Feb 11, 2012

The iPad 3 is (allegedly) just around the corner. Here's everything we expect to see from Apple's newest tablet.

There’s no doubt about it: Apple will, at some point in the near future, release the next version of its market-ruling tablet, the iPad. Nobody outside Apple’s walled garden can say for sure what the new device will offer — but as with any Cupertino creation, there are plenty of tips, rumors, speculation and good ol’ fashioned guesses to satisfy us till launch day. Here, a quick round-up of the most-likely details surrounding the iPad 3 (or whatever it’s called).
Display: High-resolution Retina

It’s all but certain that the iPad 3 will have a better screen than the iPad or iPad 2. Most rumors point to a Retina display, similar to what’s found on the iPhone 4/4S. The iPad 3 version will reportedly have a 2048×1024 resolution, twice that of the iPad 2′s screen. This rumor is corroborated by a recently leaked photo of what is allegedly the rear shell of the iPad 3, which includes space for a larger battery to power a more energy-hungry screen (more on this leak later).

Apple needs to make this upgrade to stay ahead of the increasing variety of Android tablets that offer better-looking displays — or so the theory goes. While this upgrade seems like a no-brainer, many expected the same with the iPad 2 last year. And, obviously, that didn’t happen.

In addition, many speculate that Apple will release a smaller, 7-inch version to go along with the new 9.7-inch model. This rumor has been floating around since last year, and has stuck around due to the popularity of Amazon’s 7-inch Kindle Fire. But if you ask us, this ain’t gonna happen. And it shouldn’t. If anything, Apple should shoot for something in the 8.9-inch range, which we’ve found to be an ideal size for tablets. But if you’re placing bets, put your money on one 9.7-inch model with a Retina display.
Design: Nearly identical to iPad 2

Surprisingly little has been said about what the next iPad will look like. But if the aforementioned rear shell is real, then iPad 3 will almost certainly have a design that’s nearly identical to iPad 2. Also, an Apple employee tells The New York Times that the next iPad is “essentially the same size and shape as the iPad 2.” Sure, there may be a tweak or two, but don’t expect the iPad 3 to stray far from its predecessors design-wise.
Hardware: Faster A6 processor

Consensus says the iPad 3 will run the new A6 processor, which will be significantly faster than the A5 CPU found in the iPad 2 and iPhone 4S, and use less power, which would help in the battery life department. What’s currently up in the air — rumor-wise, anyway — is whether the fabled A6 will be dual-core or quad-core. Evidence found in the beta version of iOS 5.1 in early January supports the quad-core theory. But sources tell Joshua Topolsky at The Verge that the A6 is definitely dual-core, like the A5.

In the end, the dual-core/quad-core factor is irrelevant to most users, who couldn’t care less how many cores the A6 has. If it’s faster than the iPad 2, that’s all that matters.

A faster graphics processor is also expected (and, we think, likely). And some believe Apple will finally up the RAM count above the current 512MB threshold it’s sat on for the past two years. An increase in RAM seems to make sense, but Apple has never been one to change things just because competing devices list bigger numbers under their specs. If 512MB works, that’s where it will stay.
Cameras: HD front cam, 8-megapixel rear cam

One of the best reasons to buy the iPhone 4S is its fantastic 8-megapixel front-facing camera. And it seems increasingly likely that Apple will upgrade this lens in the iPad 3. The leaked rear shell photo shows a larger spot for the rear camera, which means an upgrade is likely (if that case is real, of course). In addition, iLounge reports that the new Apple tablet will feature a high-definition front-facing camera for FaceTime HD video chat, similar to what’s found on new Macs. This would definitely be a welcome upgrade, as tablets are far better for video chat than smartphones, and the iPad 2′s front camera is undewhelming, at best. We hope it comes true.
OS: iOS 5.1

It’s essentially guaranteed that the iPad 3 will come loaded with iOS 5.1, beta versions of which have been available to developers for some time. So far, the upgrade to iOS 5 offers nothing much new. But seeing as the developer version of iOS has gone virtually unchanged over the past several versions, which would suggest it’s ready to go public, some speculate that Apple has a secret big feature in store for the release of the iPad 3. Whatever could that be?…
Siri: Yes

Yep, Siri, the AI virtual assistant that makes the iPhone 4S so dang nifty. The presence of Siri in iPad 3 would explain why iOS 5.1 hasn’t yet been released to the public. And at this point, nobody is questioning whether the next Apple tablet will sport this feature.
Network: 4G LTE

A variety of reports suggest that Apple plans to make its first 4G LTE-enabled device the iPad 3. According to an unnamed source who spoke with Bloomberg in January, Apple has decided to debut LTE on the iPad — rather than the iPhone — because the iPad’s larger battery could better handle the energy needed by the faster LTE networks. Given the poor battery performance of the current stable of LTE smartphones, this theory makes perfect sense. Also, now that both Verizon and AT&T offer 4G in a wide variety of networks, the demand for LTE has reached a tipping point. That said, it would be slightly unusual for the iPad, not the iPhone, to be Apple’s first LTE device. But that’s not enough to knock it out of the realm of possibility.
Unveiling & release date: First week of March (or Feb. 29), March 9

The most recent reports say Apple will unveil the iPad 3 at an event in San Francisco during the first week of March. Others think that Apple will take advantage that this is a leap year, and make the device’s debut extra-special by launching it on February 29. Either way, the beginning of March seems to be the agreed upon timeframe. In addition, details found in iOS 5.1 suggest the updated version will arrive on March 9, which makes it likely that the iPad 3 will go on sale that day, too. In other words, if you own an iPad 2, now might be a good time to sell it.
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