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iPad 2 vs. Xoom vs. Optimus Pad vs. Galaxy Tab 10 vs TouchPad vs BlackBerry Playbook -- Spec wars!

When Steve Jobs announced iPad 2 on Wednesday he listed a lot of great features and numbers but perhaps none as impressive as the release date — March 11, 2011 in the US. That’s less than 2 weeks between announcement and release.

Last year it took longer. The Original iPad was announced in January and released in early and late April (Wi-Fi and 3G respectively). As a new product and category Apple needed to give developers time to create apps, and they responded with roughly 5000 ready at launch. This year Apple doesn’t need that runway. There are already 65000 iPad-optimized apps in the iTunes App Store. This year Apple just ships.
That might not sound impressive until you consider Apple is poised to deliver iPad 2 — their second tablet — before almost all of their competitors have shipped even a single one.

There have been 10 years of tablet PCs, championed by none other than the equally iconic Bill Gates of Microsoft but they’ve been almost meaningless in the consumer market. Their desktop Windows UI was simply never optimized for tablets. Samsung shipped the 7-inch Android-based Galaxy Tab with fairly good results but even Google stressed the OS was not tablet-ready yet. Same goes for the myriad of small Archos tablets over the years. It took until 2011 for Google to release the first tablet version of Android, Honeycomb, and only Motorola has shipped a Honeycomb-based tablet, the Xoomt. Even that — according to my friends at Android Central — is unfinished, still waiting on a USB fix, Adobe to deliver Flash, and will require a mail-in hardware update to enable LTE. (To be fair, iPad 2 won’t ever have USB, Flash, or LTE.)

HTC is bringing out a tablet that will use Sense on an earlier version of Android while LG, Samsung, and Toshiba have announced Honeycomb tablets but no firm release dates or price points. (Samsung is reportedly now re-considering the Galaxy Tab 10 post iPad 2 announcement.) Palm has shown off their TouchPad but it won’t ship until Summer and likewise has no pricing yet. RIM’s 7-inch BlackBerry Playbook is also coming at some point, perhaps as early as spring, but also still absent pricing.

Every single one of these was announced before iPad 2 and almost none of them will ship before iPad 2. Almost all of them have some or many specs, power, and flexibility that outclass iPad 2 but none of them have the number of apps, the level of design, the supporting ecosystem, or the overall experience of iPad 2.
I’m not a huge fan of Apple’s heavy “post-PC” push — was the Apple II a post-mainframe? — but like we discussed on the Android Central podcast last night, Apple has reframed the discussion from one of technology, one of processors and checkboxes, to one of experience, one of interactivity and imagination. (Feel free to substitute magic and miracles if you simply must.) My mom doesn’t care about processors or megapixels, she cares about swiping smoothly through her photos and seeing her family over FaceTime. My 2 year old godson knows nothing about frame-buffers to RAM but delights in paging through his story books and crashing cars in his racing game. Me, a blogger and geek, I do care about those things but when I’m streaming video or sword fighting or using remote desktop, you know what? I utterly and completely forget I care.

Not to get all Jony Ive but the experience is really that immersive. The device vanishes. The OS vanishes. It simply becomes what you’re using. It is a TV. It is a gaming console. It’s an uncluttered window into the Web. It’s physical manipulation of productivity and creativity. It’s digital clay.

Last year I went to an Apple Store the day before iPhone 4 launched and people were in there, oblivious, buying iPhone 3GS. Yesterday I went to an Apple Store and people were coming in and asking to buy iPad 2 — which is still a week away from going on sale in the US.

The message was made for mainstream and mainstream has gotten the message. 15 million of them in just 9 months for the original iPad and who knows how many for iPad 2?

For the most part the competition aren’t even on the market yet, and it’s unclear how they’ll differentiate themselves from iPad 2 — and from each other. The Optimus pad will try 3D. HP will try webOS and their enterprise power. RIM will try the BlackBerry card. But in order to counter-program Apple they’ll need at least one killer advantage and an incredibly compelling story. They need to convince mainstream consumers to buy them instead of iPad — first not to buy iPad, then to buy them rather than another not-iPad. Fringe use cases and loyal enthusiasts aside, that’s a tough sale, especially when Apple will have iPad 2 in Apple Stores and dedicated Apple areas in many big box retailers. Motorola, HP, HTC, Samsung, RIM, etc. have no stores. Sony does, and they have content as well, but they have no Tablet (gone is the Trinitron and Walkman Sony powerhouse of old.) Competing tablets have a huge, uphill battle to wage and win.

That’s when and if they ship.

Apple is shipping on March 11.