Special report: iPad 3 / New iPad : What You Need To Know
Hands on: iPad 3 Review
The iPad 3 is almost upon us. Apple has announced an iPad-related event for 7 March in San Francisco. If it's not the iPad 3 launch date, we'll eat all the hats in Harrods. With virtually any other tablet from any other manufacturer, we'd know almost everything by now.
But Apple is different - no official details have been released about the third-generation tab. If we piece together the clues, though, we can make many a worthwhile guess. Here's just about everything we know right now.
The Screen and Body
Prototype casings for the iPad 3 have been spotted, suggesting that - no surprise - the next iPad will use the same 4:3 aspect ratio and have a similar-sized body. However, the casing is thicker. It hasn't reverted to the more angular style of the original iPad, but appears to have gained a millimetre or two.
(picture credit: MIC)
Why? It's not for the look. It's to allow for a bigger battery to maintain excellent battery life with a more power-hungry screen.
Another long bandied-about rumour of the iPad 3, and the iPad 2 before it, is that it will feature a "Retina Display" style screen. This is the term Apple used to describe the iPhone 4's screen - because it has so many pixels, you can't see them with the naked eye. Unless you try really, really hard, which'll probably just give you a headache.
Until now, "Retina Display" has meant a pixel density of 326dpi - dots per inch - as seen in the iPhone 4 and 4S. To attain this on a 9.7in screen, you'd need a resolution much higher than 1080p. 2,533 x 1,900 pixels to be exact - a preposterous resolution for something that's likely to sell for under £500.
The conjecture consensus suggests the actual resolution will be 2048 by 1536. This is "just" 264dpi, but as tablets are usually held further away from your face than a phone, the "look ma, no pixels" effect will be similar. This size, while non-standard in consumer displays, will also allow for the pixel doubling that makes non Retina Display apps work just fine on the iPhone 4/4S and iPhone apps work on the iPad.
A rumour that surfaced late last year also suggests that the basic screen tech will change. Both the iPad and iPad 2 use IPS (in-plane switching) screens, but the next-gen model may use an IGZO panel. IGZO stands for Indium Gallium Zinc Oxide, representing what the thing's made of.
Neutrino must be beside himself
Why IGZO? It uses less power than a comparable IPS panel - Sharp claims 33 per cent less - will allow for high pixel density and is relatively affordable to manufacture.
This rumour started because Sharp started producing huge quantities of the things, without there being any commercially-available product using the panel type out there. It makes sense, but there are also competing rumours that imply Apple will continue to use LG displays - as seen in the majority of iPad 2 tablets.
Fingers crossed, the iPad 3 won't change the price of Apple's tablet dramatically. However, the new screen could easily result in a price increase. As we've seen in 1080p tablets like the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime HD and Acer Iconia Tab A700, the price may be closer to £500 than the £400 of the current iPad. This would then give Apple room to knock the price down once more in 2013, with the iPad 4 - giving the "big A" another chance to tell buyers how lucky they are.
Supporting this idea of a less-accessible price, there's word that a budget version of the iPad 2 may also be unveiled on 7 March. If true, this ultra-accessible tablet will likely have 8GB of storage rather than 16GB and may use a different processor.
The iPad 2 uses a dual-core A5 chip, but the as-yet unconfirmed A5x chip is also being discussed. Whether this is a chip for the full-price iPad 3 or the cheapy alternative is not yet clear, but it could well be an iterative take on the current chip that's more efficient and cheaper to manufacture (in the long run).
This also leaves the long-rumoured A6 chip to explain, though. There are conflicting rumours suggesting it's both dual-core and quad-core, but everyone generally agrees that the iPad 3 will be a fair bit more powerful than its predecessor.
Do we care about cores? Yes and no. The iPad is the one tablet that will always benefit from more power - its strong app culture willing to suck-up whatever resources are pushed its way - but cores are becoming the new megahertz, where it's as much about marketing as what the extra power will add to the experience.
No massive iOS updates are expected to launch alongside the iPad 3 - it'll almost certainly use the same ultra-simple UI. iOS is little more than a window onto your app collection, and the higher pixel-density won't change that. Not yet, at least.
The higher-resolution screen does provide plenty of new potential for app and games makers, however. Expect sharper, more detailed visuals will less of the jaggy edges non-anti aliased games often have. The effect on apps may be even greater.
More pixels will mean sharper graphics
Higher pixel density lets more information be crammed onto the screen without it appearing cramped or unreadable. Multi-pane apps will work better on the iPad 3 - making desktop computer-like apps viable - good news for those who use their iPad as a productivity device.
When the rumour that the iPad 3 would be thicker than its predecessor arrived, it came with a companion nugget - there's more space for the camera within the casing. This points towards a more powerful sensor than the lowly 0.7-megapixel unit of the current model.
However, we doubt whether this is something Apple will have put too much focus on. Previous iPad designs demonstrate Apple understands that the camera is not a hugely important part of a tablet, used primarily for video chat and taking photos of yourself and manipulating them to make you look fat/old/like a cat. We doubt whether the iPad series will jump the shark by becoming camera-focused, yet.
The Release Date
The iPad 3 will almost certainly launch on 7 March, when the Apple event will be held. AllThingsD says that the tablet will then go on sale just a week later. Apple never makes buyers wait too long to spend their cash once the full truth of a product has been revealed.
However, there may well be a slightly longer wait for UK buyers. As a more significant update than the iPad 2, early supply issues may arise.
What It Won't Have
Like the iPhone series, the iPad tablets are stuck on a set of rails that determine features that are likely and highly unlikely to feature. The iPad 3 isn't going to derail this plan by letting you expand memory easily, plug-in any old keyboard, or mouse using a USB port, or drag and drop files to the internal memory.
This is an iPad, and while we fully expect it will be a marvel in some respects, it's unlikely to do much to convince those who loathe the Apple approach. Stay tuned for more on the tablet in the run-up to its launch next week.