Invitation to obsession: Apple's iPad 2

Spitting into tea cups, poking goat entrails, tracing the movements of the stars across the heavens, dialing up the Psychic Friends Network -- these things pale in comparison to today's preferred method of divination: Parsing the invitations to Apple special events.

Another one came out yesterday. Mark your calendars, Apple fanboys and fangirls -- on March 2, life as we know it will change (yes, again -- if you can handle it). Naturally, bloggers the world over are doing the "CSI: Cupertino" drill, dusting the emails for latents and hoping to scrape off a scintilla of Jobs's DNA.

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This one is a bit less obtuse than most:

Invitation to obsession: Apple's iPad 2

Could it be about anything but the (yawn) Apple iPad 2? I think not. Not only is the topic the opposite of a surprise, but details about what the iPad 2 will likely look and feel like have already been beaten to a fine paste and spread thinly over the InterWebs. Really, what's the point?

Of course, we might all be wrong. Apple may be announcing that it's getting out of the hardware business and going into the business of breeding teacup poodles, for example (but only really magical, life-changing teacup poodles). That I would pay to see.

Still, there's a big difference between this day's magical announcement and the one last year that heralded the second coming of the computer age (aka, the Year of the Tablet). This time out, the iPad has a serious competitor: the Motorola Xoom.

Amazingly and against all odds, I managed to get my mitts on one of these suckers yesterday. (The PR folks clearly mistook me for someone more important who also wears a hat.) And it's ... nice: responsive, decent battery life, pleasingly whizzy Honeycomb interface, the usual Android yadda yadda. It's also heavier than I expected, a bit glarey in the screen area, and at $600 with a two-year data plan more than I'd normally want to pay for a toy. But it is absolutely a serious competitor to the iPad, which means Apple is no longer "redefining computing," it's now competing on price and features like the rest of the rabble.

Aside from that? Meh. It's a tablet PC, one in a series of 3,427 due out this year. Cool? Absolutely. Life changing? Not so much.

Don't get me wrong. Tablet PCs are what PCs have aspired to be all along: Turn one on, and it comes on -- no torturous three-minute boot sequence. You can install software (most of it free or dirt cheap) by literally touching a button -- no clicking Next a dozen times to accept the default settings and then rebooting. They're always connected to the WebberNets and small enough to take almost anywhere; the battery is good enough that you don't have to lug a power brick and go hunting for an unoccupied AC outlet after two hours. They play music, take pictures, let you make video phone calls, and do a decent job of displaying what we used to call "print publications." These are all good things.

But ultimately, they're just PCs -- and hardly worth all the feverish attention and the slavish devotion to every blessed detail, not by a long shot. Sorry.

Not that this will make a damn bit of difference to the Appletons out there. They'll still await the March 2 event like kindergartners waiting for Santa to slide down the chimney. Because they have to obsess about something. It might as well be the iPad 2.

What tech gizmos consume all your attention? Post your secret obsessions below or email me:

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Robert X. Cringely

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