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iPad 2 Specs: Apple Defines Itself Again as Software, Not Hardware Company

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Apple has been known to call itself a software company despite delivering amazing hardware with great industrial design. In the company’s iPad 2 announcement, CEO Steve Jobs reiterated Apple’s stance as a software–and more importantly, by inference, as a user experience company–rather than a hardware company.

Many keen users who watched the keynote and the second-generation Apple tablet announcement may have noticed a couple key figures missing from the announcement. First, while the iPad 2 is said to have a dual-core processor that could deliver twice the computing performance of the first-generation A4 chip on the iPad 1, Jobs never revealed what the clock speed of the A5 processor on the newer tablet is. Second, the company never issued any specs on RAM memory.

Instead, perhaps in a pre-emptive move by Jobs and in a bid to deter any questions on specifics regarding to the iPad 2‘s specs, aside from the internal flash storage (16, 32, and 64 GB), wireless connectivity options (3G for either Verizon or AT&T, or WiFi-only models), dual-core A5 chipset, and the strikingly thin design of the tablet, the company says that the “post-PC era” defined by tablets like the iPad should not even compete on specs. In fact, Jobs re-iterated the features that make the iPad a unique device and a formidable leader in the emerging space–apps, and the ability to do what you need to do.

And Jobs really does have a point. Apple’s rival, Motorola, recently launched its Xoom tablet based on the Android 3.0 Honeycomb operating system, which is designed from the ground up by Google just to work on tablets. Despite its tablet-centric approach, desktop-like feel with new interactions and controls, and amazing specs including dual-core 1.0 GHz CPU, beautiful high resolution display, and others, the tablet has been referred to by many, including our own Xavier, as a beta product that feels unfinished.

That’s in part because there aren’t many specific applications, programs, or software from third-party developers that completely marries Honeycomb’s tablet-centric UI design to the amazing hardware. As a result, you have a good experience with core apps, but move beyond those apps and you’ll be left with what appears to be a pretty large Android smartphone with apps that are upscaled to fill the screen, rather than intelligently designed apps that makes use of the screen’s real estate in a wise manner. Jobs joshed in keynote that his rival–and displayed a slide with a bee alluding to Android 3.0–has now 100 apps for the tablet, and he said he is being very liberal with that number whereas Apple has tens of thousands of tablet-specific apps for the iPad; as of last count, specific Android tablet apps are at 16 on Android Market.

And there may be a point to delivering a broad array of quality apps. In the case of Android, Google’s major unique selling point with the Xoom, at least when it compares to the iPad, is that there will be native support for Adobe Flash. While iOS does not support–nor will it ever if Steve Jobs has his way–Flash, a lot of the things that require Flash can be translated into an app experience, like TV show streaming via Hulu Plus or the ABC app on iPad, or Flash-based games being ported as an iOS app on the App Store.

In the desktop and laptop world, especially in the days when Apple ran its system on Power PC processors before the company had switched to Intel brains, Apple refused to compete on specs. The company shunned comparisons between clock speed of a CPU on an Apple Mac system versus a PC system, inferring that if software can take advantage of using less resources and perform at or even better levels, then direct specs comparisons are not relevant and are often misleading. In the mobile space, now with its own ARM-based proprietary A5 processor, Apple again is refusing to define its beautiful hardware lineup by specs.

The only things that Jobs and his team would reveal are:

  1. The CPU is a dual-core CPU, capable of delivering up to twice the processing power of the previous generation A4 chipset. The company did print that it’s a 1.0 GHz clock speed on the iPad site. However, it’s focus on technical specs isn’t as important as other features. For example, for the iPad 2, tabs for Features, Buil-in Apps, App Store, and iOS 4 were placed ahead of the trailing Tech Specs tab, which was placed last.
  2. The graphics processor and graphics core are both unknown. Jobs only says that the A5 is capable of delivering 9 times the graphics power of the prior A4 chip.

In reality, apps moved fluidly on the dual-core processor of the iPad 2. The responsiveness is great and is very comparable to the Motorola Xoom, which sports a Tegra 2 CPU from NVIDIA. Whatever the case with RAM is, it seems that Apple has honed in further on developing multi-tasking capabilities on the iPad and I didn’t notice any lags on the demo units in San Francisco. With apps that are designed to take advantage of the iPad’s hardware configurations and capabilities through APIs and SDKs, it seems that Apple really knows how to deliver a great user experience.

Despite Apple’s push to stay out of the specs game, its competitors will drag Apple back into the specs race implicitly. In justifying the price tag for the Motorola Xoom, company CEO Sanjay Jha says that 4G mobile broadband connectivity was a major reason. However, he also added that the Xoom also used–what was at the time–higher quality components to not only compete with the then current iPad, the iPad 1, but the next generation iPad–or iPad 2–from Apple.

As a skeptic, I do wonder why Apple is being so ‘generous’ on specs, unlike the HTCs, Samsungs, and Motorolas of the world who are always tempting you with the latest hardware in an effort to upgrade. The reality is, Apple has an annual upgrade cycle for its tablets and smartphones, if history is any indicator, unlike rivals on the Android platform which rolls out new phones every couple months. With Android, you really do need to compete on specs to come out ahead else risk being lost in a sea of your competitors and being commoditized by the platform itself. In order to push hardware sales, the LGs and HTCs must woo customers that the latest is the greatest. With just an annual upgrade path, Apple doesn’t have to be as aggressive; it doesn’t need to use specs in its marketing language in a race to tell consumers what is marginally better than the previous device. Additionally, instead of trying to push incremental hardware upgrades based on specs revisions, the company could make its money in other ways, like selling compelling apps that combine the power of iOS to whatever hardware Apple makes available. After all, as Jobs says, Apple already has 200 million iTunes accounts with credit cards on file, a number that the company says rivals, if not bests, Amazon’s.

Tech enthusiast in Silicon Valley enjoying the possibilities of ubiquitous connectivity, information sharing, and collaboration enabled by mobile broadband. You can contact Chuong on Twitter @chuongvision or search +chuongvision on Google+.

10 Comments

  1. Bertrand

    03/03/2011 at 5:40 pm

    Wow, Ipad, which has been out for over a year has thousands of apps and the Xoom which was released last week has 16. Does this mean that Ipad is better? No. Does this mean that no one will write apps for Honeycomb? No. What an utterly ridiculous comparison.

    The reason that Apple doesn’t want to talk about specs is so because the Ipad can’t compete on that level and it’s best not to talk to loudly about how much you’re screwing your customers by selling them lousy hardware for twice the price.

    • dlpjr

      03/03/2011 at 8:05 pm

      hahaha that is so so so true man. they always come up with some excuse lol. give it like six months android will beat it in apps for tablet. ya they were late for phone apps. but tablet they will be just fine

    • hypocrite

      03/06/2011 at 8:05 am

      “… selling them lousy hardware for twice the price.” You mean how the XOOM is twice the price of the device from Apple, which is the company not talking about specs?

  2. Nabeel1127

    03/03/2011 at 6:07 pm

    I do agree on some parts of the article. Apple does utikize sources very well, but you are failing to note that Apple makes iPhones and iOS. Optimizing is significantly easier when you do that. Now, I’m not saying thats not a selling point, but taking a piece of hardware and merging it with softwrare is a difficult process nd companies like HTC and Motorola do that very well while providing the users with lots of options. Some people want a physical keyboard, or a slightly smaller screen, or a kickstand. There’s no app for that, there’s third party devekopers using harware and merging it with an acclaimed software to provide better usability. Also, the XOOM has only been out a week, i bought it opening day and am writing the post from it. I didn’t expect 1000 apps for it that day, nor do I today. Dual core integration is something most app develpers are new to and I don’t want half-baked apps for my device. The iPad has tons of enlarged iPhones apps, and those were easier to make because that’s what the iPad was. The XOOM is the first of it’s kind so developers are going back to school and utilizing the graphics, speed, flash and memory… but Apple followers are cultish and blind. I dont mean to be rude, but most Apple users lack a fundamental knowledge of what exactly they’re paying for, not to say iPhones aren’t premium devices. They just arent as untouchable as people think they are.

  3. Yikes

    03/03/2011 at 8:32 pm

    Apples most used phrase of the year is going to be “specs don’t matter” how else are they going to explain their .3 and .92 migapixel cameras, at the same time lack of disclosure on ram may most likely mean same 256 mb of ram like the ipad1 and let’s also not mention it’s inferior display resolution to android honeycomb. Deceit? Nah, cashing on people’s ignorance? Yep

  4. Dirtcheep

    03/03/2011 at 9:07 pm

    The information about IPAD 2 is informative. But I REALLY like the write up about the author. Way to go on balancing technology love and family love! I love it!

  5. Charlesn21

    03/04/2011 at 12:25 am

    Well, the app or program does matter. If one has ever played an old dos or 486 game om a new high speed computer knows you have to install an emulator to reduce the clock cyccle or the old games runs like it was the super comic hero ,”the Flash”…The old games just run to fast to play and thus this proves specs aren’t always better for a program….They need to match…Stupids!

  6. Cakebite

    03/05/2011 at 5:08 am

    Maybe its just me but it seemed like this article is very biased. Apple has made their living selling garbage hardware coupled with decent software for 3x the amount you would spend on a top quality pc. Not to mention a lot of these mac only programs have a pc equivalent. Its obvious Jobs is being careful now that android is gaining speed, otherwise he wouldn’t feel the need to attack them on a constant basis.

    As for the ipad 2, its the same crap with a new face and a dual core processor. Still doesn’t have a USB port, HDMI port, micro sd slot, decent cameras, and is still sporting a crappy resolution. Seriously all you apple sheep need to wake up and smell the honeycomb

  7. Blackberry El Salvador

    05/20/2011 at 10:23 pm

    If you want a powerful tablet and doesnt care about cool and trendy apps choose an android tablet, if you want a functional and cool tablet and tons of the best apps in the universe, and ipad is waiting for you :D

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