By the time you read this the iPad 2 should have moved from rumor to real. With the tablet market maturing faster than you can say dual-core processors and the first real Android OS for tablets (Honeycomb) starting to ship on tablets like the new Motorola Xoom, we ask will the new iPad 2 have what it takes to compete with these new improved Honeycomb-based Android tablets? The answer may depend on what gets announced on Wednesday morning but based on rumors and educated guesses we’re not so sure. Here’s our rundown of some of the arguments on both sides.
Multi-Cores and Multitasking
The Motorola Xoom is powered by an Nvidia Tegra 2 dual ARM-core processor with each core running at 1GHz. Dual-cores can help the OS multitask and better GPU performance can help with tasks like video playback and gaming. The ideal processor will combine more power with less battery drain. The Motorola Xoom has been reported to get 14 hours on a charge. The iPad 1 gets around 10 hours. Apple iPad 2 is rumored to be powered by their new dual-core A5 chip and may even have dual GPUs to boot, all of which will be necessary to compete with the forthcoming dual-core Android tablets like Samsung’s Galaxy 10.1 and even quad-core powered tablets using chips like Nvidia’s Tegra 3, TI’s OMAP 5 and Qualcomm’s Krait (Snapdragon). Nvidia says their quad-core Tegra 3 chips will be in devices by August.
Honeycomb Multitasking Has the Edge
Honeycomb adds a multitasking bar that pops up on the left side of the screen and displays the five most recently accessed apps as a thumbnails, showing how you left each app. The current iPad OS makes multitasking rather cumbersome forcing a user to double click the home button, and then click on an icon to go to that app to see what it’s doing. We’re pretty sure Apple will be addressing this in the next iOS version or an upcoming version. Until then Honeycomb has the multitasking edge.
Will We See a Widescreen Display on the New iPad?
The current iPad has a 9.7-inch display with a 1024×768 resolution. Apple’s super high resolution Retina display runs at 2048×1536. Both resolutions deliver a 4:3 aspect ratio which is the same as your old standard def TV or VGA computer monitor. As the electronics world moves to widescreen in everything from computer monitors to HDTV sets, it makes sense to offer a tablet in widescreen format like the 10.1-inch 1280×800 Xoom display, especially as these devices are used more and more for watching movies and playing games. We hear the Retina display on the iPad 2 will most likely not be used this time, maybe it drained the battery too fast or maybe it added too much to the cost but it looks like the iPad 2 will still be a 4:3 display. On the other hand if Apple upgrades the display to a more modern widescreen aspect ratio it could make the new iPad more competitive.
iOS vs. Android and Others
After all is said and done it still comes down to Apple vs. Google although WebOS, Windows and RIM’s QNX might factor into the equation. Android means you get apps like Gmail, Google Voice, Google Maps and a new version of Flash for Android. Apple offers advantages like a better selection of apps and iTunes. Honeycomb is the first real Android OS designed for displays larger than smartphones. It’s going to take developers awhile to optimize their apps and widgets for the tablet. In the meantime Apple apps are going to look a lot better on the new iPad 2 than Android apps on Honeycomb tablets that will look oddly shaped until developers can fix them. That said there are some impressive Honeycomb-optimized apps like the Accuweather app and Google Books.
Honeycomb User Interface Has Thumb Browsing
When the Palm Pre was announced at CES over two years ago everyone was impressed by the innovative user interface. Google was so impressed it hired the designer of WebOS, Matias Duarte and made Honeycomb his first big project. The result is a very pleasing UI that is much friendlier than previous versions of Android and optimized for tablets with features like thumb browsing. Speaking of browsing, Apple also needs to implement real tabbed browsing on their Safari browser at some point.
We expect to see major improvements to the Apple user interface either in the iPad 2 or some future version that will address issues like email alerts and other notifications where Honeycomb offers a friendlier experience than the current iPad OS. Users have been griping about Apple’s current system that pops-up notifications right in the middle of the screen forcing a user to close them.
Pricing is Even for Now
The bottom line on any price advantage is there doesn’t appear to be any major difference between the current iPad and an Android tablet like the Xoom. For example, you can get a 3G Xoom with a two year contract from Verizon for $599 with a $20 monthly fee which adds up to a little over $1,000 over two years. A similar deal from AT&T for a 3G iPad requires a higher up front cost but lower monthly fee adding up to a little over $1,000 for two years. If Apple can offer a lower-priced iPad 2 which we’re pretty sure they won’t they could have a slight advantage in the price department.