A Byte of Apple : iPad 2 Predictions

Uncharacteristically Apple. The invite sent out last week to the media wasn’t subtle or discreet as the company is often wont to be. Instead, it showed an image of a calendar app icon peeled back to reveal the corner of an iPad that was very much identical to the one that is running on short supplies in Apple stores worldwide as you read this. So the next iPad is upon us, and now’s a great time to take stock of all the rumors and predictions around the new device. But before we start, the big question, at least to me is – which one will it be – iPad 2, or a 1.5 equivalent? It boils down to this – just how much does Apple need an iPad 2 beyond the simple ‘marketing’ matter of keeping up with the Joneses? Sure, the competition has recently trumpeted impressive specs such as dual-core processors, HDMI output, video chat, HD camcorders, and 4G wireless connections, but I for one feel they’re missing point completely in trying to beat the iPad on specs. Where the first generation iPad scores is on experience – the breadth and depth of apps (games included) that run like a dream on the iPad are yet to see serious competition from tablet specific apps on Android. Plus, the iPad’s 10 hours of battery life has set the bar really high for the competition, and all those dual core processors the competition is sporting aren’t going to help one bit in this department. I’d even be willing to wager that the first-gen is good for some more time yet, possibly with modest improvements, allowing for a bigger September iPad 2 update to capitalize on the massive holiday shopping season. All this points to why the updates I sense we’ll see come March 2 will be incremental and evolutionary, not revolutionary.

  • FaceTime support via a front-facing camera: A no-brainer, given how Apple’s built in FaceTime support and branding in all of its other products, and I’d be downright shocked if I don’t see this make the cut. A rear-facing camera? Not so much, especially if you consider lifting a 9.7-inch iPad to take a photo!
  • No retina display: The screen may well be improved from the first gen, but don’t expect to see a retina display on a 10-incher just yet – a screen like that would massively increase the number of pixels, therefore straining both the iPad’s processor and its battery, not to mention the price point. But boy, would I love to be proven wrong on this one, if Apple’s figured out how to solve this engineering problem. (I’m sure developers will be pulling their hair out with the new resolution they’d have to factor in!)
  • Slimmer, lighter form factor: The iPad will be thinner, no two ways about it. Apple loves to take the knife to any extra flab a first-gen device carries, and the iPad is no different. Expect some drastic cuts in this department, as the iPad looks to distance itself, weight wise, from the already light MacBook Air.
  • Better internals: Under the hood improvements are certain, but I’m not sure if Apple will go the whole hog with a dual core processor. The hit on battery life is one thing, and I’m not entirely convinced the iPad needs a dual core processor … just yet. The first-gen seems to do just fine, so maybe a faster single core processor? And more memory for sure, at least 512 MB of RAM, if not the 1GB like the Xoom offers.
  • No SD Card memory expansion Slot – Goes against the grain of all things Apple/iOS. Enough said.
  • Gyroscope: First introduced in the iPhone 4, the three-axis gyroscope allows iOS game developers to take advantage of a one more control dimension and with a gyroscope inside, iPad game designers could offer apps that allow you to rotate around an axis or detect pitch, roll, and yaw. Expect the 3-axis gyro to make a low-key entry, if for nothing but to standardize the iPad in line with the iOS family
  • An additional speaker: Let’s face facts, the speaker on the first-gen iPad wasn’t bad, but it left a lot to be desired from a multimedia entertainment device. Apple may just add an extra speaker along the top edge to aid in stereo separation and to avoid the possibility of the sound being drowned out by both speakers being blocked by a stand or hand.
  • Near immediate availability: We’ve all tired of wait times of several months that are expected for the latest breed of Android and web OS tablets, so I wouldn’t be surprised that courtesy the modest enhancements, Apple is able to push the new iPad out to stores within a week, if not immediately. What lends credence to this is the fact that Apple resellers such as Best Buy are reporting deleted inventory statuses for first-gen iPads.
  • A price drop: With the competition not being able to match the iPad’s price point, Apple could serve up a master stroke by selling the first gen iPad possibly with lower capacity at a lower price point, allowing more folks to get into the door on to the bandwagon.
  • Thunderbolt?: This one is risky, but with Thunderbolt having just been announced for the MacBook Pros, including the port could make sense for ultra-fast syncing and data transfer between the iPad and new Macs.

iPad 2 predictions aside, maybe the more interesting portion is the tagline below the date which reads “Come see what 2011 will be the year of.” Clearly we’re going to see more than just the new iPad. Likely candidates include:

iOS 4.3 dates: It’s been in beta for a while now, and we’re expecting a firm date for the official release. Of course, as we’ve seen so far, new 4.3 improvements include UI improvements, wireless hotspot support for iPhones and a preview of multitouch gestures for iPad control. Also, could we have a preview of iOS 5 while we’re at it, Apple?

Cloud iTunes: Could Apple’s $1 billion North Carolina datacenter finally becoming operational in the coming months signal the launch of iTunes in the cloud? If so, expect to be able to store music libraries and device backups in the cloud, stream music/video…the works! And possibly, wireless synching to the cloud will bid a final farewell to iTunes on the desktop (about time!).

And, as we call a wrap on this time’s A Byte of Apple, there is one more (possible) thing… popular Apple blog 9to5Mac reports that we may yet see Steve Jobs in attendance for tomorrow’s event, but in deference to his medical leave, he may be watching this show from the front row, and not up on stage. Let’s see how the event pans out!