I have often heard it said in the tech press that Apple isn’t competing directly with Android. They are focused on software, experience, and the mass market, while Google has geared Android more toward power users who are looking for a more inclusive and open ecosystem. This would seem to be the case if you looked at the divergent tactics employed by Apple and the bevy of device manufacturers rolling out new Android tablets.
Motorola, Samsung, HTC, LG, and many others emphasized how superior their tablets specs were to the iPad 1, and how the new Honeycomb version of Android would give users the ability to do much more than is possible with Apple’s iOS. Apple, on the other hand, choose to give only a cursory nod to the technical side of the iPad 2, focusing more on software, the experience they have gained from a year with the iPad 1, and their leading position in market share and apps. This was the case, even though the specs of the iPad 2 were largely in line with the competition.
Despite Apple’s tendency to avoid an apples-to-apples discussion of hardware and horsepower, the folks at Anandtech.com have been kind enough to do a detailed breakdown of the iPad 2’s benchmark numbers in many categories head-to-head with the iPad 1 and the Motorola Xoom. Considering that most of the other Android tablets have similar specs, and that the Xoom has been anointed the de-fact standard of this generation of Android tablets, these tests should be representative of the iPad 2’s performance against the group, at least at their respective launches.
To summarize the article (and I would highly recommend you take a look at it for yourself. It is very well written and presented), the iPad 2 absolutely smokes the iPad 1 in almost every way. Believe it or not, there are a couple of areas, such as WiFi range, and black level and contrast of the display, where the iPad 1 is superior. That is definitely the exception, however.
The iPad 2 running laps around its older brother shouldn’t come as that big of a shock to anyone. However, the fact that it lead the Motorola Xoom and its vaunted Tegra 2 processor in the vast majority of tests was very surprising to me. Considering how much Google has improved the speed and performance of the Android OS over the last two years, I really expected better from Honeycomb out of the gate. I realize that it is sort of version 1.0 for tablets and all, but Google spent a lot of time and resources on this over the last year to get it out the door ahead of iPad 2. I think they wanted to make a statement here. I can’t imagine they thought Apple would beat them at this game, but for now, it looks as if they have.
These test results will get a lot of play for a while, especially in the Apple press. However, we all know that Google will have multiple OS upgrades this year, and that there will be at least one, probably two Android tablet cycles in that same span of time. By the end of 2011, we will probably see quad-core Android tablets on the street that will do everything but cook your dinner for you. Heck, with a quad-core processor, it might generate enough heat to even do that. In other words, despite whatever rhetoric the Apple-leaning crowd shouts for the next month or so, Google and their Android partners will eventually upgrade and release enough to get out in front on secs and performance.
Again, though, it is a surprise to me that they will even have to fight to get out in front at all. In my humble opinion, this means that Apple really put a lot of effort into hardware tuning and performance for this release. This was their first dual-core tablet, too, so it wasn’t like they had an entirely paved road to travel. Based on the results of the speed and graphics rendering tests, Apple did exactly what it needed to do to deliver the expanded customer experience that they wanted to provide. In doing that, they have given developers a reason to stick with them as the lead mobile development platform for the time being.
The performance of the iPad 2 will lead to more games that will push the limits of what we consider to be mobile gaming. We have already seen the release of Real Racing 2 HD this weekend, which uses the iPad 2’s enhancements to add sophisticated animations and lighting effects that weren’t possible with the iPad 1. It will only get better as the year rolls on and developers learn how to harness that extra horsepower. Couple more powerful and immersive games with the ability to put them on a big screen with a Digital AV or VGA adapter, and you really have a tough act for Google to follow. If they wanted to steal Apple’s thunder and start moving high-end gaming developers more toward Android as their lead development platform, similar to what Sony and Microsoft have done to Nintendo in the console space, the time to do it was right now. Having missed that window at launch, Apple will continue to have a decided dominance in the tablet gaming market, only gaining steam as Google and the Android tablet manufacturers struggle to get past the version 1.0 blues.