Apple’s iPad 2 arrives March 11 in black and white models compatible with AT&T or Verizon, offering speedier processing, better graphics, a thinner form factor and dual cameras for casual videoconferencing. Priced at $499 for 16GB WiFi units and up to $829 for 64GB WiFi and 3G-enabled units, the second-generation iPad is 33 percent less thick, 15 percent lighter and can record 720p high-definition video on its rear-facing camera. But as diligent observers have noted, more important than a doubly fast 1GHz dual-core A5 processor and graphic performance that’s reputedly nine times better is its potential to utterly reinvent personal communication.
Critics may bemoan the system’s lack of 4G connectivity and Flash web browsing, unchanged display size (9.7 inches) and its iOS 4.3 operating system’s lesser versatility compared to rival Android Honeycomb, optimized for tablet PCs. But with over 15 million iPads sold and full compatibility with FaceTime video calling, which lets you place calls between the iPhone 4, iPod touch and Mac computers, what they miss is how it transforms cultural dialogue. Set aside new features like a gyro for motion-controlled gaming and 1080p HDMI video output so you can easily screen content on an HDTV. More meaningful is the device’s ability to act as a full-fledged digital communications hub capable of powering face-to-face interaction from the most remote locales, and portable window into both the Internet and friends’ everyday world.
Using the iPad 2, students can effectively come home for the holidays, even without buying a plane ticket, or touring musicians see their significant other’s smiling face more than once every three months. Coupled with support for over 350,000 apps (including new offerings iMovie and GarageBand for iPad for film and song creation, respectively), it effectively turns the slate computer into a one-stop hub for everyday work and play needs. Beyond playing movies, checking email, surfing the Web, reading digital books and listening to music, you can now capture video diaries, properly eyeball Facebook crushes or gab anytime with distant relatives. Executives also gain the ability to conduct face-to-face meetings on-demand, even while traveling, and academics and artists the ability to quickly connect, collaborate and share their latest concepts and creations. Future potential applications may even extend to at-home training, physical fitness and emergency healthcare. Mere months hence, users could find themselves remotely guided through workouts by personal trainers situated three states over, or visually being instructed by a doctor how to resuscitate injured friends.
Paired with support from enterprising amateur coders and pro software developers, potential uses for the iPad 2’s twin video cameras and multimedia functionality are virtually limitless. So take heart, despite the machine's technical shortcomings. Some day soon, skipping class or work may be an oxymoron, as clocking in may be as simple as hitting the power button and typing out occasional questions while lounging by the pool, margarita in hand.