclusivist policies that are their biggest stumbling block to world domination.

There still isn't a Flash for iOS from Adobe. Apple has said that if Adobe made one that worked for mobile, Apple would use it. It's all up to Adobe. Apple has been waiting since before the original iPhone was released.
I don't see a good Flash for Android from Adobe yet either.

What's missing: The app quality and abundance. Android, itself, has basically a limited number of high quality apps, and a decent amount of lesser quality apps. The iPhone and iPad have an abundance of high quality apps that do some amazing things, and also an abundance of lesser quality apps. That's a HUGE difference. Yes, I do wish Flash would be on the iPad/iPhone, but I can live without it.
Android sites go on and on about the latest ROMs, rooting, and widgets because, frankly, the application selection if very limited, as is the accessories market for their devices. If you're on the fence, you won't be disappointed by any of Apple's devices. They set the standard.

"Art is never finished, only abandoned." - Leonardo DaVinci
Yes, great artists ship. And great artists also continue to evolve their art. Apple has been evolving Mac OS X / iOS for 10 years. Everything Apple ships builds on what it shipped before and also prepares us for what it will ship next. In that sense, Apple's products are never finished. Each product is a snapshot of where Apple has been. Apple's products are milestones that it has passed as it moves forward, bringing us all along with it.
Microsoft has not evolved Windows at all in 10 years. Instead, they have tried to convince the world that Windows doesn't need to evolve, and that cramming it into a pad makes sense. In more ways than one, Windows is "finished."

More comments on the spec table:

  1. How's it possible for the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 to have a weight of 1.32 lb when they don't know the dimensions of the device yet? To add to the skepticism, the Tab 10.1 supposedly has the same hardware as the Xoom according to the table, and uses a 6860 mAh battery, the largest of the bunch, yet Samsung has squeezed 0.3 lbs out of the device. It's not like the Xoom doesn't have a plastic chassis or is using steel or something that Samsung wouldn't use either.
  2. The LG Optimus Pad has a smaller screen, and has a weight of 1.38 lbs. I think the 1.33 weight for the larger Tab 10.1 is wrong.
  3. Maybe Samsung has found the formula for unobtanium, but I doubt it.

but but but.. the others will have FLASH! And everyone wants Flash for their full rich web EXPERIENCE! snort
Please let the iPad 2 be another large nail in the coffin for Flash.. Even the Xoom (which lists Flash support as a big feature) isn't even shipping with it.
Apple picked up the ball, ran, and kept on going..

Howdy folks. Did you miss me?
Just wanted to comment that the challenge for HP and RIM is not whether they can make their tablets compelling to consumers. It is whether they can make their tablets sufficiently compelling to replace their PCs and augment their smartphones (respectively) in corporate America. HP has literally millions of PCs in offices all over the country, many if not most still running Windows XP. RIM has Blackberry servers in most major corps. Both can see the potential of the iPad to provide a technology switch for no more cost than a useful upgrade - and providing all the ease of use and management of Apple's overall hardware/software model. They are not trying to invade Apple's consumer space; they are trying to invent a value proposition for their corporate customers that will forestall an invasion of corporate America by Apple's "post-PC" devices.