With cameras, iMovie, Garage Band, new iPad 2 better for content creation

With two cameras, a faster processor, audio and video editing capabilities and either Wi-Fi or 3G connectivity, how useful will the new iPad 2 be for journalists in the field? Might it supplant the trusty laptop?

In some cases, yes.

The price — $499 for the base model — remains the same as the original iPad, and its new features inch it closer to earning a spot in every journalist’s toolkit.

Of the upgrades, the cameras are of the most interest. The rear-facing camera is capable of capturing 720p video at 30 frames-per-second. When used in still image mode it offers a 5x digital zoom. The front camera is of VGA quality, and is intended largely for video chat use.

A few of the other features include:

  • A screen size and resolution that is the same as the original iPad — 9.7 inches at 1024×768 pixels.
  • A thinner and lighter tablet — 1.33 lbs and only 0.34 inches deep.
  • Apple’s 1GHz A5 dual core chip — The company claims a 9x improvement in graphics performance.

Two new tablet apps, iMovie and GarageBand, reveal Apple’s view of the iPad as a tool for active creation, not simply passive viewing, of content.

Both apps appear similar in form and function to their desktop-based counterparts, though with a touch-screen tablet-friendly redesign and a $4.99 price.

The iMovie app includes multi-track audio editing for three primary and one voiceover track. Final projects can be exported in 720p and uploaded directly to YouTube, Vimeo and, interestingly, CNN’s iReport.

GarageBand allows 8-track recording, is compatible with the Mac desktop version of the application, and allows final projects to be exported in the AAC format.

Both apps are supported by the iOS 4.3 upgrade, available on March 11. That update will also be available for current iPad owners.

However, according to Apple’s website, the new iMovie will not be compatible with the iPad 1. I didn’t hear an explanation for this during the Apple event on Wednesday, but the app is likely dependent on the faster graphic capabilities of the new tablet.

The original iPad has already seen some use as a newsgathering tool. Last year I wrote about students at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School who spent the semester using the tablet in their reporting.

Their challenge largely involved assembling the collection of apps and accessories needed to cover a beat, including external cameras and adapters to get images and videos onto the tablet. The iPad 2 will ease some of those challenges, but it is still not the perfect tool for every job.

Size will be an obstacle in some cases. A camera phone fits in your pocket, and is suitable for holding at arm’s length to capture still and video images. An iPad is going to need a bit more stability, and it is tough to imagine mounting one to a tripod at a breaking news event, though someone will.

More likely, we will see a continued merging of the three computing platforms — desktop, smart phone and tablet — so they work together more seamlessly.

Even with the camera-less original iPad, it is possible to transfer files to the tablet using the ShutterSnitch app or the upcoming EyeFi Direct SD cards.

And, there are a variety of cloud-based storage solutions, from DropBox to Evernote, that make it easy to share text and files between devices.

A reporter armed with a smart phone and a photographer with a DLSR camera could send images, video and story updates back to an iPad for editing and posting directly to the Web or back to the office.

And, in a pinch the iPad 2 could be used to capture interviews, voice-overs or for a video-chat with the office or to broadcast from live events.

So, while you may leave your laptop in the office or the trunk more often, the new iPad — though powerful enough and increasingly flexible enough — is not yet its replacement.

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