Some rumors are swirling, quite unsubstantiated, that Apple may be breaking its own yearly release cycle by pushing for a holiday release for the next iPad. Traditionally, of course, Apple has its products on more or less yearly cycles, spreading the fun out over several events or sometimes furtively updating specs in the night. It’s worked well for them, because though it may be grueling for their engineers, it’s a known variable for them and the customers. It’s been a sort of assumption that the iPad would be subject to this same scheduled update, but that never sat well with me, especially after the introduction of the iPhone 4.
So these rumors come as no surprise; if I had “a person with proven knowledge,” I would have cited them with such a rumor months ago, whether they said so or not. It makes sense for a number of reasons.
1. The iPad is limited. Oh, put down your pitchforks. You know what I mean. I don’t think the iPad was ever meant to be a single device, but like their other computers, it was always going to be a range, with different sizes and slightly different specs. But the first thing was to put out one, in the hypothetical Goldilocks zone for tablets, and see if consumers bit. They did. Time to expand. Variety would be necessarily more restricted than the laptops, since the iOS platform is far more controlled, but there’s no reason you shouldn’t have a large, medium, and small. Those are things that will never confuse customers, and which provide easy prices to rally around. I suspect the iPad is the medium, with a 7″ and 11″ (or thereabouts) in the cards for the next year. iPad, iPad Pro, and iPad Mini. Or something.
2. The wolves are (kind of) at the door. They’re really small wolves, and the door is 3 million iPads thick, but they are scratching at it nonetheless. Being first to the market has definite benefits, but HP, Google, Motorola, Microsoft, Blackberry, and pretty much every other tech giant on the planet wants a piece of Apple, and although the iPad could likely stand alone on its strengths, there’s no reason to let it. A more compact iPad with a camera for FaceTime (and likely a few other minor improvements) would take the wind out of the competition’s sails — and sales, if only because it’s new and new sells.
3. They need FaceTime devices. Another rumor that showed up today is that Apple is expanding FaceTime to OS X and possibly Windows machines (developers are still waiting on that “open standard,” though). While the new iPod touch took some of the pressure off Apple to provide non-iPhone-4 FaceTime devices, it would be mighty strange if they left the iPad as the only non-compatible device for a whole year. Apple wants to make FaceTime a marquee feature of their products — simple, no-nonsense video chat on all their devices — and if the holiday season isn’t the time to push that, I don’t know what is. I can see it now: “A Very Special Apple Holiday Event,” with snow on the logo and everything. FaceTime for all, and to all a good night.
The original iPad, it seems reasonable to assume, will remain unchanged for the time being. What we’re looking at is a great opportunity for Apple to introduce a new product, not to unexpectedly update the original, an action which consumers might look on as kind of a bait and switch. I’d also guess that availability wouldn’t be until well after the holidays, which isn’t optimal for a gift-oriented release, but it’s better than nothing. Knowing there’s a new iPad in the near future might dampen your desire for a compact Android tablet or Palmpad.
Of course, this is all rumor and speculation, and of course it had to show up literally the day after I start considering buying one of these damn things, so to be honest I don’t know whether I even want to believe it.