Nobody in the technology business does a better job than Apple of convincing people that they need to buy the next shiny new thing. However, despite the product magnetism of Steve Jobs and company, not everyone who thinks they need or want the new iPad 2 should actually buy it.
In order to help some of those folks save some money and to help others decide whether or not they are a good candidate for iPad 2, I've put together a quick first take on the iPad 2 question.
Who should buy?
- Those who've waited - People who have already decided that the iPad is a good fit for their light computing and media consumption needs but have so far held out from buying the original iPad or any of the competing tablets are now rewarded for their patience. The iPad 2 maintains the same great catalog of apps and the same long battery life while doubling the performance, adding video calls, and slimming down the form factor -- all while maintaining the same price tag as the original. If you've held out so far, you now get a lot more tablet for your money.
- Video callers - If you're already an iPad owner and the Apple tablet has become an indispensable device that you already use on a daily basis, then there's one big reason to upgrade: Video calling. Over the past year I've heard many iPad users complain that the biggest thing missing from the iPad was the ability to do video calls, using Skype or Apple's FaceTime. These users have viewed the iPad, with its "lean-back" user experience, as an ideal device for making video calls to long distance family and friends, calling home during business trips, or doing one-on-one video conferencing for business. In my opinion, the iPad 2's cameras are all about video calls. Apple certainly didn't design this to be a device for taking high quality still photos. The front-facing camera is for face-to-face calling and the back camera is primarily for showing your video callers what you're looking at.
- Mobile multimedia creators - With the upgrade to a dual core processor and the addition of Apple multimedia apps iMovie and GarageBand for the iPad 2, the Apple tablet is expanding beyond being primarily a consumption device to becoming more of a creation device -- at least in the specialized area of multimedia creation (audio, video, podcasts, etc.). For those that who want to test the iPad as a mobile creation device that's more accessible to more content creators than a traditional PC (because of multitouch), then the iPad 2 is a worthy purchase or upgrade.
Who should pass?
- Fans of iPad 1.0 - The worst reason for upgrading -- and I've heard this a lot more than expected -- is "I really like the original iPad so I'm going to get the new one." If you're not going to do much video calling and you're not going to experiment with the iPad for creating videos and podcasts, then there's really not much reason to upgrade from iPad 1 to iPad 2. You don't really need the dual core if you're not doing all the video calling and multimedia creation, and the slightly thinner/lighter form factor of the iPad 2 is nice but far from essential. The original iPad is still a great device and holding on to it for another year until the iPad 3 and the next generation of competitor tablets arrives could be a very wise choice.
- Heavy readers - If one of the main reasons that you want an iPad is to use it as an e-reader then I wouldn't recommend the iPad 2. For hard-core readers who read 2+ hours at a time, who read mostly books, or who spend a lot of time reading outside in full sunlight, then I'd recommend an Amazon Kindle instead. If you're an omnivorous reader who wants a tablet primarily to read Web pages, magazine articles, non-fiction books with lots of maps and graphics, and PDF documents, then I'd simply recommend picking up an iPad 1, which lots of upgraders are currently unloading for as low as $300.
- Supporters of open standards - Like the iPod before it, the iPad has appealed to a much wider audience than just traditional Mac and Apple fans. However, the thing to keep in mind before buying the iPad -- especially if it's your first Apple device -- is that it will start to insidiously rope you into the Apple ecosystem. Sure, you can get content from outside the Apple ecosystem and use it on your iPad, using Amazon music and videos or Netflix or Barnes & Noble Nook, for example, but you'll quickly find that it's easier to just use the Apple ecosystem to buy content. Before you know it, you'll have a small library of content with DRM that only works in iTunes and on Apple devices (this isn't the case with music any more, but it is still the case with movies and TV shows). So, next time you upgrade you'll be more likely to buy another Apple product so that you don't orphan a bunch of your content. If you're a supporter of open standards and use a lot of different platforms (e.g. Windows, Linux, Android, Xbox 360, etc.), then you'll have a hard time wrestling with the iPad to make it work with all of your content and open file formats, and you'll especially have a hard time getting content from the iPad to play nice with other platforms. You're probably better off waiting for a really good Android tablet to emerge.
Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the upcoming book, Follow the Geeks.