I now know what every other tablet I've tried has been missing.
As our regular readers know, I was out and about all day during the iPad 2 launch, visiting stores and doing interviews with the most dedicated Apple fanatics. I'd hoped to purchase my own slice of magic that day, but long lines at Apple Stores and shorter than expected supplies made that hope seem like a fey dream. But, on a lark, I took my own advice and dropped by my school's Apple Store around four.
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There was no line. They had the model I wanted. After a short wait and a $499 transaction, I was the proud owner of a 16 GB iPad 2.
Unfortunately, I had no time to play for it. The next morning was my plane flight to Guatemala, and there was packing to do. But I wasn't about to let my new treasure be ignored. My roommate and two of my friends were chilling in the living room. I handed the iPad 2 off to them, and they proceeded to play and giggle like children for the better part of an hour.
Bundling Photobooth with this thing was a stroke of genius on Apple's part. By the time I finally got to sit down with my tablet, the gallery was full to bursting. You wouldn't think a simple "gimmick" app would be so engaging, but I ended up spending most of my two hour plane flight capturing kaleidoscopic images of the ground and wings.
My friend Lenny rolled over midway through the iPad love-fest. He's about to wander off on a multi-year couchsurfing sojourn, and is interested in buying a tablet to keep in touch. He immediately started playing with the Maps application. While the iPad (especially the included 720p video of water droplets impacting each other) won his high praise, he complained that the app wouldn't let him chart a walking route from Texas to Kazakhstan. You can't please everybody.
A more in-depth iPad 2 review is on its way, but I will say that my reaction has not been 100% positive. For one thing, iOS is a boring operating system to look at. I miss my widgets, and I don't like Apple's pop-up style notifications. But the browser is magnificent, and I've had no comfort issues using it to read for long periods of time. The on-screen keyboard is almost a revelation. I feel like I could actually write with this thing, not just take notes.
It may sound like self-important tripe every time Apple says the word 'magic'. But I can't deny that there is more going on with this gadget than with any tablet I saw at CES or MWC. And I don't mean that it is more capable or more powerful. It simply feels more human. PhotoBooth and GarageBand are both apps that make you want to hand your new toy off to a friend, just to see what they'll do with the opportunity.
The iPad 2 is like a digital campfire, something that encourages people to gather around and be creative. Now I know what every other tablet I've played with has been missing. Once again, Apple has left everyone else in the dust.