The invitation to Apple's iPad 2 event next week is a smug jab at all the tech vendors who think they can make a better tablet.
"Come see what 2011 will be the year of," reads the invitation, implying that the year of the tablet only refers to one product.
On March 2, we'll find out whether the next iPad can render other tablets obsolete. We've played this game before from the other side of the table, but now let's consider what the iPad 2 needs to crush Motorola's Xoom and any other tablets that spring forth in 2011:
Software is every bit as important to a tablet as hardware, and the software we've seen on the Xoom, the HP TouchPad and the Blackberry Playbook puts the current-gen iPad to shame.
At a minimum, the iPad OS needs a better notification system, a fresh approach to multitasking and wireless syncing between the iPhone, iPad and iTunes. The question is whether Apple will withhold its iPad OS updates until the fall, as the company did last year, or introduce some software changes alongside the new iPad hardware.
Rumors have gone back and forth on whether the iPad 2, or perhaps the iPad after that, will include a 2,048-by-1,536 resolution display. It seems like a stretch for whatever Apple introduces next Wednesday, but a large-screen equivalent of the iPhone 4's retina display would give the iPad a clear advantage over its rivals.
When Cee-Lo Green video-phoned into Google headquarters for a demonstration of Android Honeycomb on the Motorola Xoom, the result was choppy and laggy (see 51:10 in the official video). Apple's Facetime video chat program fares better on the iPhone 4. If Apple can take that experience to a larger screen, it'll have a winner in the front-facing camera department.
No carrier commitments
The Xoom's biggest failing at launch is that it'll only be available as a 3G/4G model for $800, or $600 with a two year Verizon contract. And even if you pay full price, you'll have to sign up for one month of data, adding at least $20 plus a $35 activation fee to final cost. So far, Apple's managed to sell the 3G iPad without this burden. Continuing to do so with the iPad 2 will widen Apple's price advantage.
A price cut
Remember last year, when Apple said that it can be "nimble" on pricing? The company may not need to drop prices with the Xoom coming in way over Apple's entry level iPad, but an even lower price, or perhaps more storage for the same price, could bury the iPad 2's costly competitors.