Apple's iPad 2 is the 'Holy Grail' of computing

Combo of modern hardware, App Store ecosystem makes it a clear winner

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While the screen looks to be of slightly better quality than the one used on last year's model, it's still as glossy as ever, so be mindful of reflections and outdoor use. Reading at the beach may not be possible, especially on bright days, though I have yet to thoroughly test it outside. Indoors, though, the iPad 2 is choice.

Any drawbacks are more than outweighed by what the iPad 2 can do. Some want to argue under-the-hood specs, but quality iPad apps and execution in software are far more important than faster hardware. For instance, iOS games are all very well done, even on last year's model; and while competitors hope to muscle into the tablet field touting higher technical specs, their software still doesn't work smoothly on simple things such as scrolling. As long as the App Store apps remain competitive, specific hardware specs will matter as much as the inclusion of Flash, which is to say they don't matter very much. Check out the Guided Tours on Apple's site, especially the one about Garage Band, to see what I mean.

Another leap forward?

I said a year ago that the iPad was computing's Next Leap Forward. After a year of using that device, and speaking to other iPad owners -- especially those who aren't techies -- I have to say that the iPad may really be the closest thing to a perfect computer. I don't say that lightly, either.

If we were to define the Holy Grail of computing, I bet the definition would be something like this: an easy-to-operate device with built-in environmentally aware sensors, cameras and wireless access to data and communications with other devices; a device that features intuitive app installation and deletion and the ability to add capabilities not originally included; a device that can operate for long periods of time with no wires, yet still has access to endless libraries of videos, books, music and data; a mobile device with a screen that adapts to how it's held; a device that can be used by doctors to help patients, mechanics to diagnose cars, and by pre-schoolers and seniors to learn; something that can be used by the hearing- and sight-disabled, by musician, lawyers and athletes.

In short, it would be a device that can be pretty much anything to anyone -- at home or at work -- turn on instantly and operate day in and day out, without maintenance, fear of malware, or the need to troubleshoot. And it has to be portable, preferably held in a single hand.

That, to me, is the Holy Grail of computing: a device not based around a checklist of hardware specs, but one that actually gets out of the way of doing stuff. Until the iPad arrived last year, such a device existed only in science fiction. The updated iPad 2, in concert with the App Store and a growing ecosystem of peripherals, completes the evolution. Compared to other tablets, it remains without rival.

Let me explain that last point. Given the definition of the word rivals -- "a competition for over-all superiority" -- I would say that without major software refinements the current competition in the tablet space is no more a rival to the iPad 2 than I am a rival to Michael Jordan. Just because we both play basketball, doesn't put us in the same league.

If you need or want a tablet, get an iPad 2.

New and old iPads
Another view showing the thickness of the iPad 2 (left) and iPad (right) with the iPhone 4 between them.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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