This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.
Forget Super Tuesday. For many techies, the real news this week was Apple’s announcement of iPad 3. (Officially, there’s no “3.”)
You don’t have to see one to know it’s impressive. The original iPad, launched by Steve Jobs just two years ago, turned the tablet computer into a revolution. Skeptics said the iPad had no discernible purpose: It didn’t do anything a netbook or smart phone couldn’t do already, and didn’t do anything as well as a serious laptop.
But then they materialized – everywhere, on café tables, in airports, on conference room desks – with their owners running their fingertips over their gorgeous color screens, doing things that were obviously cool.
They were emailing, playing games, watching television shows, reading books, updating cloud documents and doing a hundred other things on a thin, flat, elegant device that actually didn’t cost all that much – $499 for the entry level version.
Sure, you could buy various devices that did any one of these things better than the iPad. But the iPad did most lightweight computing jobs pretty darned well – often spectacularly well – and it had the considerable advantage of letting you leave larger and more specialized machines at home.
In two years, the world has bought roughly 55 million iPads. Last quarter, Apple sold $9.15 billion worth of them – nearly double the revenues from all Microsoft software, according to The New York Times.
Dozens of competitors are nipping at Apple’s heels. Judging from Wednesday’s announcement, the company is likely to keep up its momentum for a while.
The new iPad features a “retina” display, so dense with pixels that the human eye reputedly sees only a seamless image. It has a faster brain, a better camera, translates voice into text in four languages and downloads data from cell phone networks many times faster than its predecessor.
The only quibble is that it’s a mere refinement on the ideas of a departed genius. That’s OK as far as it goes, but Apple has still to demonstrate that it can replicate Jobs’ vision.
The one certainty about the iPad’s future is that it’s going to be obsolete in about a year, at best.
Apple will probably announce the iPad 4 around then, and – who knows? – one of its competitors may find a way to put together a superior package for the same price. They broke the iPhone’s lock on the smart phone market with rival Android devices; the iPad itself is bound to be dethroned eventually if Apple does nothing more than refine it.
Until then, it will reign as the iconic gadget of our era. Not bad for a machine without a purpose.