A little over a year ago, on January 27th 2010, Jobs gave the first iPad keynote. (YouTube has many clips such as this one.) Back then, the tone was more searching than assertive. As a “third device” between a PC and a smartphone, between a MacBook and an iPhone, the iPad was looking for its place under the sun. The overwhelming success of the first iPad surprised everyone, including Apple. No one expected the company to ship close to 15 million units in just nine months.

This year, at the March 2nd launch of the iPad 2, the attitude was downright triumphant, aggressive even, with jabs at Samsung and Google. The Steve Jobs keynote, starting with a standing ovation, is here (Flash plug-in not required). John Gruber provides his always insightful take on his Daring Fireball blog. And Richard Gaywood’s report on TUAW is also worth a read.

The iPad 2 is already a popular product. If you search for “iPad 2” on Google you get 905 million results:

By comparison, the iPhone, a much older product, gets 1.2 billion hits.

Intrigued by the volume of iPad 2 hits, I doubled checked. I went to Microsoft’s Bing and all I got was a measly 791,000 results, roughly 1,000 times less than on Google:

Is Bing more specific, strictly searching for “iPad 2” while Google gives hits for both iPad and iPad 2? No, a Bing search for “iPad” barely increases the number to 869,000, while Google finds 956 million entries.

Strange. Jokes and manipulation theories aside, perhaps Microsoft strives to produce more refined results to better compete against Google’s “spammy” output. That must be it.

2010 did, indeed, turn out to be the year of the iPad. With forecasters throwing around numbers like 35 to 40 million iPads for 2011, plus millions of competing tablets from makers such as Asus, HP, RIM, and Motorola, it’s now official: We’ve entered the Post-PC era.

Yes, we still have mainframes but they’ve ceded center stage to smaller machines. Similarly, PCs are beginning to be displaced by smartphones and tablets. The very official Gartner research firm has lowered its forecast for PC sales. The 2011 vs. 2010 growth rate, initially pegged at 15.9 percent, is now downgraded to 10.5 percent. The unit numbers give a better illustration of the magnitude: The initial forecast was 407 million PCs for 2011; it’s now 351 million, a decrease of 56 million units — which happens to be close to the forecast for the number of tablets to be shipped this year.

Last year, Steve Ballmer dismissed the iPad as just a PC in another form factor

Speaking of “statements no longer operative’’, Asymco obligingly lists boneheaded, amusing, or downright lunatic iPad tidbits from the kommentariat. See his tongue-in-cheek revision of his “iPad deathwatch” here.

From the list, I can’t resist quoting one of the serial seers, Paul Thurrott:

“Mum, the iPad is not ‘amazing.’ It’s just marketed very well, both by Apple and its culpable partners in mainstream media.”

Ah, the MSM are at it again, exploiting the credulous, unwashed masses. To be fair, after he disses the maker, the product, and the fans, Thurrott nonetheless concludes:

“The iPad isn’t just the device, of course. It’s the device plus the ecosystem. And when you add this all up, the iPad 2 really does stand alone atop the nascent tablet device market. And that will be true for a long, long time.”

So what does Ballmer say now? Last week we got this strange bit of news/rumor/trial ballon:

‘Microsoft Corp., the world’s largest software maker, won’t release a competitor to Apple Inc. and Google Inc.’s tablet operating systems until the 2012 back-to-school season, people with knowledge of the plans said.’

It’s hard to know what to make of this story. If true, it would confirm that Microsoft is betting the company on a) moving Windows to ARM and, b) making in-depth modifications to create a true — or true-ish — touch operating system as opposed to the superficial and unsuccessful modifications we saw in the first Tablet PC version. The scope of such a project would explain the “2012 back-to-school’’ schedule.

By fall of 2012, Android tablets from Motorola, Samsung, and others will have been shipping for more than a year. We’ll have RIM’s Playbook and devices from HP. And, of course, the iPad 3 will be a few months old, running iOS 6.1.

We anticipate that Microsoft will stick to its PC-era mantra: Windows Everywhere. But with a different Windows in each flavor of device: servers, smartphones, tablets, conventional PCs…very difficult.

Amid all the fracas, the chest-pounding, and the jibes, we witness a refreshing note of honesty. In light of the iPad 2 announcement, a Samsung executive, Lee Don-joo, called its upcoming Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet ‘‘inadequate’’ and vowed to go back and think things over.
Never mind.

It now appears we need a new category: Samsung statements. First, we hear Samsung sold 2 million Galaxy Tab tablets. Then we hear the number needs interpretation: these 2 million units haven’t exactly been sold to users, they’ve been shipped to distributors. In industry parlance, this is referred to as sell-in vs. sell-out. Others have a clearer description: Stuffing the channel. Then, the Wall Street Journal quotes a Samsung exec, Lee Young-Hee, saying “actual sales were actually quite small”. And retracts itself, saying a “translation problem” got in the way of Truth: Sales were “quite smooth”, not “quite small”.
Bak to the “inadequate” statement above, it is now contradicted: Samsung now says its newer 10.1 tablet will ship unchanged — but priced differently, perhaps.
Samsung gave Jobs an opportunity to make fun of the “2 million number”. Which, in turn gave an opening to critics to point out to Steve own ways with factoids. Business as usual.

Let’s end with a smile.

It’s the day after the iPad announcement. I’m having breakfast with a French executive whose company is, shall we say, in Apple’s way. He no longer dismisses Apple as The Fruit Company and worries about its growing influence on his playground — but he’s a good sport. After elevating the conversation to the right temperature by taking turns at disparaging one another’s mental acuity, he declares Steve Jobs a [redacted] genius: “Once again, your Steve outsmarted his competitors. How? Look at the new iPad cover. Faster, lighter, thinner is great. But that cover alone will swing a lot of tablet sales in Apple’s direction. It’s the same concept as the MagSafe power adapter connector. Competitors had years [five, in fact; I checked] to think about it. And now we have these MagSafe cover hinges that auto-align with magnets inside the iPad’s case. Other tablet makers must be kicking themselves for not seeing something so simple, so retroactively obvious and yet so appealing.”

My friend is right about the appeal of the Smart Cover. It’s featured in the top Google hit, an Apple ad:

Still, I’ll wait a few days to form my own opinion on the Smart Cover and its effect on sales.  I hope to “score” an iPad 2 next Friday, just in time to hop on a plane to Vietnam and Cambodia. (I’ll file a trip report if anything interesting happens.) In the meantime, you can test drive the cover in this interactive demo and see it in action in a short video…Jobs calls it Pixar-like.

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[Last week, I mentioned a problem with my Mac Developer subscription. It was fixed promptly and graciously.] [If you have the time and inclination, take a look at this great MobileBeat interview where Jen-Hsun Huang, Nvidia’s CEO, explains his strategy to win in the mobile space after achieving success in PC graphics. More than a few choice moments.]

JLG@mondaynote.com