Yesterday, Steve Jobs returned to the stage to unveil the successor to my favorite gadget, the iPad. I’m assuming you all know what the iPad is by now, so here are the big changes.

  • Dual core processor with 2x the processing speed and 9x the graphics speed of the original model, according to Apple
  • 33% thinner, and a little lighter too
  • Front-facing VGA camera and rear 720p video camera
  • Optional video mirroring via an HDMI dongle
  • The most incredible case I’ve ever seen

Essentially, it’s an evolutionary update, not a revolutionary one, but how will the changes affect students? 

The Cameras

Obviously, you aren’t going to be using this as your party camera, unless you’re a huge tool.  Even so, the front-facing camera will be great for video chatting with your parents, or friends who are studying abroad. If you use the iPad in class for note taking (perhaps with the help of a bluetooth keyboard), then the rear camera could be useful for recording part of a lecture.  Obviously, there aren’t many laptops with rear-facing HD cameras, so this is sets the tablet apart for in-class use.  The rear camera also takes stills, but Apple is mum on its resolution.  It’s likely the same camera used on the iPod Touch, and its 960×720 stills might not be sufficient for capturing a white board from the back of a room. 

Speed

The A5 processor will display web pages faster, and games are going to look fantastic. Unrelated to education, I know, but there’s nothing wrong with having a little fun with your new toy. I know from experience that the original iPad tends to chug when rendering large PDF files in Goodreader, but this is really the only big difference in terms of traditional educational applications.  The new iMovie and GarageBand apps look like they’ll work great with the faster processor behind them, and they could come in handy for niche class projects, but most people are going to keep using a computer for audio or video editing. 

HDMI Mirroring

This one has me excited. If you’re willing to pony up $40 for an HDMI to Dock Connector adapter, you can mirror your iPad’s screen on a TV or projector in 1080p. The original iPad can use a VGA adapter, but this will only work for certain apps. With the ability to mirror any your entire screen, you could give a class presentation by swiping through Keynote slides, or pinching to zoom into images; or drawing on a virtual chalkboard. Or, more realistically, you could play Angry Birds on your TV.

Summing it Up

Basically, if you’ve been holding off on buying a tablet, this is definitely worth a long look, if only for the lack of serious competition. We tried out the 7″ Galaxy Tab at CES and weren’t blown away. The Kno doesn’t look like it’s ever going to come to fruition. The RIM Playbook will require a Blackberry for calendars and email. The upcoming Android tablets like the Xoom don’t have many tablet-optimized apps yet, so you’d be missing out on a lot of the educational tools you can find on the Apple App Store.  To put it simply, the iPad 2 is the safest choice for the student in a rapidly-changing market. It may not be the biggest or the fastest, but it has tons of apps for students, and you’re very unlikely to be disappointed with your decision.