New Zealand among first countries outside US to get iPad 2

Apple ended months of speculation today by announcing the release of the iPad 2, and New Zealand will be among the first countries in the world, outside the US, where it will go on sale.

The iPad 2 is 33 per cent thinner and up to 15 percent lighter than the original iPad. It features Apple's new dual-core A5 processor for faster performance, and it contains two cameras -- a front-facing VGA camera that enables video calling and a rear-facing camera that captures 720p HD video. It will retain a 10-hour battery life. It come in two colours - black and white and there will be a range of iPad 2 Smart Covers.

The device will go on sale in New Zealand on 25 March, with pricing in this country yet to be announced. Local distributors Ingram Micro and Renaissance expect to carry the product from the official launch date. Renaissance CMO Warwick Grey says the company is taking pre-orders.

The iPad 2 will go on sale on 11 March in the US with pricing that ranges from $US 499 for the 16GB wi-fi model to $US 829 for the 64GB model.

"With more than 15 million iPads sold, iPad has defined an entirely new category of mobile devices," said Steve Jobs, Apple's CEO in the media release. "While others have been scrambling to copy the first generation iPad, we're launching iPad 2, which moves the bar far ahead of the competition and will likely cause them to go back to the drawing boards yet again."

Jobs was present at the official media launch, despite being on medical leave from Apple since January.

Update by Gregg Keizer of the IDG news wire:

By the time that Apple CEO Steve Jobs wrapped up today's launch of a revamped iPad, analysts were already calling it "incremental" and pointing out that it the new tablet delivers "no surprises."

The bottom line? Contrary to Jobs' assertion that iPad 2 will stymie what he called "copy cats," Apple hasn't staked out an insurmountable hardware position.

"Apple didn't really move the bar all that much," said Jack Gold, an analyst at J Gold Associates. "I don't see this as heads above the competition, especially the Xoom, right now. Apple fans who want the latest will buy this or upgrade, but I don't see any overwhelmingly compelling capabilities that would make people sitting on the tablet fence go out and buy one."

Other experts echoed Gold's take.

"It's all very nice -- smaller, lighter faster, but there were no surprises," said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research. "Is it nicer? Yes. But it all was predictable, things that everyone was betting on, including competitors."

Stephen Baker of retail research firm NPD Group chimed in as well on the theme.

"It seemed like this time, everyone knew everything ahead of time," said Baker. "It's all incremental. But there are only so many ways you can surprisingly change things."

The iPad 2, which according to Apple features a dual-core processor, faster graphics and two built-in cameras, will go on sale March 11 in the U.S. at the same price points as the original tablet: The Wi-Fi model starts at $499, while the 3G device starts at $629.

Yesterday, Baker said Apple might preempt actual and potential tablet rivals by going aggressive on price, but the company didn't take his last-minute advice.

Nor did it stake out features that other tablets won't sport within months. "The specs are basically what everyone else is coming out with in three to four months," said Baker. "We're at a point where this set of features will be similar across every device, at least for this round."

But the fact that Apple didn't feel the need to drop the price or radically rework the iPad speaks volumes about its place in the tablet market, which the company essentially kick-started last year, selling nearly 15 million of the devices.

"They're clearly not seeing any constraints on the market at $500," said Gottheil. "At some point, they may drop the price to, say, $400, but they won't do that until they need to."

And Apple has an advantage because of less tangible elements that its competitors still lack. "They have the first second-generation [iPad] out there," Baker said, "and a year's worth of sales and experience with tablets."

Or maybe the talk of hardware is all just noise.

"Let's be honest," said Baker. "What Apple's move today points to is the fact that hardware is not all that important. The biggest differentiator between Apple and [other tablet makers] is iOS versus the others, its App Store versus everyone else. If Apple can continue to build the better experience, its success isn't hardware dependent."

While there may have been a lack of drama about the iPad 2 -- the name bloggers had stuck on the expected upgrade months ago, and that Apple co-opted -- it was balanced by Jobs' presence at the San Francisco event. It was his first public appearance since he announced last January that he was taking an indefinite medical leave, and made up for a missing "One more thing" announcement that has made Apple's product launches famous.

"Steve Jobs doing the presentation, that was important," said Gottheil. Jobs received a standing ovation from the crowd of reporters and others at the invitation-only event.

Ovum's Adam Leach

Ovum principal analyst Adam Leach says Apple has been forced to release a new version to stay ahead of the competition, notably tablet devices from Samsung, Motorola, HP, HTC and RIM.

"Much of the early growth of the tablet market can be attributable to the Apple iPad, a device whose sales constituted 90% of the total market opportunity in 2010. The remaining 10% of shipments in 2010 was made up of devices running variants of Google's Android OS," Leach says.

"Ovum's belief is that the platform dominance of Apple and Google will continue through 2011 and beyond, albeit with devices based on Google's software platform commanding an increasing proportion of the total market opportunity.However, devices based on Google's platforms will only overtake those based on Apple's platform by 2015, when we forecast 36% and 35% market shares respectively, of a total market with shipments of approximately 150m units in 2015. This compares with Ovum's estimate of 10% for Google and 90% for Apple at the end of 2010."

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