iPad 3 Rumor Roundup

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Unless Apple is conning the world, the iPad 3 should be announced next week. It, like its forbears, is the subject of many a rumor, some more likely than others. We’ve collected most of them here in this post with arguments for and against, for your convenience and flaming pleasure.

Of course, we’ll be there to cover the event live, and will (if past events are any indication) get a nice hands-on as well.


Retina screen

Argument:

Objection:

  • There aren’t really any objections at this point

Judgment: This was a long shot last year, but it looks like a sure thing this year. Apple’s high-res screen should be 2048×1536, exactly twice the dimensions of the original iPad. This will allow for smooth upscaling of old content while enabling the same nearly pixel-less UI already seen on the iPhone 4, among other things. Others are creeping up, though: Asus just showed off a 10.1″ tablet at 1920×1200.


Capacitive bezel

Argument:

  • Apple is serious about removing physical buttons
  • Patents for hot bezels have been seen
  • Invite picture shows no button

Objection:

  • Invite picture could be just in landscape mode
  • The clicky home button is an iconic feature of iOS devices
  • Capacitive buttons and non-display surfaces can be confusing or annoying
  • The whole point of an iPad is touching the screen

Judgment: While the powerful gestures of the Playbook and webOS’s non-display gesture areas (i.e. hot bezels) are clear, it’s not at all clear whether Apple is ready to include those things in their UX vocabulary. Simplicity and usability is the word with the iPad, and Apple’s focus has always been on the on-screen interface (especially with a screen-centered device). It doesn’t seem likely to us, but a smaller aspect such as stroking the side instead of a volume button could possibly be in our future. And it doesn’t seem likely that Apple would spoil the surprise of a feature like “no buttons” on the invitation like that.


Quad-core CPU

Argument:

  • Need the power to handle improved graphics and higher resolution
  • Everyone else is doing it
  • People love cores

Objection:

  • iPad buyers don’t actually care about cores
  • Improved GPU unit more integral to graphics than extra processing cores
  • “A5X” chip already spied, suggesting smaller step in this case

Judgment: Four cores just doesn’t seem right. Apple rarely competes on specs, and some of their most popular products have been conspicuously less powerful than the competition. Their style of chip design is more about specialization, not general-purpose firehose-style CPUs like on PCs. We don’t expect this to happen next week, though later in the year could be another story. More likely is the A5X already spotted, with GPU improvements and other things specific to Apple’s requirements.


iPhone 4S-style camera

Argument:

  • Apple already buying these camera stacks in bulk
  • Creation/media apps on iPad blowing up, will be improved by new screen
  • The old iPad camera is awful and will look even worse on high-res screen

Objection:

  • iPad as camera is pretty awkward, be honest
  • Apple wants to keep 4S as only premium-camera offering

Judgment: The chances are good for this one. The improved camera stack is likely just the new standard Apple is bringing to its device line; the more it can put out there, the fewer regular cameras people are buying, and the more they rely on Apple devices for the whole media creation process. And the 4S has already had itself a nice lead time to sell as the premium camera device. Time to spread the love. It may not be the same exact unit but it will probably share at least some of the improvements (back side illumination, better lens).


Thicker case

Argument:

  • New screen requires more significant backlighting, which takes up space
  • More battery needed for backlight, new chip, etc.
  • “Thin” could be addressed by separate device or lower-cost iPad 2
  • Again, the component has been written about

Objection:

  • What is this “thicker” you speak of, Apple products get thinner

Judgment: Apple is up against a few physical laws here, and those are notoriously difficult to violate: battery energy density, the strength of a certain width of aluminum, the depth of PCBs and chips. A really serious change in size is out of the question, but a small enough one that it’s more or less imperceptible? The report has it coming it at under a centimeter thick, which was probably the magic number they wanted to stay under. Anything over that would be uncivilized. It’s not going to be the thinnest tablet in the world (the market is too diverse now to claim that title for long anyway) so they’ll focus on their being under a centimeter with better battery life and a better screen than anyone else (for as long as that can be claimed).


LTE

Argument:

  • AT&T and Verizon are the LTE guys and iPad is already offered by them
  • It would make sense with Apple’s new bandwidth-heavy services (iCloud)

Objection:

  • AT&T and Verizon’s LTE networks would probably buckle under ten million iPads
  • Cost and throttling issues would be trouble
  • Coverage is a concern: iPad is for everyone, LTE is not
  • International compatibility is a concern

Judgment: This is tricky because the iPad 3 will be on the market for a year at least, and LTE is an evolving product, becoming more common and desired. Right now you would have to explain to many iPad buyers what LTE is and why it’s better than 3G. Apple would hate to roll out something that’s slow compared to mobile phones, but at the same time an LTE debut would almost certainly be a mess, with the bandwidth and coverage problems AT&T had for every iPhone. A stepped release could happen: Wi-Fi only until, say, June. Or the chip supporting LTE could ship but not be activated until AT&T and Verizon says it’s okay. Unlikely Apple would ship an incomplete product because of the carriers’ problems, though. This is a wild card.


iPad Mini

Argument:

  • The rumors refuse to die
  • Kindle Fire is extremely popular, iPad Mini could tap that market
  • Low-cost iPad could reach new markets
  • Original 1024×768 resolution could be used

Objection:

  • Apple’s not interested in going downmarket
  • The iPad isn’t that size and shape by accident, 4:3 and 9.7″ is “perfect”
  • It would be seen as imitative, not innovative

Judgment: We talked about this a little while back. As much as we might enjoy an iPad Mini, it doesn’t look like it’s in the cards. Apple has committed to the iPad as it is, they are launching a strong new version at that size, with a high-resolution screen. To release a smaller, low-res version would be like saying that maybe the iPad as it is isn’t for everyone. That’s a bad message to send. (To some extent, this applies to a lower-priced iPad 2 as well)


Mountain Lion features

Argument:

  • Further integration of Twitter would be a welcome feature
  • The features in Mountain Lion are clearly meant to spread to iOS

Objection:

  • Mountain Lion features before Mountain Lion even comes out?

Judgment: Seems pretty likely that the cloud, syncing, and some 4S features will make it to the iPad, likely in the form of iOS 5.1. This will probably be announced but shipped later, since Mountain Lion and 5.1 for other devices are both still in development.


No more 30-pin connector

Argument:

  • Thunderbolt and wireless syncing together make this cable obsolete
  • They need the space this cable port takes up
  • New design could be necessary for thinning the case

Objection:

  • Partial Thunderbolt integration would let them keep form factor, add features
  • Yes it’s going away, but not yet
  • There are just too many 30-pin accessories out there

Judgment: The 30-pin connector is in all likelihood going to stick around for this device. If it gets dumped anywhere, it will probably be on the iPhone 5. Right now Thunderbolt isn’t ubiquitous enough and not enough people are comfortable relying on cloud and wireless syncing. Tweaking the cable to partially support Thunderbolt is another option, but it’s kind of an awkward one. It would deprecate old cables and accessories while not supporting all the cool Thunderbolt features they’d want to highlight. For now things might just have to remain the same, with iOS and OS X gently pushing the user toward the future solution.


Siri

Argument:

  • It’s a big hit and would be a natural fit for this couchtop device
  • No data worries – send audio data over Wi-Fi

Objection:

  • Not clear where Apple is on scaling or updating Siri
  • Could be part of a larger rollout later on (i.e. 5.1)

Judgment: There’s a good chance that Siri will be announced as one of the software updates coming to the iPad 3 down the line. Waiting until a later launch date (a la 5.1) could lessen the burden of scaling to accommodate so many new users, and an updated Siri (beta 2 or version 1.0) could be a nice debut item for the device as well.


That’s all we have for now. Did we miss some? Do you have some personal theories? Talk amongst yourselves.