Almost a year ago, Apple defined the tablet market by introducing the iPad, then had the playing field to itself for most of last year.
Now, just as other tablets are starting to arrive based on such competing operating systems as Google’s Android and HP’s webOS, Apple is looking to move the goal posts with the new iPad 2 it unveiled here Tuesday.
This wireless tablet, due March 11, has the same $499-and-up pricing and 9.7-inch touchscreen as the current model but looks notably thinner, at about a third of an inch thick, and adds video-conferencing cameras on its front and back.
Apple says its processor is twice as fast, yet it offers the same 10-hour battery life as today’s iPad.
The Cupertino, Calif., company drew upon its top salesman for the occasion: Founder and chief executive Steve Jobs, who took a medical leave from the job in January, showed up to introduce the device, saying of the event, “I didn’t want to miss it.”
Jobs also took time to trash-talk the competition as being “just flummoxed” and offer his own definition of the tablet market as a “post-PC” space.
In other words, rival tablet makers that hope to take a bite out of Apple’s business by touting the superior specifications of their devices are doing it wrong.
Post-PC devices — in Apple’s case, the iPod, iPhone and iPad — operate and are seen as appliances, with the sole measure of their worth being ease of use.
But companies such as Samsung, Motorola, HP and Research In Motion might have to solve a more difficult problem first: Beating Apple on price.
That’s a novel development in the computing industry. Apple has traditionally priced its products, from Mac desktops and laptops to iPods and iPhones, as a sort of affordable luxury, with an elegance and efficiency that justified a premium over everybody else’s gadgets.
But with the iPad, Apple’s reinvention of a market that had lain fallow has allowed it to sign a series of long-term, favorably priced contracts with suppliers of such components as flash memory and LCD screens. During its last quarterly earnings call, the company revealed that it had committed $3.9 billion to two-year deals for unspecified parts.
That might explain how Apple can price its top-of-the-line iPad 2 — with 64 gigabytes of memory, plus support for either AT&T or Verizon’s 3G mobile broadband — for $829, while Motorola’s Android-based, 3G-based Xoom offers half as much storage but costs $30 less, unless you sign a two-year contract with Verizon Wireless.
Other companies have announced tablets but have shied away from disclosing prices or even ship dates. HP’s TouchPad, running an upgraded version of Palm’s webOS, and RIM’s BlackBerry PlayBook might look impressive in demonstrations. They also might offer advantages over Apple’s tablet in areas such as multitasking (the iPad and iPhone are particularly clumsy about letting background programs get your attention) and support for Web multimedia encoded in Adobe’s Flash (not only do Apple’s mobile products not support that, Jobs didn’t even bother to mention Flash during the presentation).
But if those companies were hoping that Apple would add $100 to the iPad’s price before they would announce those details, they’ll have to go back to the touchscreen and revise their plans.
Of all the name-brand tablets competing with the iPad, and now the iPad 2, only Barnes & Noble’s NookColor has easily beaten Apple’s tablets on price. And that $249 Android device is essentially an e-book reader with a Web browser, not an all-purpose device such as the iPad.
Apple underscored the iPad’s versatility repeatedly in its demonstration. Apple product managers showed off iPad versions of its iMovie and Garage Band applications that let users edit movies and create songs on the device, while Jobs cited a substantial lead in developer support. He cited 65,000 iPad-optimized applications among the 350,000-plus in Apple’s App Store, then suggested that a mere 100 tablet-tuned programs exist for Android.
That, too, departs from computing precedent. For years, Mac advocates had to put up with Windows users bragging about the far more extensive choice of applications avialable in Microsoft’s operating system. But in the post-PC world, Apple seems to be saying, a lot of those old rules deserve to be deleted.