Whether or not Apple releases the iPad mini next month, you can bet it will release an iPad 4 next year in 2013. Apple's release schedule is more-or-less on lockdown, and that means its tablets and iPhones rarely get more than a year in the spotlight. But what features will the iPad 4 offer, and what is its release date? Here's what we know so far.
We'll update this article as more iPad 4 info is spilled, so check back for more.
iPad 4 name
It's easy to call the next full-size iPad the iPad 4, but within Apple's new naming convention, it's quite likely it'll simply be known as "iPad". Apple dropped the numerical naming convention in March this year with the launch of the "new iPad" - the iPad 3, in other words. This is in-line with the naming of most of Apple's other gadgets, including the MacBook line and the iPod ranges.
For the sake of clarity, we'll call it the iPad 4 for now, though.
iPad 4 release date
Although the iPad mini is expected to launch later this year in October, you can bet that the iPad 4 release date won't be pegged for 2012. Not only is it too close to the current "new iPad" launch in March 2012, it's also too close to the iPhone 5's release date of 21 September.
As yet, there haven't been many rumours surrounding the exact date of the iPad 4 launch, but we'd bet at least £1.50 that it'll land in March 2013. Why? The first iPad launched in March 2010. The iPad 2 launched in March 2011, and the third in March 2012. It's almost a no-brainer. Almost.
Apple hasn't managed to stay quite so even in its iPhone-series releases, and all sorts of disturbances in the force could sway Apple CEO Tim Cook's hand in this matter.
iPad 4 features
As with the release date of the iPad 4, possible features the tablet could include are murky at best at this point. However, according to iLounge, it won't be a series-shaking change.
iLounge's Jeremy Horwitz says the design will be tweaked in order to reduce heat produced by the tablet, and to introduce a rear microphone. The one obvious feature the iPad 4 will almost certainly include is the new Lightning dock connector, which was introduced at the iPhone 5 launch.
iPad 4 dock connector
What's all this talk of a new dock connector? If you're more an iPad fan than an iPhone acolyte, there's a chance you may not have heard about the new Lightning connector.
This was introduced alongside the iPhone 5, and replaces the 30-pin dock connector that has been around since the early days of the iPod range - only missing in the earliest models. Are we sad to see it go? Not really, but those who own high-end iPad audio docks may be, as you'll need to use a not-particularly-attractive Lightning converter to get an iPad 4 working with the thing.
The Lightning connector uses an 8-pin design and is much smaller than the old 30-pin design. Rather than an inch long, it's roughly the same size as a microUSB socket. It's about time for a change, but it'll probably tick off a few people and companies in the process.
iPad 4 battery life
With the iPad 3, Apple showed it is dedicated to maintaining standards. Although its screen was a much greater power drain than that of the iPad 2, thanks to its eyeball-melting Retina display resolution, Apple was willing to make the iPad 3 chunkier and heavier in order to ensure it kept the 10-hour battery life. We're looking at 10 hours minimum again for the iPad 4.
iPad 4 keyboard and stylus
Recent trends in the tech world have led many to ask whether the iPad 4 will feature a keyboard module or a digitiser stylus. These are some ideas to keep an eye on.
Aside from convertible tablets like the Asus Transformer tabs, not many tablets to date have offered good keyboard modules, but that's about to change. Many of the Windows 8 tablets revealed at IFA 2012 feature snazzy keyboards that clip near-seamlessly into the tablet, and often boost battery life too.
Some of these same tablets incorporate digitiser layers from Wacom as well. This effectively turns the tablet into a cut-down graphics tablet, a bit like the Wacom Intuos 5. With pressure sensitivity, a digitiser-equipped tablet offers much more realistic handwriting and drawing than a capacitive styus, like those you might use with a current iPad.
We seriously doubt Apple would market the iPad 4 as a tool for graphics professionals, but devices like the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 show that there's an increasingly convincing lifestyle angle to be made for digitiser styluses.
Few are predicting immense innovation to come from the Apple design studio with the iPad 4, but it's early days at this point. The reported existence of the separate iPad mini suggests a much larger screen is unlikely, but as features like pressure-sensitive styluses are set to become much more accepted as a norm rather than a niche, their inclusion is possible.
Check back soon for more iPad 4 news.