Next week, Apple is widely expected to introduce the next version of its popular iPad.
Apple's media invitation to the San Francisco event features an iOS calendar icon for March 2, its upper-right corner peeled away to reveal the edge of an iPad. That not only removes any questions over the focus of Apple's announcement, but also poses a challenge to Motorola, whose Android-based Xoom tablet just hit store shelves.
The Xoom, along with other Android-based tablets either on the market or in the development pipeline, aim to break the iPad's headlock on the consumer tablet market. It comes with Google's Android 3.0, also known as "Honeycomb," which has been optimized for tablets. Hardware includes a 10.1-inch screen (with 1280 x 800 resolution), Nvidia Tegra 2 dual-core processor, front- and rear-facing cameras, and 32GB memory.
Pair those specs with an $800 price tag, and it seems clear the Xoom is aiming at the market segment currently occupied by the highest-end iPads. But Apple isn't a company to take challenges lightly: by all indications, the next iPad will include a number of features designed to keep the tablet on top of the market.
And therein lies a bit of a challenge for Apple. Since its April 2010, the iPad has sold around 15 million units. If the next iPad's new features prove so wide-ranging and spectacular as to instantly antiquate its predecessor, it could irritate a substantial portion of those 15 million users who shelled out hundreds of dollars for their tablet. On the other hand, if the iPad 2 offers only incremental upgrades to the existing software and hardware, Apple could lose ground against increasingly aggressive (and increasingly powerful) competitors.
With that in mind, what potential features will make the cut in the iPad 2?
Front- and Rear-Facing Cameras
Rumors have circulated for months that Apple intends to integrate both front- and rear-facing cameras into the next iPad. That would allow the company to blunt competition from other tablets with a dual-camera setup, while letting iPad users take advantage of the FaceTime video-conferencing application already present in the iPhone and iPod Touch. In addition, an iPad rear camera would likely have the capability to take both photos and high-definition video. Likelihood: Almost Certain
Apple likes things thin. Successive generations of its mobile devices undergo an inevitable slimming-down, losing ounces and millimeters until they are sleek, light, and that much more droppable into the nearest soap-filled sink. The next iPad will likely be no different, with a thinner body and (perhaps) retooled bezels. Likelihood: Very Likely
Ever since Apple introduced its Retina Display with the iPhone 4 and newest iPod Touch, pundits and analysts have wondered when it would give the iPad a similar high-resolution screen. A January report in the publication DigiTimes suggested the iPad 2 would boast 2048 x 1536 resolution, something immediately countered by some analysts.
"I think the DigiTimes story probably got the resolution right, but the iPad version wrong," IDC research manager Tom Mainelli reported told PC World, in a quote then circulated on sites such as Slashgear and Digital Arts. "Our sources say Apple has requested that manufacturers begin work on displays with that resolution for the iPad 3." Likelihood: Unlikely
Without a radical upgrade in hardware, Apple may rely on new software features to sell the iPad-particularly if it wants to push back against Android 3.0. Those adjustments could range from more refined multi-touch controls to new platforms along the lines of iOS's recently introduced Game Center.
For months, rumors have also circulated about what Apple intends to do with the massive server facility it spent most of 2010 building in North Carolina. It's possible that the company could use its iPad event to unveil a cloud-based service, possibly for storing users' media content. Likelihood: Very Likely
Tablets are becoming more powerful. It's inevitable, and it's exactly the sort of escalation that Apple needs to master if it wants to maintain its sizable share of that market. In that spirit, the company could announce a new tablet with an upgrade from the current iPad's 1GHz A4 processor. Likelihood: Very Likely
Lack of Home Button
Back in January, the blog Boy Genius Report suggested that Apple was on the verge of making a fairly radical alteration to the iPad. "We have exclusively been told that the reason Apple just added multi-touch gestures for the iPad in the latest iOS 4.3 beta is because the iPad will be losing the home button," read the Jan. 12 posting. "Instead of button taps, you will use new multi-touch gestures to navigate to the home screen and also to launch the app switcher."
Some tablets have been drifting away from the reliance on mechanical buttons to navigate portions of the user interface. For example, Research In Motion's upcoming PlayBook features a touch-sensitive case: instead of hitting a button to bring up the home screen, for example, you "flick" your finger across the BlackBerry logo embossed along the bottom of the tablet.
Could Apple be prepping to march down the same road with the iPad 2? The company's emphasis on minimalistic design certainly puts such a concept in the realm of possibility; but with no sites aside from Boy Genius Report remarking on the lack of home button, it seems the rumor mill isn't quite behind this one. Likelihood: Somewhat Plausible
Support for Adobe Flash
From all indications, Apple CEO Steve Jobs' dislike of Adobe Flash still burns with the fury of 10,000 suns. Likelihood: Ha. Hahahaha. No.