Apple will unveil its next-gen iPad in less than 24 hours, but the Cupertino, Calif.-based company will reportedly launch the device on Friday, March 16. Whether the tablet is called the iPad 3 or the iPad HD, we won't officially know until tomorrow's event begins in San Francisco's Yerba Buena Center for the Arts at 10 a.m. Pacific.
The March 16 release date comes from Seth Weintraub of 9 to 5 Mac, who cites an Apple Store source who has been reliable in the past. It makes perfect sense for Apple to launch the next-gen iPad HD nine days after it's announced: March 16 gives Apple plenty of time between the announcement and the launch to teach Apple Store employees how to use the device, and the date also coincides with Apple's plans to launch new Apple Stores in London and in Houston, Texas.
Even though Apple used to wait long periods between the unveiling and the release date, this has not been the case in recent years. In October, Apple launched the iPhone 4S nine days after the smartphone was announced on Oct. 4.
Apple announced the iPad unveiling on Feb. 28, issuing invitations to media outlets with a simple message: We have something you really have to see. And touch. The message was accompanied by a photo of a finger touching a beautiful touchscreen, which is almost surely an iPad.
With the unveiling just a day away, people are already getting in line to purchase the iPad HD. Hype for the unknown Apple tablet is at an all-time high, even though most of what is known about the iPad is derived from rumors and anonymous tipsters.
iPad HD: Features to Expect
The iPad HD 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.
The iPad HD will also apparently be the first Apple iOS device to feature the high-speed 4G 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, and Reuters again confirmed the news on March 6.
Apple originally 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 HD 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 HD will 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 HD. 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.
What's the Name?
Frankly, this is the truth: The next-gen iPad is called the iPad HD, not the iPad 3. Live with it. Embrace it.
This name makes complete sense, after all. Besides the improved display, which reportedly doubles the pixel density of the iPad 2 to create a screen with four times the resolution of its predecessor, the next-gen iPad is pretty much the same as last year's model. Yes, Apple will probably give a minor boost to battery and network capability, but without any revolutionary features, it appears as though looks will be everything on March 7.
This would not be the first time Apple named a device after its main feature. The second-generation iPhone was called the iPhone 3G because of its connectivity to the high-speed 3G network; today's media would've given it the name iPhone 2, without question. 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.
iPad HD: What Does It Look Like?
Parts reseller iLab Factory, which provided Sharp with the necessary components to build the iPad HD's high resolution display, leaked photos of the iPad HD's exterior shell. In the same way Apple upgraded the iPhone 4 into the iPhone 4S, the exterior of the iPad HD mirrors that of the iPad 2, despite completely renovated and upgraded innards.
The iLab Factory photos also revealed that the iPad HD 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 HD, 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.
iPad HD: How Much Will It 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. 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.
Thankfully, 9 to 5 Mac refuted MacRumors' report with its own, thanks to the site's tip man Mr. X.
We've gotten word that iPad pricing is going to be the same across the board as the current iPad 2 models which should be no big surprise given Apple's history - they rarely raise prices, said 9 to 5 Mac's Mark Gurman. Even better, some countries with currencies doing better than the US dollar should expect to see marginal drops in prices.
Gurman adds that the pricing change will have no bearing on LTE, one way or another. The iPad HD will reportedly be the first Apple iOS device to feature LTE's high-speed network, which can achieve faster download and upload speeds compared to 3G technologies. The Wall Street Journal and Reuters confirm that AT&T and Verizon Wireless are both gearing up to sell an LTE-capable iPad.
By keeping the price of the iPad HD at $499, Apple can reduce the prices of its previous tablets. The once-$499 iPad 2 would drop to about $399, while the original iPad could drop to $299 or even $249. A cheap Apple iPad could compete with Amazon and Barnes & Noble, which are looking to make a dent in the tablet space with the cheaply-priced Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet, respectively. Both tablets cost $199.
Expect iPad HD pricing to start at $499.