The iPad 2 was released in March 2011, only a month after the Xoom appeared, and its upgraded hardware neatly eliminated the main advantages that Motorola's device had over Apple's. Like the Xoom, the iPad 2 has front- and rear-facing video cameras that support Apple's FaceTime video chat software. It also has a dual core processor and comes in a slimmer, lighter case than the first iPad, a feature that Apple likes to emphasize in its advertising.
But other Android tablets are hitting the stores every few weeks, each trying to outmaneuver the iPad 2 in some fashion. Some compete on price, with models like the Asus Eee Pad Transformer (which with an optional keyboard can convert to a notebook computer) undercutting the iPad 2 by about $200; some compete on size, with the Samsung Galaxy Tab both slimmer and lighter (and a little cheaper) than the iPad 2; and some just try to look cooler, though Apple has always been a hard company to beat when it comes to stylish-looking devices. One area where Androids are still unequivocally beating the iPad 2 is video resolution, with most running at 1,280 x 800 pixels compared to the 1,024 x768 pixels on both iPads. Androids also tend to be more user upgradeable than iPads, with Apple mostly restricting the features to the ones that come in the standard model. And unlike some Androids, Apple doesn't support USB connectors. An area where Androids seem to be losing is battery life: Most reviewers agree that the iPad 2 runs longer without recharging.
In the all-important area of apps, the iPad 2 is still ahead – way ahead. There are now over 100,000 apps available through the Apple App Store. (This number gets even larger when you take into account the roughly 500,000 apps for the iPhone, most of which will also run on the iPad 2, though they won't necessarily take advantage of its larger screen size.) It's harder to determine the number of Android apps because Google doesn't make that figure public, but a July 2011 New York Times blog estimated the number at a surprisingly paltry 232. Of course, that doesn't count Android phone apps that also run on Android tablets and there are additional Android tablet apps that are specific to a single brand of tablet, such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab or the Motorola Xoom. But even taking all of that into account, Apple is still winning the app war. Nonetheless some apps, such as the popular games Angry Birds and Plants vs. Zombies, are available for both iPad and Android.
There is, however, a significant difference between the way that Apple handles apps and Android tablets handle apps. Apple only allows apps to be sold through its online App Store and must approve every app before it can go on sale. Android devices use a more open model, where anyone can release an Android app and nobody has to get a stamp of approval for it first. Granted, this difference is more significant to programmers than to users, but it provides an incentive for programmers to move to Android development and may lead to the availability of significantly more Android apps in the future.
In the end, whether you buy an iPad 2 or an Android may come down to which you consider more important: the hardware, the software or the price. If hardware specs matter, you'll need to compare the specs for the iPad2 with the specs for each Android tablet on the market, a daunting task. (See these CNET reviews for the rundown on some specific models.) If software matters, you'll probably want to go with the iPad 2, which is far more likely than an Android tablet to have exactly the apps that you need. And if price matters – well, bear in mind that unless you go with a modified Android tablet like the Barnes & Noble Nook (which savvy users can reportedly modify to behave more like a full-fledged Android tablet), you're unlikely to undercut Apple's prices by more than about $200. But if that $200 makes the difference, then a low-cost Android tablet like the Asus Eee Pad Transformer may be what you're looking for.
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