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iPad 2: Apple’s Smart Iteration

By now you’ve probably heard and read everything you need to know about the iPad 2. The second generation tablet that’s thinner, lighter (not so much, after all), has cameras and also happens to come with fancy (some people say revolutionary) Smart Covers to protect and clean your device without putting it entirely into a case. Pretty much as I wrote in November, this is the iPad upgrade I was expecting.

But is this the iPad 2 I was hoping for? Or rather, was March 2 the iPad 2 event I was looking forward to? I would say yes, and no.

I’m going to get an iPad 2 from the United States on March 11. 16 GB WiFi model with a $39 Smart Cover. I guess that’s what most consumers will end up with, and I’m happy to stick with my last year’s choice of “just” 16 GBs of storage considering how it’s possible that Apple will slowly move to cloud storage, always available at any time with a simple Internet connection. Which brings me to the second point: the geek in me was hoping for a brief mention of iOS 5 at the iPad 2 event which, you might have seen, didn’t happen. I can see, though, why Apple decided to keep iOS 5 for a dedicated event in Cupertino.

Unlike most people have done on the Internet these days, I can’t judge the iPad 2 without having touched one. Sure it is thinner and it’s got tapered edges, but can I say whether or not it will feel comfortable with my hands when reading in Instapaper? No, and I don’t even want to start building theories upon this speculation. But I think that it will be just fine. Most of all – and here comes the trick Apple played to demonstrate the top-notch quality of its engineering team – the iPad 2 is thinner than an iPhone 4. This feature will have a strong grip on the average consumer’s mind, and on top of that it leads us to think that the iPhone 5 will be thinner than the iPad 2 in a few months. If that’s not an iterative process started in 2007, then I don’t know what else it might be.

See, this is the key point. Some people, many people, are going to despise the iPad 2 profoundly and quickly dismiss is as the same iPad with cheap cameras and thinner design. But from a consumer’s perspective – the consumers that generate Apple’s numbers – having the chance to upgrade to an iPad that’s thinner than a phone and can do video calling for free is going to be a big deal. Was this possible 10 years ago? No. And would have this been possible if Apple’s focus was on raw specs, and not on an iterative process that’s aimed at releasing better products year after year, at the cost of looking awfully similar to each other? Again, no. The cost of similarity I mention – the risk of having a 2011 iPad 2 that doesn’t improve “greatly” over the 2010 iPad 1 – is actually Apple’s best played card: they don’t shoot for specs. They shoot for getting better over time. And you don’t make a better iPad by just putting 2 GB of RAM and 10 MP cameras in it.

We could discuss for hours about the low quality, iPod touch-like cameras in the iPad 2 or the fact that it didn’t get a Retina Display and RAM is likely “only” 512 MB. Does it really matter? For many of us, obsessed with details and numbers, yes. We all want to be experts in this technology sphere without even knowing how RAM is really made. But that’s fine: we’re geeks and we want the best tech. But instead of looking at the iPad as a piece of aluminum and glass that runs software, I want to look at this device like my dad would. Or my friends.

I am an average user, and I hear there is a new iPad out sometime next week. Damn, I got my iPad last year and there’s a new one already? These Apple guys are evil – I think – but I figure I could use a trip to the Apple Store with my friends next week to see what the fuss is all about. So I go to the Apple Store and wow – that thing is thin. And hey, it’s got cameras for HD video, photos and video calling. Oh, and the Apple Store guy tells me I can call my dad who has an iPhone, too. That’s neat. Plus, the Apple Store guy also tells me this new iPad allows me to make music with a new app and edit videos thanks to its “fast processor”. I don’t know what a processor exactly is, but I guess it means iPad 2 is powerful. I have some doubts about the battery though – I mean, if it’s thin and powerful it should last long. I don’t want to charge it all the time, so maybe I should just stick to my iPad 1 and give up on video calling and iMovie editing whatever. Wait: this guy brings me on Apple’s website and I see in spite of the new stuff, I still get 10 hours of battery life. You know what, Apple? Fine, you get my money. Now I want this thing.

Sometimes, when writing and speculating about Apple, we lose the grasp on reality: it’s people like my friends and your parents that buy Apple devices. Geeks make for great early adopters, but it’s the “average consumer” that keeps Apple rolling in the 11 months that follow a product launch. I’m not saying we shouldn’t criticize the iPad 2 for being a smaller upgrade than we originally thought: I’m saying perhaps is best for us to wait until we get our hands on it, and try to understand what consumers really see in Apple’s annual iterative process in the meantime.

Because looking at the iPad 1 next to the iPad 5 in 2015, we will wonder how we got there.

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