Now that it looks like Apple is getting close to announcing the iPad 3, it's time to get serious about what we're expecting from it. Let's start with hardware.
It pretty much sounds like a given that we'll be getting a 2048x1536 Retina display, which means, at 9.7-inches it won't be quite as dense as the iPhone 4S but you'll likely be holding it further away from your eyes, effectively making the difference minor.
LTE 4G networking is harder to pin down. The Qualcomm chipset sounds like it's ready, but LTE simply isn't very widespread yet, and Apple has huge international sales. Apple currently offers three iPad 2 models: Wi-Fi, EVDO Rev. A, and GSM/HSPA. Could they switch to Wi-Fi, EVDO Rev A/HSPA+, and make the 3rd SKU an LTE model for carriers that support it (most importantly, Verizon?)
Quad-core Android tablets were announced earlier this year, does Apple have to meet that latest processor escalation? More cores open the door to more features, for example AirPlay uses the second core to mirror the iPad 2 display, but do we really need 4 yet? Since Apple controls both hardware and software, they can optimize the heck out of their processor and get performance that often feels better than greater spec'ed competition already.
Likewise 1GB of RAM and 128GB of NAND Flash memory storage. 1GB of RAM, especially with a Retina display, may open the door to even more spectacular gaming, especially if the GPU is also getting a boost as expected. The multitasking system could do with a healthy amount of available RAM as well. With Apple going to the iCloud it may not seem like on-device storage is as big a deal as it used to be, but with iBooks 2 making textbooks a reality, with the possibility of 1080p video support on the horizon, and with truly epic games needing a lot of storage space, it's definitely something that should be on the radar.
Almost 3 years later, and USB ports and SDHC card readers are still something we get asked about. Apple has their Camera kit dongle and that's likely all they'll ever have. Wireless is their future for files. Thunderbolt, on the other hand, would be great for moving the largest of the large files, at least until next-generation Wi-Fi is ready. But Thunderbolt is based on PCI Express architecture, the kind you find in PCs, and doesn't sound like it's iPad compatible yet.
Better cameras, however, are certainly iPad compatible. Granted, few people will be replacing tiny, pocketable point-and-shoots with iPads, but the current cameras are barely serviceable. Facetime HD up front feels like table stakes at this point, and something in the 5 to 8 megapixel range would be much better in back. If either the Retina display or LTE radio requires a bigger battery, making iPad 3 even slightly thicker, hopefully Apple has the depth to put a decent piece of glass in as well.
The iMore Nation are a demanding people and we make no apologies for that. We love our Apple devices because they're typically built beautifully and just work, and we're going to keep Apple's feet to the fire. Vote in the poll up top, and then tell us what's most important to you and why in the comments below!