The moment is finally upon us. Apple is ready to unveil its next-generation iPad -- presumably called iPad 3 -- and will do so on Wednesday, March 7 in San Francisco. The Cupertino, Calif.-based company released invitations for the product event on Tuesday morning, which will be held in the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Apple's preferred location for big events like these, according to AllThingsD's John Paczkowski.
Apple included a single message in its invitation: We have something you really have to see. And touch.
Expected Features in the iPad 3
The iPad 3 is said to feature an improved camera, a bigger battery, and a dual-LED backlit system to power an 2048 x 1536 true HD display that looks, according to a source who spoke to The New York Times, truly amazing. Apple's dual-LED solution makes the iPad's screen noticeably brighter, but it also apparently solved several puzzling issues with heat dissipation and battery consumption.
There is an ongoing dispute over whether the iPad 3 will be powered by a dual-core A5X chip or a quad-core A6 chip. Code found within the iOS 5.1 beta release showed references to both chips, which indicates that Apple has built both and will wait until the last minute to announce which chip will go into which device. Assuming Apple also releases a new Apple TV box at the March 7 event, the Apple TV could be powered by the A5X while the iPad 3 could run on the more powerful A6.
The iPad 3 will also apparently be the first Apple iOS device to feature the high-speed LTE network. The Wall Street Journal confirms that AT&T and Verizon Wireless are getting ready to sell an LTE-capable iPad, which could achieve faster download and upload speeds compared to 3G technologies.
Apple hoped to include LTE in the iPhone 4S, but the current implementations of LTE in phones caused very short battery life, which was a major complaint by users. Apple CEO Tim Cook, in a company earnings conference call in April 2011, said first-generation LTE chipsets force a lot of design compromises.
The iPhone 4 PCB [printed circuit board] is already incredibly small, not leaving any room for an extra chip to enable LTE without shrinking the size of the battery, said Anand Shimpi, a chip expert and CEO of Anandtech.
Fortunately, Qualcomm recently unveiled the fifth iteration of its new chip, which supports TD-SCDMA, TD-LTE, HSPA+, EV-DO, embedded GPS, and LTE on TDD and FDD networks worldwide. The chip works with Android and Windows 8 devices, but by targeting so many different carriers, there's a high degree of likelihood that this will be the same chip inside the iPhone 5.
Apple has also reportedly upgraded its front and rear cameras for better Facetime and pictures. This is no surprise -- the camera system on the iPad 2 is now considered low-end, given that it only records up to 720p HD and requires tapping to focus. Assuming Apple outfitted the iPad 3 to shoot stills and video like the iPhone 4S, expect autofocus, video stabilization and full 1080p HD video recording.
Another reason to believe the iPad 3 can shoot 1080p video: Starting late last year, Apple reportedly asked several movie studios to submit content to the iTunes Store in 1080p.
Thus far, 1080p HD content has largely eluded users of Apple products, with HD versions of videos on the company's digital download service maxing out 720p (1280 x 720) and chief executive Steve Jobs balking at adoption of Blu-ray on Macs due to licensing complications and other challenges that he said threatened to translate into a 'bag of hurt.' But that could begin to change later this year, as a handful of feature films being submitted to the iTunes Store for a release in the September and October timeframe are being sent with documentation for an optional 1920 x 1080 resolution, according to people familiar with the matter.
Apple is expected to launch a new version of its operating system, iOS 5.1, along with the iPad 3. If this is true, iOS 5.1 could offer support for 1080p HD videos. The update would also apply to the Apple TV, which currently maxes out at 720p HD. Assuming iOS 5.1 releases alongside a new iPad and Apple TV device, users could start watching full HD videos on their Apple TVs, Mac computers and new iPad 3s starting in early March.
What Apple's iPad 3 Looks Like
On Monday, parts reseller iLab Factory, which provided Sharp with the necessary components to build the iPad 3's high resolution display, leaked photos of the iPad 3's exterior shell. In the same way Apple upgraded the iPhone 4 into the iPhone 4S, the exterior of the iPad 3 mirrors that of the iPad 2, despite completely renovated and upgraded innards. In other words, this could be an iPad 2S.
The iLab Factory photos also revealed that the iPad 3 back panel hints at a slightly thicker profile, approximately 1 mm thicker than its predecessor. The iPad 2 was only 88 mm deep, but the slightly expanded form is likely intended to house Apple's upgraded components, including the bigger battery and the dual-LED system.
Inside the shell of the iPad 3, Apple reshaped the mount of the camera, which hints at an camera system that matches or improves upon the 8-megapixel state-of-the-art solution built inside the iPhone 4S.
What Will Apple Name The Tablet?
Apple's third iPad closely mirrors the iPad 2 design, which has been confirmed by various leaked photos of the tablet. Besides a larger camera lens and a space for a bigger battery, the overall form factor of the iPad looks unchanged.
Examining Apple's track record, the company doesn't often assign a new iOS device number (iPad 2, iPhone 4, etc.) unless the exterior design is different from prior models. The iPad 2 was drastically thinner than the iPad, so it deserved a new name. The iPhone 4 was different from the iPhone 3GS, and so on. On the flip side, Apple's October 2011 iPhone had an identical form factor to the iPhone 4, which ended up being called the iPhone 4S instead of 5.
If the leaked photos of the device are accurate, in the same way people can't distinguish an iPhone 4 from an iPhone 4S, a identical-looking iPad 2 could easily earn the name 2S. Yet, if global LTE is in fact an option, Apple may feel compelled to give a significantly faster tablet a significantly different name.
How Much Will the iPad 3 Cost?
Traditionally, when Apple launches a new product, the company will preserve the price but lower the prices of the older models. However, MacRumors points to a single user of Sina Weibo, a Chinese networking site similar to both Twitter and Facebook, who uploaded an image that shows a pricing comparison of the iPad 3 to the iPad 2. The spreadsheet is in Chinese, but the headlings labeled from left to right read: Apple iPad Model, iPad 2 US Price, iPad 3 US Price, and iPad 3 RMB equivalent price. The final column is calculated based on the exchange rate.
Compared to the U.S. price of the iPad 2, which starts at $499 for the 16 GB Wi-Fi-only model, the starting price of the iPad 3 is listed at $579 and goes as high as $899 for the model with 64GB, Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity.
However, in case this report to hike prices of the tablet is false, there's a great chance Apple will price the iPad 3 at $499 (the current starting price of the iPad 2), while the iPad 2 would likely drop to about $399, and the original iPad to $299, or possibly even $199. If Apple decides to sell its two-year-old tablet for $199, it would undoubtedly KO most tablet competitors, including the $199 Amazon Kindle Fire and the $249 Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet, which both debuted last quarter. Both tablets earned decent reviews, but most critics still maintained Apple's tablet was the premium option.