Apple will reportedly unveil its next-generation iPad -- presumably called iPad 3 -- on March 7. But while most reports say Apple's third iPad will mirror the form factor of the iPad 2, is there a chance that Apple will release an 8-inch iPad instead?
The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that Apple is also testing an 8-inch iPad in its labs, which may or may not be introduced alongside the iPad 3 in March. The news aligns with an earlier report from Apple's Taiwanese supply chain, which said the Cupertino, Calif.-based company would release a second, smaller tablet in October. Older reports similarly stated Apple would release a 7.85-inch iPad after the iPad 3. That tablet would reportedly upgrade its hardware specs throughout the device, and come with killer applications to compete with Android or Windows-based tablets.
Apple officials, who declined to be named, said the 8-inch iPad would feature a similar resolution to the iPad 2. This differs from all recent reports, which said Apple would double the pixel density of the iPad 2 in the iPad 3, with a truly amazing 2048 x 1536 true HD display. Assuming those reports are accurate, the 8-inch iPad the Wall Street Journal referred to could be an iPad Mini, or an iPad 4.
A smaller tablet would make sense for Apple, as more competitors like Amazon and Barnes & Noble look to break into the tablet space with cheap tablet offerings of their own, which both cost less than half the price of an iPad 2. Amazon's Kindle Fire measures 7 inches and costs $199. Barnes & Noble's Nook Tablet also measures 7 inches, but costs $249.
Apple experienced great success by releasing different shapes and sizes of its iPod music player; it's totally possible the company could replicate this formula with their tablets, too.
The tablet market, which was virtually non-existent prior to 2010, has become extremely popular in the last two years. Yet, people don't want tablets; they want iPads. According to market researcher IDC, the Apple iPad represented roughly 62 percent of all global tablet shipments in the third quarter of 2011.
Building a smaller tablet, however, would be going against the will of Steve Jobs, who said in October 2010 that the iPad's current 9.7-inch size was the minimum size required to create great tablet apps.
Yet, Jobs admitted that he was wrong from time to time, and he might be wrong here. Different sized tablets, as long as they served a particular purpose, could be a real boon for Apple, giving customers more options to own an iPad without needing to buy the newest and most expensive model. The iPad 2, when given a 64 GB capacity and Wi-Fi and 3G options, costs $829.
There's a great chance that Apple will release an 8-inch iPad, but it's unlikely that the tablet will arrive in March. Apple has enjoyed tremendous success releasing one product at a time -- as evidenced by the record-breaking sales of the iPhone 4S, which was not sold alongside another iPhone 5 like many speculated. If the Journal's reports are accurate, users could expect a mini 8-inch iPad in October or November.
Meanwhile, most Apple fans are looking ahead to March 7, the release date reported by iMore's Rene Ritchie, who cites sources who have been reliable in the past. Ritchie has a solid track record for accurate reporting, particularly with Apple news and release dates. Last August, Ritchie correctly reported Apple's next iPhone would be unveiled in the first week of October and would be called iPhone 4S. At the time, all others called the speculative device the iPhone 5.
Ritchie's newest report aligns well with previous reports, including AllThingsD's Feb. 9 report that said Apple would launch its next iPad in the first week of March. AllThingsD's John Paczkowski added that the Cupertino, Calif.-based company had chosen San Francisco for the unveiling, 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.
The iPad 3 is said to feature an improved camera, a bigger battery, and a dual-LED backlit system to power the 2048 x 1536 display. The dual-LED solution makes the iPad's screen noticeably brighter, but it also apparently solved several puzzling issues with heat dissipation and battery consumption. As far as the tablet's shape and size are concerned, leaked images of the shell reveal the iPad 3 will have an identical form factor to the iPad 2, although it will apparently be about 1 mm thicker to accommodate the bigger battery, dual-LED system, and LTE.
That's right, LTE. The Wall Street Journal reported that AT&T and Verizon Wireless are both preparing for Apple's launch, which will affect both companies' 4G networks.If this report turns out to be true, the iPad 3 will be the first Apple device compatible with LTE's high-speed network.
Apple hoped to feature LTE in the iPhone 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 considerably smaller than current LTE chipsets. The new chip was originally expected to debut in the second or third quarter but it looks as if Apple hastened the process so LTE is included in time for its next iPad.
While some reports have said otherwise, Ritchie believes Apple's iPad 3 will be powered by a new quad-core Apple-made A6 chip, which doubles the power and speed of the A5 chip currently found in the iPad 2 andiPhone 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.
An unnamed source who claims to be in possession of the iPad 3 also said 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. Those reports said the J2 model would be a more ambitious upgrade from the iPad 2 compared to the J1, and LTE is certainly ambitious.
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.
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. 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.
Apple has not released any information about the pricing for the iPad 3, but assuming the company does what it did at the iPad 2 launch, the iPad 3 could possibly cost $499, the price of the last two generations of iPads, while earlier models will receive a price cut. Assuming Apple continues to sell the original iPad, the iPad 2 could drop to about $399, and the original iPad to $299, or possibly $249 or $199, which would undoubtedly KO most tablet competitors.
Code for the iPad 3 was discovered in November when Apple released its iOS 5.1 beta update to developers, which accidentally revealed references to a next-generation iPhone and two next-gen iPads, internally named iPhone 5,1, iPad 2,4 and iPad 3,3, respectively. Analysts believe the iPad listed as iPad 2,4 is not a new iPad, but rather an upgraded iPad 2 with WiMAX functionality, possibly powered by Sprint. This could in fact be the iPad 3 slated for March, while the iPad 3,3, which is believed to be a completely new device, could be the iPad 4 coming in October.
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.
The company's shares shares traded at $5044.77, up $1.77, another record, in Tuesday trading.