In January, Apple news site 9to5Mac received unconfirmed images of what looks to be the rear panel for the next iPad -- likely called "iPad 5," or fifth-generation iPad with Retina Display. With these photos as a frame of reference, 9to5Mac sister site MacRumors commissioned Italian designer Federico Ciccarese to create some fresh renderings of the iPad 5, in order to show off the new form factor, features and specs of Apple's rumored next-gen tablet.

The iPad 5 concept features the same 9.7-inch display, but its left and right bezels are virtually gone, leaving only enough space on the top and bottom to fit the FaceTime camera and Home Button. With its chamfered edges and curves and dark aluminum backplate, the iPad 5, in other words, would look like a stretched-out iPad Mini.


Interestingly enough, the dimensions of the iPad 5 concept appear nearly identical to those claimed by Apple blog Macotakara in December, which pegged the iPad 5 to be 4mm shorter and 17mm narrower than the iPad 4. At about 2 mm thinner than the fourth-generation iPad, the iPad 5 will be almost as thin as the first-generation iPad Mini.

The challenge for Apple, obviously, is figuring out how to squeeze and rearrange all of these upgraded specs and features into the smaller frame of this fifth-generation iPad. Apple may need to adopt a smaller or thinner display, or more likely use smaller components like chips and batteries, just to make everything fit.

Ciccarese's concept photos for the iPad 5 are a likely approximation of what Apple will actually release later this year. The specs of these photos match this year's report from KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo -- one of the best in the world at predicting Apple's future product pipeline -- who said Apple will release a "significantly lighter and slimmer" iPad sometime in the third quarter of 2013. Kuo also added that the new iPad design will more closely resemble the iPad Mini rather than the previously-released full-size iPads.

While a Q3 2013 release date is likely for the iPad 5, Topeka Capital Markets analyst Brian White said in January that believes Apple will release the iPad 5, as well as the iPad Mini 2, in March. While his predicted release date was different from Kuo's, White similarly predicted the iPad 5 would be thinner and lighter than the iPad 4, while the iPad Mini 2 would be mostly identical to last year's iPad Mini, but with a Retina display.

We haven't heard too many rumors about new features in the iPad 5, but we have heard that Apple is spending a great deal of time and energy on the display of its next full-size iPad.

Apple is reportedly very interested in switching to Sharp's ultra-thin IGZO technology: In late December, DigiTimes and Apple analyst Horace Dediu both mentioned Apple’s alleged investment in the ultra-thin IGZO displays produced by Sharp, predicting the inclusion of the technology in Apple’s next batch of iOS devices, including iPhones and iPads. Dediu also pointed to Apple’s recent $2.3 billion investment in “product tooling, manufacturing process equipment and infrastructure,” believing the cash was used to help bail out Sharp, which had been in financial straits in 2012. If Sharp is really going “all in” on IGZO technology as it was reported, it’s possible Apple saved Sharp to leverage its investment in the next generation of displays.

IGZO display technology is not only thin and tough, but it can even handle higher screen densities than Apple’s Retina Display, which is visually stunning on its own. IGZO displays can reportedly handle display densities north of 330 ppi; for a quick comparison, the new iPad 4 can only achieve 264 ppi.

One of the better advantages of IGZO display technology is its lower power consumption. Most Apple products, including the iPad 3 and 4, require cartoonishly big batteries to achieve just eight hours of power -- this is because current-gen Retina displays are extremely power hungry. If Apple wanted its iPhone 6 to not only last longer during the day but also charge faster when plugged in, IGZO seems to be the way to go for the next generation of iOS devices.

Giving credence to these rumors, Taiwan-based AU Optronics (AUO) is reportedly developing a Retina display for the next-generation iPad Mini, which may require IGZO technology to make it feasible.

Besides the display, we know what Kuo’s told us about the thinner and lighter build and form factor, and we’ve also seen a few interesting iPad patents for a built-in stand, and backside controls for gaming. We’ll likely hear more about the iPad 5’s features as we approach the tablet’s release date this year.

Apple sold 14 million iPad units in Q4 2012, and it plans to announce sales figures for the iPhone 5, iPad 4 and iPad Mini during the company’s Q1 2013 earnings report, scheduled to release on Jan. 23.