Apple iPad 2 – is it worth the hype?

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Tablets and the Apple iPad 2 – good for small business?
Many large computer hardware companies have tried to lead the tablet market – from HP and Dell, to Sony and Palm – but it seems it has taken the persuasive “cool” marketing and trendsetting might that is Apple to tip this into a serious product.

The first Apple iPad sold 15m units in 9 months, dominating 80% of the US market. In its first weekend sales in the US alone – the iPad 2 shipped more than 1m.

Apple has certainly created a new product category. They are great at product design, timing the creation or entry of a market and throttling supply so consumers go into a shopping frenzy and spend days outside its stores before new releases (some would argue instead – they are terrific at building demand for complex technical product that take time to supply).

Some facts on how the iPad 2 is different to the first iPad:

One-third thinner (a mere 86mm);
15% lighter, by 100g;
Twice as fast;
Round edges;
Two cameras; and

A gyroscope
The battery life is still a good 10 hours (same as the original iPad) but from all reports, charging either iPad generation is painfully slow.

Apple have focused on some important features – like the 2 cameras, thinness and weight – which will make it stand out not only from its competitors but the original iPad. Since you always hold a tablet, the weight and thinness on their own makes the iPad 2 stand out from the nearest Android competitor, the Motorola Xoom.

The new iPad screen cover is a great example of cool trumping practical use. You attach this single sheet by drawing it across the iPad face (like making a bed). The hidden magnets make a “clicking sound” and anchor the cover to the iPad face. And, the hidden magnets act as a switch and detect when the cover is opened – automatically turning the device on. No buttons presses or swipes needed like in the first-generation iPad.

The pricing of the iPad 2 has surprised many, on 2 fronts:

Apple have matched the first iPad price, and provided the price difference between the old and new model to anyone who bought and iPad 1 within 2 weeks of the iPad 2 release in early March.

The iPad 2 actually costs less than its comparably equipped Android (e.g. Xoom, Samsung Galaxy Tab etc). That is the benefit of being a cashed-up market leading, being able to buy components in bulk.
We had expected the iPad 2 to be a little more expensive than the iPad 1, but not so.

The business uses for a tablet is expanding, with some examples being: “Board packs” for Board meetings; farmers examine crops for disease by comparing them, in the field, to pictures on the iPad; and the iPad and other tablets have started to replace cash registers in shops.

Our verdict – should small businesses consider getting a tablet, especially an Apple iPad 2?
Our general advice is if you need video, presentations, clearing emails and do a lot of reading on the move then going for a tablet makes sense. Smartphones are just a little too small. So, which one to go for?

If you are already in the Church of Apple then an iPad 2 will make sense for you but if have never had an Apple product now may be the time to venture in to the Church yard.

The two best Android options to consider, in our opinion are:

Motorola Xoom
Competitive screen size and price with the 32GB iPad, and the first with Google’s new “Honeycomb” operating system. It’s as fast as the iPad, can have 3G phone connectivity and the battery life is about the same.

Flash playback yet (though, it’s coming) and Honeycomb’s lack of tablet-scale apps.

Samsung Galaxy
The Galaxy Tab’s 7in screen is small enough to fit in your pocket, but its processor is a lot slower (its Flash playback, on YouTube, is terrible). The battery life is closer to seven hours, well behind the Xoom’s and iPad’s 10 – this alone could be a show-stopper when choosing a table. The size is alluring. Lots of apps available, though designed more for smartphones than its screen. Overall probably our third choice as it is more expensive and already looking like last year’s model. We’d recommend holding our for the Samsung Galaxy 10.1, quick run down of specs compared to the iPad:

slightly larger screen, at 10.1 inches;
a little less weight;
better resolution;
same processor speed;
2 mega-pixel front and 8 mega-pixel back camera;
stereo speakers (which the iPad lacks); and
same battery life
So if you want Android, have a close look at the Xoom or the new Samsun 10.1.

We’ll have to wait to see what Microsoft bring out later in the year to challenge Apple, Motorola and Samsung who are already well out of the blocks. Research In Motion (RIM), who own and make the BlackBerry, are already feeling the cost trailing in the tablet market – it’s shares dropped 12% recently after the cost of developing their iPad competitor, the PlayBook, cost bit them. RIM may survive in the tablet market with the PlayBook purely because of their strong hold on the public and enterprise markets with it’s BlackBerry devices.

Written by Thomas Jeffs - the Chief Technology Officer of Lucidica, which provides IT support in London. Thomas also writes a regular IT and technology blog for small businesses.

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