Apple's iPad 2 was one-third thinner than the previous model, weighed less, and came in black and white. Photo: Jon Snyder/Wired.com
The event invitation didn’t mention any specific hardware by name, but let’s not be coy. We all know Apple’s product unveiling Wednesday will focus on the next version of the iPad. This much we’re willing to claim with near metaphysical certitude.
What remains in question, however, are the specific specs and features of Apple’s next tablet.
Gadget Lab decided to cull its collective Apple knowledge to predict exactly what will be revealed at Wednesday’s event. Tackling product features in a descending order of likelihood — from all but certain to wildly improbable — our editors and reporters handicapped the future of Apple tablet design.
Our panel of prognosticators included Jon Phillips, Gadget Lab senior editor; Michael Calore, Wired.com reviews editor; John Bradley, senior editor for Wired magazine; Gadget Lab staff writers Roberto Baldwin, Mike Isaac and myself; and Gadget Lab intern Nathan Hurst.
Below are 13 possible features that Apple’s iPad could include, along with details on group consensus and disagreement. But we start, however, with not a product feature, but rather a debate over what the tablet will be called.
1. The name
Until the iPhone 4S came out, pretty much everyone thought it would be named the iPhone 5. But now that Apple has proven it’s willing to stray from logical naming patterns (the iPhone 3GS should have been our first clue), our confidence in Apple-related pattern-recognition is shattered. The next tablet could be called iPad 3, or perhaps something else entirely (the iPad HD is one option that’s floating around). Here’s what our panel thought:
Verdict: Four votes for iPad 3, zero votes for iPad HD, and (in a last-minute flurry of speculation) three votes for iPad 2S
Phillips said, “When the iPhone line received a Retina Display, Apple kept the numerical naming convention. That is, the phone was called iPhone 4, not iPhone HD. Plus, the iPad 3 will be much, much more than just a ‘simple’ HD update.” And as for that HD title, Bradley felt it would be too confusing “given that so many iPad-native apps are distinguished from iPhone versions by an ‘HD’ designation.”
Baldwin, however, was among the judges who felt Apple could continue the naming protocol it’s established for the iPhone, adding an S to the end of a product number.
2. Retina Display
Perhaps the most persistent and prevalent rumor about Apple’s next iPad is that it will have a gorgeous HD display — a so-called Retina Display, à la the first iPhone 4. Specifically, the next iPad is rumored to have a resolution of 1536 x 2048. In recent weeks, the rumor mill has seen many “leaked” images of displays that purportedly feature this level of pixel density, which offers four times the resolution of the current iPad.
Verdict: All seven panelists agree the next iPad will include a high-definition display.
Calore said, “It’s the logical next step for the product.” Phillips said, “All indicators from both reliable display industry analysts and dubious rumor-mongers tell us the Retina Display is a lock.”
3. 4G LTE
Consumers and pundits alike have been speculating — and hoping for — 4G LTE support since before the iPad 2 even debuted. And then in mid-February, The Wall Street Journalreported Apple’s upcoming tablet would be available on both AT&T and Verizon’s LTE networks. So, will the next iPad push super-fast data on LTE?
Verdict: Five out of our seven judges say LTE will be announced.
Isaac cites the WSJ report as his primary reason for believing the iPad 3 (as we’ll refer to it for now) will be LTE. But Calore thinks network policy would put a damper on a 4G tablet: “Hah! With a 3GB data cap? No. LTE will be on iPhones before iPads.” Baldwin agreed with Calore’s sentiment, saying, “I expect 4G LTE to hit the iPhone first.”
Regardless, even the judges who think LTE will be announced conceded that Apple will have to sell the feature at Wednesday’s event. Our consensus is that carrier representatives might co-present on stage, and Apple would announce attractive iPad 3-specific data plans — plus reassurances of network stability. After all, LTE on millions of iPads has the potential to not only send monthly bills through the roof, but also congest immature network infrastructures.
4. Quad-core processor
For a long time, rumors targeted the iPad 3 as a quad-core device, but recent reports have suggested it may only be dual-core, like the current iPad 2. Apple’s bound to upgrade the processor in some respect — but by exactly how much?
Verdict: Five of our seven judges say the next tablet will run a quad-core processor.
Baldwin thinks the iPad 3 will feature the rumored A5X processor and it will be quad-core. Phillips thinks Apple will need to include a quad-core chip simply to “tick off that feature box” in a landscape quickly filling up with quad-core Android devices.
Isaac and myself are the naysayers here. We think a quad-core processor would be too power-hungry. Apple is keen to ensure its devices deliver a good amount of battery life. If LTE is onboard, that will sap a lot of power. Add a quad-core processor to the mix, and the iPad would have very poor battery endurance.
Ah, Siri. The shining star, the crown jewel, of the iPhone 4S. People have tried to port it to other iOS devices to varied degrees of success. The iPad 3 will mark a big turning point in Apple’s product strategy. If Siri makes it onto the iPad, that signals that she’s bound for other iOS devices, and maybe even other Apple product lines. And if she doesn’t appear in the iPad 3, her future will suddenly look cloudier than ever.
Verdict: Six of seven judges think Siri will be strutting her sass on the iPad 3 in short order.
This came as a bit of a surprise to me, but we Wired staffers feel strongly that Apple will in fact be porting its voice-activated assistant. Phillips was the holdout: “Siri is a smartphone feature,” he said, “and it’s not even that winning a smartphone feature during day-in, day-out use.” But Baldwin expects this won’t be a problem: “I’m guessing there will be iPad-only Siri features.”
6. No physical home button
In the image at the top of the event invitation, the iPad’s trademark home button is missing from the shot. Does this mean the home button is going away? Of course not — and perhaps conspiracy theorists are misinterpreting the image.
Nonetheless, according to sleuths at Gizmodo, the iDevice in the shot is not in landscape mode, but rather in portrait mode based on the positioning of the water droplets in the background. And in this position, a home button should be visible. Rumors of a home button purge have been bubbling up for a while now, so Apple’s invitation image only adds fuel to the fire.
Verdict: All seven judges say the home button remains.
“How will I hard-restart my iPad without a home button?,” Baldwin asks. “Plus, it would degrade the navigation unless it’s replaced with a button that doesn’t reside on the bezel.” Phillips thinks the home button will be present in some implementation, but “not necessarily in its current position or expression.”