Apple swiftly popped the ever-expanding bubble of Apple iPad 3 speculation with a single email invitation. Next week, the Cupertino company will unveil what most people believe is the iPad 3. It is, quite honestly, a relief. No more guessing games or wild ideas—OK, maybe a week more of wild ideas—but the end is in sight. For Apple though, this is the official beginning of a new era and, as I see it, the 36-year-old company’s biggest test ever.
The story of Apple has been, for all intents and purposes, the story of Steve Jobs. When the Apple founder died last year, though, the page turned to a potentially more uncertain chapter in the technology giant’s life. As I’ve noted before, Apple has not had a major hardware release since then. The iPhone 4S, essentially an upgrade to the original iPhone, has helped float Apple along in the interim. Its chief innovation, the Siri intelligent voice assistant, has entertained and engaged us for months. Even so, people could not stop talking and wondering about what Apple would do next.
This almost unhealthy obsession with Apple has turned it into something more than just a tech company. People talk about it in ways they do not any other company in virtually any other industry. Just hours before Apple sent out the all-important invitation, I was asked “What could stop Apple?” like it’s some force of nature and not necessarily a good one. Perhaps people are afraid of a company that owns the kind of mindshare Apple does and has that kind of market value, or maybe it’s just people’s tendency to want to knock down leaders.
End of the Juggernaut?
Apple is not unstoppable. Walking around Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, I’ve seen evidence of strong and growing competition on the tablet and smartphone front. People like me love Apple’s iPhones, but are well aware that Google’s Android platform is actually the market leader. On the tablet front, Apple has no equal. It has sold at least 60 million iPads since 2010. However, it’s clear that competitors are more than ready to take another run at Apple’s iPad with a host of super thin, powerful tablets and a wide variety of sizes and input styles (or should I say styli?).
Apple, of course, is notably absent from this giant mobile show. It rarely shows up at any event other than its own and can still cannily drop an announcement at the precise moment when it could irk its competitors the most. I received the invite while watching Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt deliver the Mobile World Congress Keynote and envision an “Android in every pocket.” Schmidt made no mention of Apple or its impending tablet plans. Yet anyone with an Internet connection knew there was bigger news outside the auditorium.
Wednesday, Microsoft will unveil its Windows 8 Consumer Preview. With its touch-ready Metro interface and ARM-ready platform, it’s likely Microsoft’s last, best hope for tablet relevance. Yet, Apple has managed to steal a chunk of the spotlight for itself.
Like it or not, Apple is an icon in the industry, and it’s also one without its iconoclastic leader. Apple’s story has always been intertwined with the story of Steve Jobs. Even when he wasn’t there, his presence, or the vacuum that his absence left, was felt acutely at Apple and by every Apple customer. Its resurgence was Jobs’s story, as well.
When Apple CEO Tim Cook steps onto the Yerba Buena stage in San Francisco next week to unveil the iPad 3 (we think) and maybe even an Apple iTV (a total rumor) it will not be the beginning of the story of Tim Cook. It’ll be the start of the Tim Cook era at Apple, but no one believes that Cook can or wants to be the focal point.
Jobs was able to use his own personal magnetism to direct your attention at the lovely gadget he held in his hands. Without a personality like that to focus on, Apple fans will have nothing to react to but the product.
We actually don’t know a lot more about what Apple is planning than we did before. Everyone’s having fun speculating about the meaning of the touch screen image in the Apple invitation. It does look a lot like a home-button-less iPad. There is some indication that it has a higher resolution than the iPad 2. The explicit mention of “touch” has somehow excited people even further. Can Apple redefine touch? Who knows?
Whatever we do see, we can rest assured that, although Steve Jobs is no longer there to guide us through the product points on stage, his finger prints are likely still on the iPad 3 (or iPad 2S, as some have conjectured). Most of the products we’ll see from Apple in the next 12 months will have some of that Jobs magic. What they’ll all lack, though, is his last-minute obsessing over every final detail. Over time, Apple products will more grossly represent the vision Jobs left behind, but it will become harder and harder to find the Steve Jobs touches in the smallest details.
Whatever Apple does unveil, it’s unlikely we’ll ever forget the company’s first major post-Steve Jobs product test. Will it be the moment Apple stumbled or the day we dreamed up new hyperboles to describe the world’s most interesting company? I don’t know, but I will be there to find out.
Bonus: 8 iPad 3 Rumors
1. Minor Upgrades
iLounge recently reported that it saw a prototype of the next-generation iPad at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and that it looks just like the iPad 2, only thicker by about 1 mm. The camera in the top left corner is expected to be a bit larger than the iPad 2 and similar to the improved camera featured on the iPhone 4S.
It’s also been rumored that the next-generation iPad will have a high-resolution screen – possibly even double dpi -- and a stronger interior. However, the updates seen by iLounge seem to be more cosmetic than structural. Could the next-generation device be an upgrade similar to that of the iPhone 4 to the iPhone 4S?