What You Need to Know About Apple’s New iPad

Plus: the winners and losers of the 2012 announcement.

You may have heard about a little shindig Apple held yesterday. The tech giant, as is their wont, built up a mighty buzz for their big secret announcement with one of their exclusive, invite-only events. Of course, those following the months of Apple iPad rumors were likely more surprised by what wasn’t announced than by what was. As had been speculated, Apple did announce a new version of Apple TV—the Roku-like set-top box that lets you access video streaming from iTunes, Netflix, YouTube and Vimeo. Oh, and they also unveiled the latest/greatest installment of their tablet computer progenitor, iPad. (Among the rumors that did not come to fruition: There was no actual Apple television set and, as of yet, no smaller/cheaper iPad to compete with the Kindle Fire.)

While Tim Cook and his cronies sauntered across the stage of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts spouting a surfeit of superlatives about their devices and their company (I guess if anyone can have a deserved sense of self-satisfaction with regard to their place in the recent evolution of personal computing, it’s Apple), the rest of the world caught drips and drabs, as if watching a baseball game through a knothole in the outfield fence, via the tweets and live-blogs of those in attendance. By last night, the video of the hour-plus presentation was on Apple’s site, and the gist that was reported by the likes of Engadget, CNET, Tech Crunch, Mashable, and the Twitterverse was confirmed: Apple is mostly updating, not reinventing, its category-defining tablet (which Cook modestly dubbed the “poster boy for the post-PC world”).

Yes, there’s an allegedly stunning Retina display with more pixels than even an HDTV (alleged because, as Apple’s Phil Schiller explained, not even the giant HD screen behind him has Retina’s resolution,) a hot-shit new A5X chip to power all that fancy-pants graphical magic, more ways to connect to more things wirelessly and with more speed than on any device ever, an improved camera and lots of improved software (the iLife suite of Garage Band, iMovie and iPhoto for starters).

But the display (which I’ve not seen yet) notwithstanding, the “New iPad” (as Cook and Co. called it, not iPad 3, which had become journalist shorthand for the alleged device) looks almost exactly the same as the iPad 2. Most of the new features are internal; this doesn’t make them insignificant, but the absence of design changes makes one wonder what life is like in a post-Steve Jobs Cupertino. Indeed, the updates are designed to change how one uses an iPad—with a distinct emphasis on creative endeavors, especially considering the substantial chunk of stage time devoted to iPhoto and its editing capabilities.

While the analysis is sure to come in hot and heavy through the week, here’s our quick guide to winners and losers.

Apple: Winner
Say what you will about this being an update rather than a true launch, Apple managed to have all eyes on its updated tablet some five months after Amazon and Barnes & Noble’s discounted Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet added a bargain basement to this particular market. Apple significantly upgraded lots of features, including, not for nothing, the display, but did not raise prices over iPad 2.

Android Tablets: Too close to call
Apple addressed one of iPad’s biggest criticisms: that you can’t really create on one, by making a strong case for the new iPad as a device you can do just about anything on (though I still can’t write more than a couple of sentences on one without a keyboard attachment). This iPad is meant to be a mobile home theater, a video and still camera, an editing suite, a music maker, a game console, an email and web client, and a video phone with FaceTime. And it aspires to do all of those things excellently. With a few exceptions, other Android tablets do a couple of things okay, but with an emphasis on reading, for which there are devices that offer a better experience. On the other hand, if this really is a post-PC revolution, a rising tide could raise other, if not all, boats.

Power Users: Win
If the claims ring true, you’ll be able to do a hell of a lot more with this iPad than previous iterations.

Casual Users: Draw
The new iPad is a power-user’s paradise, but probably won’t convince those for whom a Kindle Fire is plenty, to make the $500+ plunge.

Engadget: Winner
Tech blog Engadget’s live coverage of the next-generation iPad launch was among the best of the day; its interface, which synced photos and live blogging, was stellar and seemed to hold up for the duration of the event. It was the next best thing to being there.

ScribbleLive: Loser
The live-blogging software employed by several other sites like Tech Crunch did not have a great day, crashing out on some sites under heavy usage.

Ustream: Loser
Any unsuspecting sort looking for an actual live stream of the Apple event ended up on ustream.tv, where they were treated not to live coverage of the event, but a bunch of clowns in weird hats spouting off about who knows what.

Flickr: Loser?
With Apple’s focus on iPhoto and photo creation, one has to wonder if it’s just a matter of time before it decides it wants to take on photo-sharing giant Flickr on its own turf.

Anyone playing any sort of Apple keynote drinking game: Winner, then loser
Though the master, Steve Jobs, is no longer with us, his proteges filled in admirably, packing the hour-plus address with more superlatives, “game-changer,” “off-the-charts,” and other self-aggrandizements  to finish a fifth of Wild Turkey by the halfway point.

The Number 3: Loser
After months of thinking we were preparing for “iPad 3,” Apple’s peeps referred to this as, simply, “New iPad.” Sorry, logical, intuitive naming conventions, you lose again.

The U.S. Department of Justice’s impending price-fixing suit: Toss-up?
The news this morning about the DOJ’s impending antitrust suit against Apple and several publishers will be noticed by, well, nobody really. There’s a New iPad after all.