iPad 2 will ship with... which version of iOS?

TiPb iPad 2 Concept

Apple is widely expected to introduce iPad 2 sometime in the next few months and, if they follow the same yearly cycle they have for iPhone and iPod touch, ship it in April 2011 running iOS... what exactly? iOS 4.2 still? A new iOS 4.3? Last year iPad was unveiled running iOS 3.2 (then called iPhone OS 3.2). iPhone was running iOS 3.1, and iOS 3.2 looked similar yet at the same time as fresh and new as iPad itself. The same only bigger and in some ways, better. Background wallpaper and home screen rotation alone were enough to make it look new, as were sidebars in landscape and popovers in portrait mode.

Then iPhone got iOS 4 in June, not only closing the gap but with multitasking, folders, threaded email, and other new features, surpassing the iPad, which stayed trapped on iOS 3.2 until November, when iOS 4.2 finally unified the product line. If Apple sticks to pattern iOS 5 will be previewed around the same time as iPad 2 but won't launch until iPhone 5 does in June, 2011. So it seems like there are a three major options:

  1. Apple keeps iOS unified, launching iPad 2 with iOS 4.2 in April and hoping hardware alone wow-factor enough to get attention, entice upgrades, and keep the growing competition at bay. Or Apple waits until June to launch iPad 2 alongside iPhone 5 and iOS 5, getting software along with hardware bang but giving the competition more time to catch up.

  2. Apple fragments iOS again like they did last year, launching iPad 2 with a major, iPad-only iOS 4.3 update in April and once again putting it ahead of iPhone and iPod touch for several months, either to unify again in June with iOS 5, or to take its turn and languish again for a September or November, 2011 iOS 5.1/iOS 5.2 unification.

  3. Apple pulls an iPod touch, introducing a minor iOS update with a couple of new features that become available to all iOS devices at pretty much the same time. Pretty much what they did with iOS 4.1 last September with Ping, Game Center, and TV rentals.

iPhone always gets the added bump of a new iOS come launch time and even though iOS itself is previewed months before, Steve Jobs usually saves a few key, hardware-based features to announce at WWDC (like FaceTime and HD video last year). iPad got that same bump with iOS 3.2 last year. I can't imagine Apple not adding some software sizzle to new iPad hardware in 2011, beyond the FaceTime we know will come with camera(s). At the same time, the mere thought of the platform being fragmented again is worrisome. That leads me to believe we'll get option #3, the minor, cross-platform update, with a small amount of new features like broader AirPlay and AirPrint support, subscription billing for apps, and maybe one or two other bullet points.

That keeps iPhone as the big flagship release alongside the new iOS every year and lets iPad and iPod touch bookend it, or rather follow up and follow up again until the next major product cycle begins.

So iPad 2 could just ship with iOS 4.3, but I'm betting iOS 4.3 won't be the leap forward iOS 3.2 was, it'll be the tiny step of iOS 4.1. What do you think?

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Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

iPad 2 will ship with... which version of iOS?


Most likely same as last year. iPad 4.2, or whatever the latest iOS is before the new iPhone. The new iPhone will come out two months later with iOS 5, but they will claim iPad will get the update later around November.

After my commet I started thinking. Yea scary thing me thinking, but with the new idea of the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch being universal. Ipad could have the iOS 5 update to keep in line with the new iPhone. Same thing with the iPod Touch.

This one is easy, option 4, IOS 4.4 with major upgrades for iPad, small or no upgrades ad optimizations for the iPhone & ops touch, so that way the OS remains unified and iPad gets a major update.

I think all iOS devices will stay unified (leaving out Apple TV). I think iPad 2 will ship with 4.3 and all devices: iPad 1, iPhone 4, 3G, 3GS and iPod touch will all get the updates.

My guess is that iPad 2 will ship with 4.3, then 4.3 will be made available to iPhone and iPod touch shortly after. Why? Because I'm also guessing 4.3 will take advantage of some new cloud feature that the new North Carolina data center can provide. And Apple will be keen to get all iOS devices (maybe even Apple TV) to use that new feature.
iPhone 5 (or whatever it will be called) would then likely ship with, of course, iOS 5.0. Then iPad and iPod touch will get iOS 5.0.

I really dont think they would launch iPhone 5 and iPad 2 at the same time, mostly because they want early adopters to purchase both; Apple is full of fanboys, and I'm sure they know that.
I, at least, know that I would buy both if they came out months apart.

I dont think it will get ios 5 since features associated with ios4 like facetime are already built into iOS. The will be minor updates I think to facilitate hardware but at the end of the day the iPad is still playing catchup to iPhone and iPod

Another possibility... Steve & co flip-flop em. iPhone & iOS 5 announced in Jan, avail in late Mar / early April; iPad 2 announced in April, avail in late June / early July.
Here's why...
1) Why release a greatly anticipated iPad 2 running on a minor software update 4.x, when everyone knows a new iOS 5 would be coming very soon with iPhone 5?
2) Conversely, why announce iPad 2 AND iOS 5 months before iPhone 5 and take so much thunder away from the iPhone 5 announcement?
3) Get the Verizon iPhone buzz "out of the way" if you know what I mean...either way it goes.
4) Get more time between iOS 4.2 release for iPad and the new iPad 2.
5) Move iPad sales cycle closer to back-to-school and holiday seasons...it is now the more gift-likely item of the two products.
6) Best of all...mess with the competition...boy wouldn't they really sweat wondering what's going on.
I'm not predicting this is what will happen...just chucking it out for thought.

@Jim Washok
I like it. This also would explain the White iPhone coming at that time which makes no sense if the new phone is out 3 months later.

They will not divide the iOS again. No way. 4.3 in April-ish with iPad 2 release, 5.0 in late June with iPhone 5.

They can't put iOS 4.3 on iPad 2 without putting it on iPad 1 it's like putting iOS 5 on iPhone 5 and not putting it on iPhone 4

Rene... If Apple releases iPad 2, iPhone 5 and iOS 5 all at the same time in June - the friggin Internet will 'asplode!

Are we really gonna get iOS 5 in the summer? Really? That implies they have some big upgrades/changes planned for it. Next iPhone is gonna be 4S or whatever they want to call it. I think it's 4.3 for the iPad and 4.4 for both when the next iPhone gets launched.