iPad 2: Buyers Face Big Questions

What's the RAM? Will AT&T charge for iOS 4.3 Personal Hotspot? Where's the content?

Thinking about getting an iPad 2 when it hits Apple Stores on March 11? Before you spend a Friday morning stuck in a long line, big questions about the iPad loom.

For starters, what's the iPad 2's RAM? Apple didn't announce it during the iPad 2 unveiling earlier this week. RAM is critical for app developers to make better apps. Right now, the original iPad's RAM is a measly 256MB, whereas the iPhone 4 has double the RAM at 512MB. The Motorola Xoom boasts 1GB of RAM.

"Apple has to increase the iPad RAM," Kyle Wiens of iFixit told me at this year's MacWorld 2011 event in January. "Right now, app developers do not get enough RAM."

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[ Considering the iPad 2? Check out 15 best iPad apps for newbies, reports CIO.com. ]

Conflicting reports surfaced soon after the iPad 2 event. Apple Insider reported that the new iPad 2 will have 512MB of RAM. A Gizmodo story lacking in detail said someone in London—an Apple rep?—said the iPad 2 RAM will be only 256MB. RAM is mysteriously absent on Apple's iPad 2 technical specifications sheet.

As soon as the iPad 2 becomes available somewhere in the world, you can bet the geeks at iFixit will get their hands on one, tear it apart, and find out the iPad 2's RAM.

They'll also find out the megapixel of the cameras, particularly the back camera. The Motorola Xoom has a 5-megapixel camera; the Galaxy Tab has an 8-megapixel camera. My guess is that the iPad 2 will have a 5-megapixel camera, the same camera that's on the iPhone 4. But it's odd that Apple didn't put this on the iPad 2 tech spec sheet, either.

Other major questions are aimed at Apple partners.

The new iOS 4.3, which arrives on the same day that the iPad 2 ships, March 11, will have a Personal Hotspot option for the iPhone 4. This effectively turns an iPhone 4 into a hotspot for the iPad. The Verizon iPhone 4 already has this capability at a cost of $20 a month for 2GB. AT&T said it will be providing this capability, too, which presumably will be tied to the Personal Hotspot option.

So the question is, what will AT&T's plan look like? Will it be free with only data overage charges? Will it have a two-year contract? Will it also cost an additional $20 a month? "Right now, it's a TBD," Charles Edge, author of Enterprise iPhone and iPad Administrator's Guide and director of technology at IT consultancy 318, told me. He added that the Personal Hotspot, depending on how it's priced, could have a profound effect on the enterprise, in terms of cost savings.

If you're an AT&T iPhone 4 owner planning to get an iPad 2 (and there are a ton of you out there), these questions need to be answered because you might not want to get an iPad 2 with 3G.

Another concern has to do with the core value prop of the iPad 2: apps and content. Half of iPad owners said they use the devices to read newspapers and magazines. Sixty-three percent of the money consumers spend on content of all types comes through a renewable subscription, writes Forrester analyst James McQuivey in his blog.

Yet the big Apple controversy leading up to the iPad 2 event was Apple's new in-app subscription service written in draconian terms. Apple's service forces publishers to offer the lowest subscription price for content served up inside an iPad app. The service disallows app developers to send users outside the app to subscribe. Apple takes a massive 30 percent cut of the subscription transaction. (See iPad 2's Biggest Enemy May Be Apple's Subscription Plan.)

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