Technology

THE IT GUY: Is the iPad 2 really that cool? Well, yes.

You might have missed it (ha!), but the iPad 2 was recently announced. Steve Jobs took time out from his medical leave of absence to appear in person March 2 and announce Apple's latest must-have gadget.

As expected, it is faster, adds two cameras for video conferencing and shooting HD video as well as an updated operating system.

Unexpected however, is that it is 33 percent thinner than the original iPad (which wasn't exactly a behemoth to begin with), measuring just 8.8 millimeters thick and weighing 15 percent less.

Apple also unveiled iPad versions of their iMovie and GarageBand software. The former will allow you to edit that movie you just shot with the iPad 2, and the latter will let you make your own soundtrack for it. Each will cost $4.99 in the App Store. These apps go a long way toward refuting the perception that the iPad is only a content-consumption device.

Finally, Apple introduced the Smart Cover, which attaches to the iPad 2's frame via built-in magnets to protect the screen. The device can detect when the cover is lifted so as to wake from sleep mode. The cover can even be rolled up to form a stand.

It's a very compelling upgrade. Indeed, if you were on the fence about the iPad before or waiting until version 2 to buy, now's the time. The new features aren't quite enough to get me to trade in my suddenly antiquated first generation iPad, but it's definitely tempting.

What's more interesting to me is how Apple is truly playing for keeps in this market.

Just as the first credible tablets from Apple's competitors are starting to hit the shelves to go head-to-head with the original iPad (and failing to do so for the most part), Apple comes along with a new iPad that sends them all back to the drawing board.

Of course, it helps that these competitors keep shooting themselves in the foot. The Motorola XOOM, which by all accounts is the most on-par with the iPad, looks like a brick in comparison to the iPad 2.

The XOOM ships without the ability to play Flash content (even though Flash support is always a main talking point against the iPad; Motorola says an update will come later) and consequently can't even display its own website out of the box. It also inexplicably has to be sent back to the manufacturer to upgrade its radio if you want 4G.

The HP TouchPad that was demoed recently does nothing new, has no App Store, wasn't even given a firm ship date (they said it was coming "this summer") and has now been rendered irrelevant by the iPad 2.

Finally, Samsung gets points for actually shipping a competing tablet, but again, it offers no innovation other than a smaller 7-inch screen for those who might prefer that size better.

To top it off, all of these devices are more expensive than the iPad. It is amazing to me that only Apple can hit that magic $499 price point, especially given its history of always charging a premium for its products.

It seems Apple has learned the lessons of its own history. There was a time when the Mac OS was the dominant computer operating system in the world.

Instead of innovating and staying ahead of the game, Apple kicked out Steve Jobs, sat back and watched as Microsoft released a bad copy of Apple's work, called it "Windows," licensed it to hardware manufacturers and proceeded to become the pre-eminent technology company in the world.

This time around, Apple seems intent on not only owning this new tablet market, but winning the war before it's even begun.

This isn't necessarily a good thing -- you don't have to look any further than the iPhone vs. Android phones to know that competition is needed to keep these companies releasing products that actually improve our lives.

Hopefully the other technology heavyweights will get their act together to challenge Apple in the Tablet space this year, otherwise it might be game over already.

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