As Apple readies its next-generation tablet -- the iPad 3 -- for a March release date, countless questions about the device still remain. Who made the display? Is it thinner or thicker than the iPad 2? What does it look like? Thanks to another batch of photos leaked by parts reseller iLab Factory on Monday, we can finally confirm what the tablet will look like.
If you were expecting a radically different-looking tablet from the iPad 2, prepare for a minor letdown. 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.
iLab Factory reportedly provided Sharp with the necessary parts to build the high-resolution iPad 3 display, and in the company's posting, various iPad 3 components are displayed alongside those of the iPad 2 for quick comparison. The post shows how Sharp's back panel aligned perfectly with the screw holes on the device's body, which led iLab Factory to conclude with a high degree of certainty that the LCD panel made by Sharp is intended to match the chassis of the iPad 3.
We assembled the back plate of iPad 3 (?) into the LCD panel by Sharp Corporation, which we've got the other day, iLab Factory said in a blog post. The arrows indicate points which the screw holes are just the right size. Now, it became clear that the LCD panel made by Sharp was designed for this back panel.
The way the LCD panel folds and connects to the base, and the way the new dock connector perfectly fits the slightly thicker shell, only helps validate a Sharp-made iPad 3 display.
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The post 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 a bigger battery, an improved camera, and a dual-LED lit system to make the 2048 x 1536 display even brighter. By adding a second LED bar into its next-gen tablet, Apple also managed to solve a puzzling problem involving heat dissipation and battery consumption.
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 camera built inside the iPhone 4S. 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 documetnation 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. If this is the case, the update would also apply to the Apple TV device, which currently maxes out at 720p HD. In this way, users could start watching full HD videos on their Apple TVs, Mac computers and new iPads starting in early March.
AllThingsD said on Feb. 9 that Apple had chosen the first week of March 2012 to introduce the iPad 3, adding that the Cupertino, Calif.-based company had chosen to unveil the tablet in San Francisco, presumably at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Apple's preferred location for big events like these. If Apple holds true to tradition, it will make the tablet available for purchase roughly a week or so after the unveiling.
An unnamed source who claims to be in possession of the iPad 3 also says Apple has built two different versions of the device, including a tablet that only uses Wi-Fi and one that is capable of Wi-Fi, embedded GSM and CDMA, and global LTE connections. The unnamed source procured the data using a development and debugging tool on the tablet called iBoot, which revealed model numbers J1 and J2, which had confirmed earlier reports that Apple's next-gen tablets would be codenamed J1 and J2.
Earlier reports said the J2 model would be a more ambitious upgrade from the iPad 2 compared to the J1. If the source's report is true, the iPad 3 will be the first Apple device to include global LTE for all carriers. LTE would indeed make the J2 model a far more ambitious tablet; Apple hoped to feature LTE in theiPhone 4S, but due to its short battery life, CEO Tim Cook said LTE was nixed from the smartphone because first generation LTE chipsets force a lot of design compromises. That reportedly changed in December, when reports surfaced that Qualcomm had developed a new, thinner LTE chipset, which is considerably smaller than current LTE chipsets. The new chip was originally expected to debut in the second or third quarter of 2012, but it looks like Apple hastened the process so LTE is included in time for its next iPad.
The one question still left unanswered about the iPad 3 is whether or not Apple upgraded the tablet's A5 chip into a quad-core A6 processor, which would double the speed and power found in the iPad 2 and iPhone 4S. Code discovered within the device revealed the model number S5L8945X; for reference, Apple's A4 model number was S5L8930X, and the A5 chip was S5L8940X. The code said the S5L8945X chip would appear in both versions of the iPad 3, but there's a good chance this chip is a step between a dual-core A5 chip and a quad-core A6 chip.
The new iPad 3 will likely make Apple's earlier tablets cheaper. Assuming Apple continues to sell the original iPad, the iPad 3 would cost about $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.
Apple announced its best quarter in the company's 35-year history on Jan. 24, with net income of $13.1 billion on revenue of $46.3 billion. In the final 14 weeks of 2011, Apple sold 15.4 million iPads. In all of 2011, the company sold about 47.5 million iPads.