Imagining iPad 2
iPad 2 rumors have been making their way through the internet pretty much since the day after the current iPad debuted but lately they've picked up considerable speed. Leaks have come from supposed manufacturers and suppliers, of course, but given the time of year and Apple's refresh cycles for iOS devices to date, we could be seeing an iPad 2 announcement as early as January/February and a release in April. Either way it's coming. We all know it's coming. (We've even discussed whether or not you should get an iPad now or wait for iPad 2 next year). But what will it be like?
Based on rumors to date, I'm going make some guesses... after the break.
Size and weight
Steve Jobs downplayed the value of 7-inch tablets on a recent Apple conference call which means a) Apple will never make one or, b) Apple is about to make one. Take your pick. I pick the former, at least for now. Apple is making a big deal about how competitors can't match the iPad's aggressive pricing so are opting for smaller screens. Jobs also -- rightly -- pointed to how 9.7-inch screens allow for a fundamentally different software experience than 7-inch devices, which are closer to the 3.5- to 4.3 smartphones. So, the raw size of iPad 2 will probably be the same, as will the aspect ratio (more on that later). It will no doubt be thinner, however. Even if it's by 1mm, Jobs needs to say it's the thinnest iPad ever when he introduces it or the keynote just won't seem complete.
That leaves weight. Amazon has thrown down the gauntlet on form factors, claiming sunbathing lady readers can't hold up an iPad in one hand. It's comparing unitaskers to multitaskers but never mind that for now -- it's a consideration. However, Apple manufactures iPad out of glass and aluminum and both of those are heavier than the plastic on plastic Kindle. They're also heavier than the plastic used for the Galaxy Tab (which I've said before reminds me of my 1980s Hasbro toys, absent the ability to "transform and roll out).
Making iPad 2 thinner will probably shave down the weight a little. There are rumors Apple is experimenting with carbon fiber as a lighter alternative to aluminum but what can they do to make the glass lighter?
Speaking of which, switching to chemically hardened glass like the back plate of iPhone 4 would be interesting as a design choice, and case makers would no doubt benefit, but a sheet of glass at that size just seems too breakable on a device like iPad.
While iPhone 2G to iPhone 3G was also a significant design change, iPod touch 1 to iPod touch 2 was less so and that's what iPad feels like at the moment -- too early in the product cycle for anything radical.
Slimmer trim, flatter back, a look that better matches iPhone 4 and iPod touch 4 no doubt, but the size and weight probably won't change too much.
iPad has a 9.7-inch LED backlit, IPS panel at 1024x768, which works out to 132 pixels per inch. That's astonishingly less than iPhone 4 and iPod touch 4's Retina Display at 326 ppi. Will Apple go Retina Display with iPad 2? I don't think they can.
2048 x 1536 at 9.7-inch just doesn't seem affordable given current technology. Nor does it seem necessary. When you use an iPhone or iPod touch, due to their smaller size you need to hold them closer than you need to hold an iPad. Retina Display (pixels too small to be seen with normal vision) is relative to distance held, so an iPad would need a lower pixel density held at a further distance to still qualify it as a Retina Display. So could they go 1.5x? I doubt it. If Apple doesn't pixel double the current display in both directions -- like they did with iPhone 4 -- it would be a nightmare for developers.
So I don't think Retina Display is likely for iPad 2, nor do I think a change in aspect ratio to 16:9 is likely either. The so-called "wide screen" 16:9 ratio has always been a compromise and it wouldn't be a good one for iPad. Yes it's wider than the current 4:3 iPad ratio and the 16:10 ratio of some MacBooks but what content really uses 16:9? Not books. Not web pages. Not email or calendars. Not most things you'd use an iPad for, not even movies. Movies are typically much wider than 16:9 so would still require letterboxing. Only HD TV shows are consistently 16:9. If you're making a unitasking TV viewing tablet, sure, 16:9 is the way to go. If you're making a tablet that's meant to do several types of media well, I'd argue the extra height (in landscape mode) of 4:3 is far more valuable.
iPad 2 will likely get the new bonded screen of iPhone 4, so reflectivity will be reduced, and perhaps a better, brighter, more colorful panel, but that's probably it for the next generation.
Wireless and cellular
I won't hold my breath for LTE in iPad 2. Apple released the original iPhone 2G with EDGE-only support so they've shown themselves to be immune to early cell technology adoption. Verizon and AT&T are both pushing for LTE networks but 2012 seems like a target Apple would rather aim for.
A CDMA version, especially one using the new GSM/CDMA hybrid chipset from Qualcomm is certainly a possibility. If Apple announces a CDMA iPhone 4 for Verizon in early 2011 as almost all recent rumors suggest they will, it seems reasonable they'd do likewise with iPad 2 in a similar timeframe.
UPDATE: Verizon iPhone is now real.
Not only would this give Apple access to the huge Verizon (and perhaps more modest Sprint) customer bases it would keep the product line simple for users. (Whether or not Verizon and AT&T allow them to switch between the two networks, the way users in multiple GSM carrier countries can switch today, is separate question.)
iPad, like iPod touch, is currently capped at 64GB. Increases in NAND Flash density could see that bumped to 128GB in iPad 2 provided Apple can get the chips at a reasonable enough cost to keep the current price points intact. An ultra-cheap 16GB model -- or even a 2010 iPad at $399/16GB -- would be attractive if $599 and $699 shifted to 64GB and 128GB respectively. (The new MacBook Airs provide 128GB and 256GB Flash options, albeit at a significantly higher price point). Content gluttons would love it but Apple has shown with the Apple TV that streaming and rental content are their future and that means they may not invest in making iPads with bigger local storage.
If iTunes.com ever becomes a reality, with full on streaming, subscription, and digital locker features -- so we can get the content we want, when we want, and where we want it -- we probably don't need 128GB of storage on an iPad.
Unfortunately, I don't see either iTunes.com or 128GB options happening for iPad 2.
Apple's first in-house system-on-a-chip, the Apple A4, debuted with iPad and has since moved through the line to iPhone, iPod touch, and Apple TV. While Apple doesn't disclose the speed of those other implementations, they did announce iPad's A4 as 1GHz. Teardowns have further revealed that the Apple A4 is built from an ARM Cortex A8 CPU and a PowerVR SGX GPU.
While those are decent enough, both have been around since iPhone 3GS and both now have successors on or hitting the market. The multi-core ARM Cortex A9 and most recent PowerVR SGX would both help push a whole new level of apps on iPad. We've heard rumors for a while now that Apple has advised developers to start thinking about multi-core processing for their apps. That's a good sign.
I'm hoping iPad 2 is where the next generation Apple SoC debuts with next generation silicon inside.
Unlike chipsets, Apple has always been completely mum about the RAM in their devices. The current iPad has an anemic 256MB of RAM which is readily apparent by how often Safari has to reload tabs or apps shut down under the new iOS 4.2 multitasking system. iPhone 4 has 512MB, a significant improvement but iPod touch 4 stuck with the dismal 256MB.
More than any other under-the-hood feature, iPad 2 desperately needs more RAM to hold more web pages, background more apps, and throw more pixels around on the screen. 512MB is what the 2010 model should have had and by the time iPad 2 rolls around, Apple should be looking at 1GB. Again, they'll probably choose to keep costs down rather than boost performance up, and they'll need to maintain that $499 entry level pricing, but scrimping on RAM has begun to effect user experience and that's something Apple sometimes does value more than margins.
That said, no matter how much 1GB feels like table stakes in the 2011 tablet market, 512MB is still like the safe bet.
All rumors and supposed checks with manufacturers and supply chains point to Apple sourcing a camera, if not both front and back facing cameras, for iPad 2. Given their investment in FaceTime -- which now runs on iPhone 4, iPod touch 4, and Mac -- that makes a lot of sense.
Will it be one or two cameras then, and will they be high quality like iPhone 4 or low quality like iPod touch 4? I'm guessing we'll get 2 cameras simply because both iPhone and iPod touch have 2 cameras. Sure it's almost comical to imagine someone walking the streets with a 10-inch iPad taking snapshots, but 2 cameras allow for the flexibility to easily FaceTime both you and what you're looking at. (No "intimate moments" jokes, please.) It would also let Augmented Reality apps work better on iPad.
But for those reasons, FaceTime and AR rather than photography, I see iPad 2 getting a lower quality camera than iPhone 4. Don't get me wrong, I'd love the 5mp sensor but if Apple's going to cut costs somewhere, a 720p video camera like iPod touch is a place they could easily do it. (And maintain room to offer a better camera with iPad 3.)
iPhone 4 and iPod touch 4 both got gyroscopes in 2010. iPad 2 should get the same in 2011. It makes gaming and location services better and Apple's shown they can do it. This is probably one of the closest things I can point to as a lock.
Battery and Power
The current iPad gets a phenomenal 10 hours of video playback under optimal conditions. It seems almost impossible for Apple to top that but again Steve Jobs is likely to want the bullet point in his keynote so if there'a any way for Apple to hit 11 or 12 hours -- and be thinner! -- they will.
Recent rumors of USB not withstanding, Apple has shown a continued aversion to any iPod, iPhone, or iPad port other than their own, now ubiquitous, 30-pin dock connector. They've included USB (and sometimes FireWire) on Macs, even flirted with HDMI on the latest Mac Mini, but they've also begun to introduce technology like AirPlay which may make HDMI as redundant to Apple's future plans as the optical drive.
Likewise SD card slots. Apple puts them on MacBooks now but not iOS devices. Jonathan Ive has said they didn't put anything on the original iPad that wouldn't be used by most people most of the time. That's why Apple provided a camera kit, ugly dongle though it may be, rather than SD card slot for iPad. Has iPad usage evolved to the point where most people would use an SD card slot most of the time? Probably not.
As many complaints as we get about Apple not providing USB, SD, or HDMI, we get just as many if not more about Apple still requiring iPad's to tether to iTunes to activate, update, and sync. Could Apple take that wireless as well, with AirSync?
Apple TV's recent iOS 4.1/4.2 update shows iOS can handle on-device software upgrades, but Apple TV is permanently plugged in and doesn't require any media, apps, or other content to be backed up. If Apple is going to require power and/or backup before updating or syncing, neither of those functions will be going wireless any time soon. (Cloud backups of 64GB iPads just isn't realistic with current on-device radios, bandwidth and bandwidth caps, and power sources.)
So while the future is clearly wireless, that future isn't here yet and Apple hasn't been the type of company to patch future holes with past technology.
We've already heard about device testing, and any week now we should get "little birdie" reports on the device codename and design verification stages. Maybe a case prototype will surface or blurry cam shot or two. Any of the above will help us further predict what iPad 2 will look like.
Until then, until Steve Jobs puts sneaker to stage and introduces it, these are my best guesses. What are yours?