The software story

The iPad 2 arrives with a new version of the operating system that powers the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. This version, iOS 4.3, is hardly earth-shattering, but does offers a few nice new features.

Third-party apps can now take advantage of streaming video via AirPlay, the system that lets iOS devices stream audio and video to various devices, most notably the second-generation Apple TV. The Videos and iPod apps can now connect to Macs or PCs running iTunes via the Home Sharing system, meaning—at long last!—you can stream music or videos from any Mac or PC in your house to your iOS device, elsewhere on your local network.

In iOS 4.3, the slide switch on the iPad can be put to use in one of two ways: It can either function as an orientation-lock switch, as it did when the iPad was first released; or it can function as a mute switch for alert sounds, as it did upon the release of iOS 4.2. In iOS 4.3, users can choose either behavior via the Settings app. Now can’t we all just get along?

There are a bunch of other additions to iOS 4.3; stay tuned to Macworld.com for our full report on iOS 4.3, which is forthcoming.

Along with the new version of the operating system, Apple is introducing two apps as a part of the iPad 2 launch. One, iMovie, is an update to the existing version of iMovie that runs on the iPhone 4 and iPod touch. The other, GarageBand, is an all-new app for the iPad. Both apps are excellent, showing off the power of the iPad, the iOS, and, specifically, the iPad 2.

It’s interesting that for the original iPad launch, Apple showcased three iWork apps: Keynote, Numbers, and Pages. It sent a message that the iPad could be used for productivity, not just for consumption. And in the intervening 11 months, we’ve seen all sorts of interesting productivity applications released for the iPad. (Along with lots of games.) The iPad app ecosystem launched strong and has continued to grow, making it one of the iPad’s biggest advantages over competing tablets.

This time out, Apple has launched its new iPad with a pair of $5 creativity apps. What’s the message? In the case of iMovie, it’s clearly tied to the existence of the iPad’s cameras. Now you can shoot video with the iPad (ideally the HD-capable rear-facing one) and then edit it right within iMovie. Apple’s also enabled a video workflow that starts with video shot on an iPhone 4, and then ends up being transferred to an iPad 2 for editing. For more of my impressions after spending a few days with iMovie, check out my hands-on with iMovie for iPad.

GarageBand for iPad is an almost breathtaking achievement. At times it feels more responsive than GarageBand running on the late-model iMac on my desk at work. Strumming its “smart guitars” made me almost feel musical, and I was able to create a (terrible) cover version of Fountains of Wayne’s “Hey Julie” in about 30 minutes, complete with vocals, guitar, bass, drums, and organ. My nine-year-old daughter was entranced with the app as well.

GarageBand for iPad isn’t as full-featured as the Mac version, but neither does it feel like a toy version. It’s a real app with a lot of real power, and I’d imagine that it will become madly popular in schools and garages everywhere. For more information, check out my first look at GarageBand for iPad.

Both apps do suffer from one of the great failings of the iOS: difficulty in getting files in and out and moving them around. To move an iMovie project from the iPhone to the iPad, for example, you’ve got to (1) export the file on the iPhone, (2) connect it to a Mac, (3) go to iTunes, (4) click the Apps tab, (5) scroll down, (6) click on iMovie, (7) click on your project, (8) click Save to put it on your hard drive; and then you have to (9) detach your iPhone, (10) attach your iPad, (11) click on it in iTunes, (12) click on the Apps tab, (13) scroll down, (14) click on iMovie, and then (15) drag your project back into iTunes.

Apple, there’s got to be a better way. Maybe in iOS 5?

Should I upgrade?

Let’s say you are one of those 15 million people who bought an iPad last year. Now there’s a new iPad. Should you dump your old one and get a new one?

Though the iPad 2 is an improvement on the original iPad in numerous ways, it’s still an evolutionary product, not a revolutionary one. If you’re happy with your current iPad, there’s no reason to dump it just because there’s a shinier, newer one. (This is not to say that millions of people won’t do just that. I mean: shiny!) If you’ve invested in iPad accessories such as a dock or case, keep in mind that you probably won’t be able to use them with the new iPad.

Of course, if there’s someone in your family who has been clamoring for an iPad, now might be the time to buy an iPad 2 and hand down the old model to them—or, if you’re really nice, give them the new iPad while you soldier on with the classic model.

If you’ve become a major user of FaceTime or other video-chat apps on your iPhone or iPod touch, upgrading to an iPad 2 makes more sense, thanks to the integrated cameras. People who want to bestow an iPad on an older friend or relative who is a bit reluctant to use technology can now add video chat to the mix of features that make the iPad a compelling device for the older set.

Anyone who gives demonstrations of iPad apps—in seminars, classrooms, or boardrooms—will want to get an iPad 2 immediately just for the video-mirroring feature. If you’re an iPad-toting presenter, it’ll be worth the investment.