Our iPad 2 wishlist

December 14, 2010, 4:28 PM UTC

What the rumors about Apple’s next tablet are saying, and what we think it has to have to stay competitive with Android and Microsoft Slate.

Ask people what they think of the iPad, and answers will vary. The word “magical” may be thrown around by some starry-eyed owners. “I don’t get it,” others will say with a shrug, while still others — call them cynics, disbelievers, or just plain pragmatists — might answer simply: “It blows.”

I’ve owned a 32 GB iPad WiFi since April, so I’ve had months to assimilate it into my day-to-day routine. It’s good, even great, in some ways, but far from perfect. It’s portable, but heavy. Useful, yet limited. Cutting-edge, but oddly backwards in some ways. The iPad is a solid first step in what will unequivocally be a long succession of devices from Apple, and like it or not, it helped transform a sleepy computing niche into a mainstream household item.

Which is why recent rumors and speculation are stoking interest in the iPad 2, reportedly due out next April. We rounded up the rumors and put together a wishlist of features we’d love to see surface in Apple’s upcoming refresh.

What people are saying:

The iPad’s most glaring omission is one critics have harped on since launch — the lack of any digital camera, which means for users, no video chat or still photos. Some shoppers called it a dealbreaker given that many of Apple’s (AAPL) mobile devices like the iPhone, iPod Touch, and MacBook lines include one and competing tablets like Samsung’s Galaxy Tab house two on the front and rear. Meanwhile, RIM’s (RIMM) Playbook, due out next year, will feature two HD cameras,  a 3-megapixel camera in front and a 5-megapixel camera with support for HD video capture on back.

With the iPad 2, one camera is almost a given, though rumored leaked photos of an iPad 2 case, dubbed the “Crystal Case for iPad 2nd Generation” indicates there could be two, with a rear-facing camera manufactured by Genius Electronic Optical Co Ltd and Largan Precision Co Ltd Genius in the upper left-hand corner like the iPhone and fourth-gen iPod Touch. As for that rear cam, iLounge argues it could be bigger, wider-angled, and higher-resolution that the iPod touch’s and at least on par with the iPhone 4’s.

New parts, relocated ports
If the “Crystal Case for iPad 2nd Generation” is the real-deal, the iPad 2 could also feature a larger speaker grille moved to the rear, an SD card slot, or even a potential pop-out door — the last of which may just be wishful thinking — like the first-generation MacBook Air had for ports. Confirmed parts companies include: Wintek, a touchscreen chip designer, battery maker Simplo, and AVY Precision, an unlisted maker of covers for electronic products.

Updated apps
With the recent introduction of Facetime and the mobile iMovie app, it’s possible Apple will let loose tweaked FaceTime and Camera applications, “the former with a well-considered approach to handling both outgoing and incoming video from the increasing array of FaceTime devices, and the latter with a previewing methodology that makes more sense on tablets than what Android-based rivals have accomplished,” writes Horwitz.

Now onto the iPad 2 wishlist. . .

Make it more portable!
When the iPad launched, 1.5 lbs. didn’t sound bad at all, quite manageable even. But after reading sessions lasting as long as four or five hours at a time, I slowly came to realize 1.5 lbs. is still too hefty. Holding it in one hand for more than a few minutes is tiresome, and even with two hands, you’ll want to find a resting place for it — your lap, desk, table, pretty much any surface.

In that respect, it’s almost like toting around an extremely ultra-portable laptop. Sure, it does more than a Kindle or Nook, and obviously it’s toting a larger screen than Samsung’s Galaxy Tab, but that still doesn’t get around the fact that the iPad becomes heavy in the hands, so much so that I now read my ebooks on my Nook Color, which is just under a pound.

And despite Steve Jobs dubbing 7-inch tablets “dead on arrival,” reports of Galaxy Tab sales say otherwise. Clearly, there is a market. Me? Switching between a 9.7-inch iPad to a 7-inch Nook Color hasn’t been the jarring experience I’d expected. Sure, there’s more in-browser swiping and zooming to be done, but that’s a small price to pay for increased portability. I’m not asking Jobs to kill off the 9.7-inch form factor. Just offer a 7-inch version, too.

Better notifications
Since iOS launched alongside the iPhone in 2007, it’s evolved in many ways and all for the better: a multitasking solution enabling better app switching, actual app folders, speed improvements, and so on. But the one feature that’s been neglected is notifications.

Originally intended to alert users about things like instant messages or app alerts without ripping them away from what they’re doing, the iOS notifications system now feel likes a clunky UI holdover from the days when EDGE technology ruled wireless.

Say you’re reading an ebook on the iPad, and you’ve signed up for news alerts from The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times. Blue pop-up windows appear smack in the middle of the screen, and the only way to go back to what you’re doing is tap the window to make it disappear. Totally fine if this happens once in a while, but more and more this doesn’t. Sign into AOL Instant Messenger for instance, and prepare yourself for an incessant stream of prompts.

Surely in this day and age of gorgeous user experiences, there’s a better way to notify users: have the notifications show up at the bottom or top of the screen and have them disappear after a predetermined time. Or, something. Given Apple’s recent hire of Palm web OS interface designer Rich Dellinger, creator of the OS’s banner notification system, such a feat of modern UI is absurdly attainable. In fact, I’d be surprised if it wasn’t already in the works.

More RAM
The current iPad features 256 MB of RAM, half of what’s included in the iPhone 4 and Nook Color, and nearly one-fourth of the Galaxy Tab and what will be on board the RIM PlayBook. While Apple’s software engineers have done a bang-up job of making iOS run fine on the iPad, it’s not as smooth as the iPhone 4’s performance, which runs the same ARM processor as the iPad’s. Double the RAM on the iPad 2, and iOS would run like a dream.

Improved screen
The current 9.7-inch LED-backlist display was a sight for sore eyes when it first arrived, but improved display technologies have appeared since then: Samsung’s bright, extremely color-saturated Super AMOLED displays, the Nook Color’s Vivid View technology with a denser pixels per square inch (dpi) count, and Apple’s own high-resolution Retina display. Suddenly, the iPad’s LCD looked altogether ordinary, particularly when comparing the appearance of text. Make the iPad 2’s screen Retina, and stay ahead of the pack.

Flash! Apple recently relaxed its iOS Developer Program rules, so developers can use third-party tools like Adobe’s, but actual Flash videos on iOS devices is still a dream that’s still buffering. (And no, Skyfire doesn’t count.) Given Jobs’ dislike of Flash, this one is least likely to happen.

What say you, Fortune readers? Anything we’ve missed? Feel free to air out your grievances and suggestions in the comments below.