What The iPad 2 Announcement Needs In Order To Be Bi-Winning

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We’re now just hours away from the unveiling of Apple’s next big thing at an event in San Francisco. And while Apple hasn’t officially stated what they’d be showing off tomorrow, a picture has been worth a thousand words. Right on the invite to the event is the tease of an iPad covered by the date, which probably not coincidentally prominently displays a big “2”.

So what should we expect? And what does the iPad 2 actually need in order to please the masses?

The locks at this point seem to be a faster processor (probably a custom dual-core ARM chip, perhaps the “A5″), a front-facing camera, a better speaker, a thinner build, a lighter weight, and a new built-in Verizon 3G option (alongside the AT&T option).

The good bets include a back camera, an anti-glare screen, a new material for the shell, and more RAM.

And the wildcards include a DisplayPort/Thunderbolt output, a different starting price point, and maybe even a white color option.

The one thing clearly missing from that list is a “Retina Display”. That’s not coming tomorrow. This rumor has been debunked quite a bit recently after reports to the contrary started appearing months ago. About a month ago, a good source told us not to expect this in iPad 2 — the same source that pointed to another iPad version launching in the fall.

But the lack of a Retina Display will not harm the iPad 2. Even if it just has the “locks” listed above, Apple is going to sell a ton of units. And if it dips into the “good bets” as well, it will sell even more. The fact of the matter is that over a year after the unveiling of the first iPad, the device had no real competition.

The only thing that remotely resembles a competitor out there right now is the Xoom. And if people are actually buying it in any sort of meaningful quantity, they curiously don’t seem to be talking about it.

But more Honeycomb-powered Android tablets are approaching. And Apple knows that they can’t rest on their laurels. The iPad 2 announcement may not need to be a blow-out blockbuster, but it needs to be rock-solid.

Actually, the more interesting aspect of tomorrow may be on the software side of things. Apple is probably going to unveil iOS 4.3 tomorrow as the shipping software for the new device. But again, it’s unlikely to be a huge upgrade. We’ve already seen some of the cooler, tucked away possibilities in iOS 4.3 (like new gestures), but those may or may not remain in the background for now.

More likely are other, more mature features. We do know that several publishers are likely to be on hand for the event tomorrow. And you can bet Apple is going to talk a bit more about the in-app subscription service that should be baked into iOS 4.3. Don’t be surprised if we hear something about iBooks and Random House too.

And there may be a wild card on the iOS side of things as well. Earlier today, Business Insider reported on some vague rumors about a new “social app” that could launch alongside the iPad 2. They were sure to make it clear that these were very much rumors. But curiously enough, we’ve heard something similar from one of our own sources.

Our source isn’t too firm on details either, but they suggest that Apple may have something new to show off tomorrow, and it may be around the location space. Early looks at the code in iOS 4.3 suggested a feature called “Find My Friends” may be a location-based network for people, similar to the “Find My iPhone” feature for Apple devices. But another source thinks it may be more along the lines of “Find My Kids” — as in a tool for parents to remotely monitor their children when they’re away.

You may think that such a new location service would be tied into MobileMe, but remember that Apple took steps with iOS 4.2 to separate “Find My iPhone” from MobileMe. And that may matter because another source says a MobileMe upgrade isn’t a part of tomorrow’s event. That may seem odd given the disappearing MobileMe boxes from store shelves, but that’s what we’re hearing right now.

There are also other whispers out there of different social elements being worked on for iOS as well, such as simple photo-sharing. But the latest word there is that this is unlikely to be ready for tomorrow’s event.

Still, the “one more thing” moment tomorrow could well be a first glimpse of iOS 5 (following a timeline we predicted a couple months ago). Apple has traditionally held events to walk developers through the latest version of the iOS software in the spring before a summer launch. But Apple may indeed kill two birds with one stone here.

If that’s the case, we may hear about some various advanced things that Apple has been working on for the new mobile OS. What kinds of things? Hard to say. But improvements in social, notifications, and a wide-range of new APIs all seem to be good guesses at this point. Oh — and the cloud.

Other questions that will likely have to wait for a few more hours include when the iPad 2 will go on sale — maybe as soon as this week or next week? And what will happen to the iPad 1 — price cut or end-of-life? And what about this guy — will he be there/on stage?

Stay tuned. We’ll shortly know if the iPad 2 is bi-winning or not.