Despite the departure of engineering chief, David Tupman, the iPad 3 is coming -- Apple [AAPL] intends shipping the new product perhaps as soon as March 2012. What will you find inside? Here's the round-up:
Where we are going
We've picked up over 55 million iPads since April 2010. We like them very much -- high satisfaction ratings translate into a major presence within the enterprise, medical and educational markets, in addition to the consumer segments.
It's a rubber-clad investment. Just before each product refresh you'll find older models trading at still good prices on eBay. That's because many iPad owners are prepared to migrate to the latest model when it ships because they like the existing model so much.
The impact on the PC market continues to be felt. While Apple's marketshare is increasing rapidly, others aren't doing so well. As Apple CEO, Tim Cook put it during the company's most recent financial report:
"There is cannibalization clearly of the Mac by the iPad, but we continue to believe there is much more cannibalization of Windows PCs by the iPad and there's many more of them to cannibalize. And so we love that trend. We think it's great for us. The thing that is very different about the iPad is you can see it beginning to appear virtually everywhere."
One day you'll be able to do almost everything you can using a PC on your iPad. Or, as Cook recently put it:
"I think people really want to do multiple things with their tablets. And therefore, we don't really see these limited function tablets and e-readers being in the same category. There is clearly customers that will buy those. I think they'll sell a fair number of units. But I don't think that people that want an iPad will settle for a limited function."
By inference, then, the iPad 3 will offer a host of new functions to set itself apart. What do we think we know so far?
[ABOVE: Avid's Studio for iPad shows us the future for Final Cut when the next-gen iPad fields better graphics and app processors.]
DisplaySearch analyst Charles Annis said Apple had abandoned Samsung for its iPad display, and would instead shift to using Sharp's IGZO display technology.
That claim has been denied by subsequent reports -- apparently Sharp couldn't meet Apple's specifications, but all the reports agree we're looking to a high-res display with double the resolution of the existing model.
A Digitimes report claimed: "A QXGA (1,536x2,048 pixels) display and longer battery life although its other hardware specifications may not be so amazing as expected.
Introducing the A6 processor
Apple's iPad 2 runs on the ARM-based A5 processor. The company is now expected to invest the next-gen tablet with the next generation of its processor technology, the quad-core A6 chip.
According to a Boy Genius Report, Apple has already begun testing the new device, (processor model number S5L8945X). Manufactured by Samsung the processor offers a huge performance increase -- the "fastest iOS device ever," writes BGR.
This suggests the tablet will be suitable for more advanced apps, but the big deal in the release isn't the CPU, but the graphics processor...
The graphics processor
...is expected to deliver significant performance gains on before. Video will look amazing, you'll experience new levels of graphic gaming sophistication on a mobile device, that kind of thing. Imagination Technologies recently announced its next-gen PowerVR Series6 GPU processors. These could wend their way inside Apple's devices, delivering performance up to 20 times the current generation. (That last claim will be limited by battery life and CPU compromises, of course.)
The best camera
Will Apple stick with the existing camera on the iPad? iLounge doesn't think so, predicting Apple will introduce an FaceTime HD rear camera and an 8-megapixel HD main camera. You'll be taking better images and editing HD video on your iPad using the iMovie app.
Built for broadband
Equipped with LTE support the iPad will get you online almost anywhere (so long as you're in the range of an LTE network). The new iPad may even feature the Qualcomm 4G LTE Gobi 4000 chip.
Thicker or thinner?
The jury's out here: some claim the new iPad will be thicker than before in order to accommodate the LTE radio and a larger battery; others predict a thinner model using the latest iterations of LTE radio and more advanced battery technology.
Apple has been deploying Thunderbolt connections across its product range, so it seems reasonable to assume the existing Dock Connector will be replaced by this device, which might enable the firm to prune a few millimeters off of the thickness of its iOS products.
Your intelligent assistant
Siri is serious. Not only does it threaten the Google model for Internet search, it also sets the bar for voice-activated intelligent assistant technology. A move to put Siri inside of LTE-equipped iPads makes absolute sense, though I think the software will remain in beta until later this year.
Augment this, baby...
Think about Maps. Think about the Internet. Think about layering all the information on the latter upon the former. That's Apple's Google Maps-killing plan. Then calm your beating heart and listen to these words from iFixit's Kyle Wiens:
"Apple is full of visionaries, such as Jony Ive. I hear Apple is snapping up developers to work on augmented reality technologies. I can't imagine in 10 years we'll still be carrying around phones in our pocket. We'll have something else, maybe something embedded in our glasses."
That's where it's going. How Apple chooses to get there will occupy speculation time in the months and years ahead.
3D user interfaces
I'm not really holding my breath for this, but Apple is understood to be developing new 3D-based user interfaces for iOS, capable of responding to gestures, words (using Siri). "The new UI will work with proximity sensor arrays and will respond to hovering gestures," a report claims.
NFC is coming
NFC support is inevitably focused upon for its potential use as an 'iWallet'. There's many other uses for the technology. I can't imagine many will use their iPad to pay for things in the shops, but I can see it making headway for virtual museum exhibitions, in healthcare, as travel tickets and all the many myriad of uses you'll see made of this technology by the end of 2012.
A Bloomberg report last month claimed the new model(s) of iPad is already in manufacturing.
"The company's manufacturing partners in Asia started ramping up production of the iPad 3 this month and plan to reach full volumes by February, said one of the people, who asked not to be named because the details aren't public. The tablet will use a quad-core chip, an enhancement that lets users jump more quickly between applications, two of the people said."
Coming February, no March...
When will the new device hit market? That truly depends on what you want to believe. Japanese Apple blog Macotakara says Apple plans a special launch event in "early February", the latest in a series of persistent reports claiming the device will appear this month, however, most soothsayers expect the iPad 3 will hit in March.
One, two or three?
It won't be the iPad 3
Apple-watching is an inexact science. Don't be too surprised if the next-gen iPad falls short on some of these expectations and is announced as the iPad 2HD. This model will focus on graphics performance improvements and the high-resolution screen and would be equipped with HD cameras and Siri. It would be made available as the Pro option beside the existing iPad 2, with an iPad 3 range potentially scheduled for introduction this time next year.
Also read: The crazy Apple rumor guide to iPhone 5.
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