Just Smart

I was awaiting the Apple event on March 2 with great anticipation. It was obvious that it would be all about the new iPad, and when the iPad 2 was finally unveiled, most of its features had been already anticipated. Yes, it is faster than its predecessor. Thinner. A bit lighter, also. Yes, front and rear cameras. No high resolution Retina Display. No new ports: neither Micro-USB, nor Thunderbolt, nor an SD slot. Same battery life. Same storage capacities and same prices as the previous iPad line.

Talking about the iPad 2 this way, the upgrade might look rather boring and underwhelming. But as I was following Macworld and Engadget’s liveblogging (alas, no live streaming from Apple this time — a shame, considering how seemingly important this event was for Apple) and new information and new photos were coming in, I sat and pondered:

  1. The iPad 2 is not just ‘faster’, it’s not a mere speed bump, it has a new A5 1GHz dual-core processor. The graphics performance is said to be 9 times faster, and although I haven’t tried the device for myself yet, I’m rather satisfied by the impressions of those who did. Andy Ihnatko writes:
    The processor, particularly, makes a huge impact. I activated the Photo Booth app and discovered that the iPad 2 was peppy enough to maintain nine different live video previews, each applying a different filter or warping effect, and update them all in real time at full video frame rate.
  2. Some people on Twitter and on the Web seemed a bit disappointed by the fact that battery life was just like the first iPad. It doesn’t look like an improvement, right? Well, to me it is. Two things: one, the iPad 2 has a different, more powerful processor, potentially more power-hungry (yes, tech specs say high-performance, low-power system-on-a-chip, but it’s always a dual-core chip); two, the iPad 2 is thinner, which means potentially less space than before for its components. I imagine that the iPad 2’s entrails have been re-engineered to maintain a huge ‘battery estate’, but still. But perhaps more importantly: thanks to its new processor and performance, and thanks to new apps like iMovie, GarageBand and PhotoBooth, the iPad 2 has likely more tasks to carry out than the first iPad. Being able to do all this new stuff while retaining the same battery life as the first iPad, in my opinion, is a great improvement.
  3. The iPad 2 isn’t just thinner than the iPad 1. It’s thinner than the iPhone 4. 8.8 mm is thin indeed. If you haven’t got an iPhone 4 in your hands, let me give you an idea: a CD jewelbox is 11 mm thick. Three stacked CompactFlash cards are roughly 9 mm thick. If you have a MacBook Pro, look at the thickness of its lid: it’s about 8 mm. Basically the new iPad is like holding a detached MacBook screen, depth-wise.
  4. Thinness, coupled with the small weight loss (around 680 grams before, little more than 600 grams now), makes for an even more portable, practical device. You just drop it in your man-bag or backpack and it virtually disappears. And again, I haven’t touched an iPad 2 yet (I’ll have to wait until March 25 here), but judging from the reactions of those who could try it at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, this new iPad should feel much lighter in your hands than what that 80-gram difference can convey on paper.

Smart things indeed

In addition to my first impressions listed above, there are a couple of smart things to talk about.

First is that Apple Digital AV Adapter that, together with the new video mirroring feature, lets you mirror whatever it’s on the iPad on an external, bigger screen. This is much better than the video-out capabilities of the first iPad, because it’s not limited to a bunch of applications that support the video out feature. It works more like video mirroring on Macs, i.e. you constantly see on the bigger screen what happens on the iPad. As Apple aptly explains, Video mirroring doesn’t just turn your iPad into a big screen. It actually turns the big screen into your iPad.

This transforms the iPad 2 in a great tool for business presentations and it makes the iPad an even more useful tool for educational purposes. Fraser Speirs, who teaches Computing at Cedars School of Excellence and who has successfully implemented the iPad in class, has written:

I don’t know whether I or my Apple reps in Scotland will be more delighted that iPad 2 supports full video mirroring. I’ll be happy to have it, they’ll be happy that they no longer have to hear me beg for it. I strongly suspect that this has been, by some distance, the #1 most-requested feature from education markets. Thanks for listening, Apple. Really.

The second smart thing, well, at Apple they’re so confident about how smart it is that they called it Smart Cover. And it has its own page on Apple’s Website. Everything’s smart about this cover for the iPad: the simple idea behind it, the implementation, the fact that the iPad locks the screen when it detects the cover and unlocks it when you remove the cover, the use of magnets to keep the cover in place, the use of microfiber lining that keeps the iPad’s screen clean while you carry the device around, the foldable quality that makes the Smart Cover a multi-purpose accessory (it works as a stand, too, both for typing and for watching videos and photos).

It’s hard not to concede that those Smart Covers are, indeed, smart. So why do I dislike them? Here we enter the realm of subjectivity, but let me write it anyway: I don’t find them elegant at all. Smart, well designed, that’s for sure. I will probably buy an iPad 2, but I won’t cover it with those things, not even if they give me one for free. This is not a matter of “You’ll change your mind as soon as you see them in person”, sorry. The iPad is not only a well-designed device, it’s also very elegant (at least for me). The iPad 2 even more (but that white model… I don’t know really). An iPad 2 with one of those Smart Covers on top, in my opinion, just loses elegance. It looks like something that wants to look ‘young’, ‘cool’, ‘fun’ but ultimately doesn’t. In my eyes, the iPad 2 is truly cool without them.

What’s more, they only protect the iPad’s screen. Considering how I’m going to use the iPad, the Smart Cover solution is simply not (good) enough. I guess I’ll wait and see what third party case manufactures have to offer. I liked a lot Scosche’s FoldIO case for the iPad, and it seems they already offer the iPad 2 version. I’m also looking forward to what Twelve South may bring, especially in the stand department. I’m planning to use the iPad a lot in a desktop configuration with the Apple Bluetooth Keyboard and a separate stand that lets me keep the iPad un-covered, and both the Compass and the BookArc seem to be the perfect solution for me — we’ll just have to wait and see if they can be used with the iPad 2 or if they need specially designed variations.

There are a couple more observations I wanted to share about the iPad 2 and, more generally, about the event and what Steve Jobs said, but I prefer to go over my notes in the next days and combine them in a separate piece to be published later on.

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About Riccardo Mori

Writer. Translator. Mac consultant. Enthusiast photographer. • If you like what I write, please consider supporting my writing by purchasing my short stories, Minigrooves or by making a donation. Thank you!