Archive for the ‘iPad 2’ Category

It’s been about 10 years since the iPod first sunk its hooks into me, and the Apple product train really caught my eye. The relationship blossomed over time, and got more and more serious. The first iPhone experience was really like falling in love, and with the release of the iPad, the relationship had grown into a full blown love affair. But things started to sour a bit with last year’s iPhone 4 release, which left a somewhat bitter taste in my mouth. While I’m still an avid fan of Apple’s technology and engineering, I’m really starting to lose my patience with their various antics and behavior patterns, some of which are becoming predictably irritating. Unfortunately I’m not strong enough (yet) to end the relationship, but certainly there are cracks developing in what started out so magically.

Every release since the iPhone has had its own “personality” – Apple has changed or tweaked something each time, sometimes for the better, but more often for the worse. Unlike the original iPad release, this time Apple decided perplexingly not to allow pre-orders. Conspiracy theorists believe it was a calculated move to generate more lines and publicity after the recent Verizon iPhone launch failed to do so. Whatever the reason, buyers were allowed to place an online order the morning of release day at 1:00am PST; to actually purchase from a store that day, you’d have to wait until 5pm local time. I decided to hedge my bets and try my luck, hoping the horrible online experience from the iPhone 4 wouldn’t be repeated. To my surprise, I was able to put my order in without a hitch a few minutes before 1:00am; the caveat being shipping dates were listed as 3-5 business days. With no other information, it appeared I’d be likely to receive the unit by the end of the next week.

Of course my patience level is very low, so I decided I would check out the lines and figure out a game plan. I wasn’t feeling as motivated compared to previous releases, and I definitely didn’t want a repeat of the 5+ hour lines from the iPhone 4. I checked the nearby Apple store line over lunch, and there were already a few hundred people at least, so that was pretty much out of the question. I figured an hour or 2 would be tolerable, though, so instead, I dropped by the local Best Buy around 4pm. There were about 100 people already waiting, and the line was kind of amusing. A goofball next to me managed to trick a lady into thinking we were waiting to get autographs from Charlie Sheen. But by 4:45pm, the store had ran out of the sheets that indicated their stock; this store had maybe 50-60 units. It was frustrating because I had guessed they would have a smaller stock level, but also a smaller line than another (larger Best Buy) that’s on my way home. In any case, I stopped by the second store and sure enough they still had stock; the line wasn’t much longer than the first line I was in. Unfortunately they progressed incredibly slowly, and it took about 2 and a half hours to make it out of the store. My guess is if I had gone straight to this store I would have been done in an hour and a half, as they seemed to get progressively slower throughout the wait. (Minor rant: what the hell is wrong with people in stores? I swear it took me less than a couple minutes to get through the checkout line once it was my turn, yet everyone else seemed to be taking 5 times that amount. Grrrr.) The only good part for me was that I met some nice people in line, and we discussed everything from child rearing tricks to Mac tips to good local restaurants. Fun! The good news for Apple is that everyone near me said it was their first time waiting in line for an electronics gadget. This surprised me a bit, and likely means the iPad 2 is bringing in a lot of new customers to Apple’s growing fanbase.

In any event, I finally made it home and promptly cancelled my original online order, which was still sitting at “Not Yet Shipped.” Clearly I had made the right decision to not wait for shipping, but a slight error in judgment as to which Best Buy to hedge my bets on. Either way, it was a bit aggravating, since a simple pre-order system from Apple would have served just fine. Maybe they had other reasons besides manipulative greed to generate publicity, but I’m skeptical and my patience with these kinds of games is wearing thin. Just wait a few weeks, then, most people would say to me. To that, I reply I want my product on release day, and I’m willing to pay or pre-pay in advance, and willing to do the research to order it as soon as it is offered. For most companies that would be enough, my guess is they would love to have hundreds of thousands of pre-orders to ship on the day of release. But not for Apple, if they don’t have lines with thousands of people clamoring in the cold so they make the news, they just aren’t satisfied.

It may sound like I’m a jaded and bitter whiner, and sure I’ll cop to that to some extent. It’s not like I didn’t have other options or couldn’t live another day without an iPad 2. I guess I’m just getting fed up with the tactics, the fanfare, the lines, the insanity – all of which have somehow become a regular routine for Apple, rather than what originally seemed like a special, once in a lifetime experience. I guess this is pretty much like any relationship, though – no matter how awesome it was at the start, the “specialness” starts to wear down after you’ve seen it time and again.

OK OK, but what about the iPad 2 hardware itself? Well yeah, it’s everything they said it would be. There are plenty of reviews at Engadget and other sites if you are interested in a full, detailed look. To sum up the reviews, pretty much everyone likes the unit, but acknowledge it’s an “evolutionary” product at best. The most derided feature is the back camera, which is incredibly low tech by Apple standards and just not meant for stills (less than 1 Megapixel resolution I believe). Uhhh, OK. This is clearly a ploy to either use up old stock (it’s the same quality camera as the iPod Touch) or, more likely, to have something they can immediately show improvement on in the next iteration. Another typical Apple maneuver, and again getting to be tiresome.

Anyway, if you were on the fence for the original, this one is everything the iPad was and more. The biggest engineering marvel to me is the weight and thickness reduction. Weight was one of my few issues with the original, and they’ve certainly addressed it. Not that the weight has come down that much, but combined with the thinness of the unit, the entire feel is different. It’s much more comfortable to hold in a single hand, and of course that is beneficial for many reasons. The thinness makes it feel much closer to a large e-Reader, but with much sturdier materials in place of cheap plastic. In fact unless I’m mistaken, it’s the same thickness now as the Kindle 3 (0.34 inches). Considering the amount of raw power inside and excellent battery life, plus the color screen, it’s almost inconceivable. The size change alone was probably enough to get me to upgrade, but I think for the majority of people who bought iPads, that wouldn’t be a big enough selling point.

So what about other improvements? New dual core A5 processor at 1GHz, double the RAM and up to 9x (supposedly) the graphics performance. The GPU improvements have already been tested and confirmed over at Anandtech, and the results, while maybe not 9x, are pretty impressive. Yes, the original iPad was already very well optimized, but this one’s just that much better on all accounts. I didn’t notice anything too dramatic at first, but the more I use it (and then go back to the original), the more I can tell the differences. The biggest improvement I’ve seen thus far was running Slingplayer. I was watching a basketball game on the iPad 2 last night in HD, and the frame rate was just fantastic. Under the exact same conditions on the original, I’d often get choppy or intermittent frames; on the iPad 2 the picture was pretty much flawless. It felt like there was virtually zero delay from the Slingbox wireless transmission; in some ways I almost thought the animation was even smoother than it plays on my TV.

I still don’t know if I could recommend someone to do the “upgrade” – unless they are/were a tech freak like me, have a specific application that demands more horsepower, or maybe for gamers who are anticipating major improvements, particularly to 3D-rich offerings like Infinity Blade. I tried it out briefly, and the textures and detail really are much sharper with the iPad 2 upgrades, with no sacrifice in frame rate. This is likely just a small sample of what’s to come.

I also (finally) got the new video mirroring feature to work. I had a few problems here and there, but once it was working it was really fantastic. This is going to change the way teachers and others do live presentations, and will likely sell a few iPads on its own. The only downside is the loss of some picture due to the differing aspect ratios, but for the most part, it’s a fantastic way to share material as well as share just how easy to use the iPad is. In typical Apple fashion, the original iPad will not support the full mirroring capability. The only good news is that (with iPad 2), you can use either the older VGA video out or the new HDMI version.

Clearly I’m pleased with the hardware and the overall tech enhancements. There’s just no way to get around the fact that Apple knows how to engineer and put together an awesome device. Even when competitors copy pretty much everything and come up with better specs, Apple can still trump them on usability and sheer volume of top notch apps. So I’m sitting at a bit of a crossroads with my Apple fandom. While I feel locked in to the tech, which I love, I’ve also become increasingly jaded and annoyed by their questionable marketing and hardware release tactics. Only time will tell whether I get pushed fully off the fanboy bus. Let’s hope not.

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