The next version of the iPad is, if timing and supply line rumors are to be believed, just around the corner. Although unexpected delays may follow in the wake of Jobs’ medical leave, the design must be finalized, and the factories in China are at this moment preparing to pump out five or six million of these things over the next few months.
There have been a few purported leaks, but Apple security has been competent this time around and the actual feature set of the new iPad is still somewhat of a mystery. That said, there are a number of rumors that have gained traction (or failed to), and here we attempt to bring them all together for your convenience, along with arguments for and against.
More compact form factor
- Case makers have received measurements differing from current iPad by small, but noticeable amounts, mainly in depth
- Nearly every Apple product gets thinner generation by generation
- iPhone 5 rumored to be getting full redesign; iPad presaged iPhone 4 design and would likely do so for iPhone 5
Judgment: A thinner, perhaps more easily gripped form factor is almost guaranteed. Apple doesn’t want the old cases to fit.
New size and/or aspect ratio
- Many media-centric tablets are adopting a widescreen format
- A 7″ iPad would be more portable, have a sharper screen, and be more conducive to video calling
- Most other Apple products come in small, medium, and large sizes
- Steve himself ridiculed 7″ tablets as “tweeners”
- Too many iPad applications are already formatted for 4:3
- The hardware metaphor for the iPad isn’t a “tiny computer screen” but a “magical notepad,” and the 4:3 size more closely resembles that metaphor
- No other iOS devices come in multiple aspect ratios or sizes
Judgment: Extremely unlikely. Apple will keep their product simple and familiar while the rest of the industry experiments with relatively unproven sizes and form factors.
SD card slot
- Mockups show a mysterious port that is SD-card sized
- Major customer demand
- New market for white, Apple-branded SD media
- No other iOS device has an SD slot
- SD would interrupt storage-based price tiering on the device (why pay for SSD?)
- Opening door to upgrading to SDXC would exacerbate the previous poiint
- Disruptive to Apple’s PC-centric hub system of managing media (iTunes, iPhoto)
- Arbitrary limitations to SD card capabilities may baffle users
Judgment: I personally have a lot of trouble believing Apple would do something so calculated to disrupt their device ecosystem, but Engadget says their source is “near certain,” so maybe old dog Apple can learn new tricks.
New multi-core “A5″ processor based on Cortex A9
- iPhone 5 and other new Apple mobile devices moving to this new chipset
- Move from Infineon to Qualcomm
- Unification of CDMA and GSM signal operation
- Necessary to support new graphics and on-device media management (following from SD card)
- Year-over year improvements to iOS devices have always improved CPU
- New graphics core known, CPU and chipset will upgrade with
- None, sounds pretty solid
Judgment: Almost guaranteed.
Dual cameras with flash
- Code shipped with original iPad suggests camera was close to being integrated even then
- Newer code refers to flash and front and rear cameras
- Case mockups already show holes for cameras
- Apple wants to integrate Facetime with their entire lineup from iPod touch up to Mac Pros
- Who wants to take a picture with their iPad?
Judgment: Very likely.
Very high-resolution display (2048×1536)
- Leaked developer assets suggest a second resolution increase like that from the iPhone 3GS to iPhone 4
- Apple has successfully kept a similarly high-profile display technology under wraps for a year or more with the original retina display for iPhone 4
- It’s the logical next step for iPad resolution
- 2x stretching wouldn’t be very destructive at such a high resolution
- Hypothetically a major selling point against competing tablets, none of which are even close to this resolution
- Some say this quality of display simply doesn’t exist yet
- There’s no content built to fit such a resolution; even 1080p content would be “windowed”
- Significant increases in RAM or GPU power would be required to drive display
- Could be extremely costly
Judgment: Likely. I think they’re going to go for it. The objections are easily surmountable and if Apple is pushing media and photography, a high-quality screen like this will be a key advantage.
Marginally increased resolution (1280×960)
- Would enable 720p content to be played back at native resolution
- Much more in line with existing display tech
- Resizing 1024×768 assets to this resolution would be awkward
- Not much of a functional advantage other than the movie playback, and the iPad is already only a marginal movie machine due to its 4:3 form factor
Judgment: Very unlikely; I just don’t see this “evolutionary” step happening. Either Apple will stay with 1024×768 or they’ll quadruple the pixel count, but anything in between would be seen as a pointless compromise.
Secondary port on side
- Side port allows for docking while in landscape mode
- Able to use accessories while charging
- Apple would never, ever do this
- Give me a break
Judgment: No chance. Superfluous design elements are anathema to Apple.
- The iPad speaker is just awful
- Improving it is cheap and a no-brainer
- There’s very little space for speakers in there
- You’re supposed to use headphones anyway
Judgment: Almost certain. That tinny speaker is one of the iPad’s most easily-mockable weak points.
iLife for iPad
- Improved processor, storage, and so on make real iPad iLife no longer an impossibility
- New iLife and Lion-based apps have fullscreen interfaces that could more easily be transferred to iPad (or be indirectly controlled by one)
- iLife apps, like many mouse-and-keyboard apps, simply aren’t built for tablets
- Potential fragmentation of the iLife platform, backup complications, and so on
- Storage issues (potentially mitigated by SD storage)
Judgment: Good chance. Apple’s bringing of iOS to OS X is likely a two-way street, but the original iPad just didn’t have the guts for full-featured movie and photo editing, or at the very least it wasn’t up to Apple’s standards. That could be about to change.
Intelligent bezel/hot-pants device
- Apple wants you to touch the screen, that’s the whole point of the iPad
- This will likely be included in another, lower-profile product first
- Don’t you hold it by the bezel?
- Many cases obscure rear and corners of bezel
Judgment: Not likely. It’d be gilding the lily this year. Maybe next time around.
The final tally seems to give an iPad with two cameras, a vastly improved screen and graphics processor, a thinner form factor at the same aspect ratio, better speakers, and possibly an SD card slot. My own guess would be that the original iPad will stick around at $399, and the new iPad (iPad Pro?) will start at $599.
Timing seems to be creeping away from the January announcement/March shipment guesses, though. Perhaps the delay is similar to that holding back the Daily, and Apple is getting the software infrastructure in place to support the new subscription models and media capabilities (involving the SD card and possibly iLife cloud syncing). I’d guess an early-February launch, pre-orders in the 1.5-2 million range, and shipment in late March or early April (once they’ve pressed enough new iPads to support a simultaneous shipping and retail debut).
New rumors will doubtless be swirling around the net right up until the day of the announcement, and we’ll cover those separately. Did we miss any, or do you find our reasoning defective? Let us know in the comments.