Here's what Rollup expects from tomorrow's announcement by Apple on the Next iPad. (Tune in for LIVE BLOG here on Wednesday at 10 a.m. PST/1 p.m. EST)
The starting point is that Apple's iPad is still the only successful tablet, after two years. The relative success of the Amazon Kindle and Kindle Fire, and Barnes & Noble's Nook, only underscore that fact. Rivals boasting quadcore processors and LTE have not yet seen those features translate into the kinds of sales that are consistently realized by the iPad models -- into products that appeal to a mass consumer market.
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Apple can sustain and expand iPad sales as it did with iPhone sales with the iPhone 4S last year: establishing that this is a proven product that warrants the price tag, with some key additional or improved features. But the "big" technology upgrades can come in 2013, with more time for component prices to fall, for components to shrink in size, and for power management to improve.
Display: Apple clearly takes the display very seriously. Our guess is that Apple will make this the centerpiece of the announcement.
The question is, will iPad 3 double the existing iPad's 1024x768 pixel resolution? That would create a screen with 2048x1538 pixels and qualify, as Richard Gaywood argues in an excellent TUAW.com post, as a Retina Display as defined by Apple.
One of the key considerations, apart from the technical issues of the display itself, is the impact higher resolution will have on how existing applications are displayed, as Rene Ritchie explained a year ago at iMore, addressing speculation that iPad 2 might have a doubled-display. He wrote then: "If Apple pixel-doubles iPad 2 [or in this case iPad 3] to a 2048 x 1536, existing apps will just use 4 new pixels for each 1 old pixel but remain the same physical size and still look just fine. Anything else [for resolution] and a bit of a mess ensues."
At the time, Ritchie thought Apple would stick with the 1024x768 pixel scheme, which it did. Will it do so for iPad 3? Our guess is that Apple will go with the higher resolution, in a 9.7-inch diagonal screen, if it has solved any potential manufacturing and power demand issues. There's now plenty of speculation that the Next iPad will be called "iPad HD," for high definition.
Processor: A quad-core CPU is overkill at this point. Apple will tweak the existing A5 dual-core CPU or come out with a modestly improved A5. The CPU performance gains will be amplified by more significant improvements to iPad graphics and video processing, in hardware and software, which have the added benefit of showcasing the improved display. For mobile devices, performance can be influenced by a lot of variables besides raw CPU power. Apple can afford to wait for at least a year to create an iPad with a quad-core A6 chip.
TEST YOURSELF: The Apple iPad Quiz
LTE: No. LTE users are still a relatively small group. Our guess is Apple will let LTE as a market and as a technology mature for another year for iPad (though an iPhone 5 in fall 2012 could offer an LTE option). Instead, look for Apple to continue to support faster and faster 3G technologies, which is what most users are or will be using for some time.
Siri: Introduced as a voice assistant with iPhone 4S and an updated iOS, Siri creates a voice interface that can complement touch nicely on mobile devices. But a mobile phone is held close to your face for voice calls, and even when it's used for data, while a tablet is further away. So importing Siri to the larger form factor may alter the dynamics of the UI interactions. Both in good ways and not so good ways. Our guess: Apple will bring Siri to iPad 3.
Wi-Fi: It's much too soon for 802.11ac, but Apple could surprise us by tweaking Wi-Fi performance, though this probably won't be a major called out feature. It could implement a range of optional 11n features to improve throughput and range. Less likely: a new antenna system -- two receive and two transmit -- supporting two data streams instead of one.
Storage: The top-end model has 64GB. But there's also Apple's iCloud service, where more of your stuff can be parked. Maybe the time, and costs, are right to let Apple drop the 16GB starting model, and create a new higher-end option, changing the final prices or price relationships significantly.
Pricing: Apple will not raise prices. It probably won't cut them either. That's one reason the Apple supply chain discipline is so vital to the company's ongoing profitability -- and one reason to avoid an iPad laden with costly new technology that isn't really needed at this point.
Form factor: We can't see any reason, based on the above points, for more than cosmetic changes to the iPad casing design and certainly no changes in the overall dimensions (a lot of rumors say it will be slightly thicker; but we don't buy that).
John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World. Twitter: http://twitter.com/johnwcoxnwwEmail: firstname.lastname@example.org Blog RSS feed: http://www.networkworld.com/community/blog/2989/feed
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