Monday, February 20, 2012

iPad prediction time

It's that time of year again - the iPad 3 is on the way, probably being assembled by workers all over China as I type this. Many details have leaked, though Apple's been known to do misdirection more than a few times (anybody remember the teardrop iPhone 5 cases from last summer?). But as of right now, here's what I can tell you is certain about the iPad 3, what I think is likely, and what I think is bogus:

- Retina Display (2048*1536): Done. Book it. I think they hoped to get it in for the iPad 2 but couldn't get sufficient yields in time to ramp up production. We've seen enough samples in the wild of the screen that it's a done deal.

- More RAM: Yep, also certain. The iPad 3 will have 1GB of RAM, double what the iPad 2 has. Why am I sure? Higher resolution needs bigger framebuffers. To support that with 512GB would cost too much from a performance standpoint.

- Form factor: It'll be basically the same. Why mess with a good thing? If Apple ever goes into a smaller form factor, I think it would be likelier that they'd introduce a 5" iPod Touch than a 7" iPad. Don't dilute the iPad brand in small cheap devices.

- A6 (quad-core) processor: Good chance. Either that or a faster version of the current A5. Not sure which we'll see, though. Prototype logic boards were recently spotted marked "A5X" (indicating a souped-up A5), but I think that may be misdirection.

- LTE (4G) support: I don't think so. Could be surprised. I'm pretty sure that if it were fall right now you'd see it, but 3G is widespread enough and proven enough that Apple has no problem letting the market continue to develop for 4G. Right now, there's not enough of a 4G footprint to make it truly compelling.

- Better cameras: Yep, coming for sure. I think a 720P HD camera in front for FaceTime, and maybe a 5MP camera in back. They don't need the photo capabilities of the iPhone, but there will be improvement.

- Storage: Probably the same capacities as before (16, 32, 64). Maybe a 128GB model that blurs the lines with laptops.

- Siri: I'm not sure about that one. I think they won't, if only because Siri is really a feature for an always-on connection - and on the iPad your Internet connection is optional, unlike with a cellphone.

- Pricing: No changes. They may keep the 16GB iPad 2 around for 6 months or so at a cheaper price ($349?) to suck most of the oxygen out of the cheap 7" tablet market. If they can afford to do that and still make money, they likely will.

The only pricing wildcard is if they do a 128GB version at the top end. Then we might see them go like this:

$349 (or maybe $399); iPad 2 Wifi, 16GB

$499: iPad 3 32GB (add $100 or the traditional $130 for 3G on each iPad 3 model)

$599: iPad 3 64GB

$699: iPad 3 128GB

Follow that up with a 5" iPod Touch 32GB for $299 in the fall, and you've effectively bracketed the whole market.

As for iOS 5.1, I'm restricted from prognosticating on that one because I am running it and remain under NDA. The Mac rumor sites are doing a good enough job of that for me, anyways. But I can say that I'm looking forward to the GM being posted, based on what I've seen from it so far.

To sum up, I think on March 7th a lot of people will be grabbing their credit cards. iPad 2 sales numbers were just a warmup for this one.