Friday, January 28, 2011

Assessing the latest iPad 2 rumors, hints and allegations

It was a busy weekend for people looking for insights on the next version of Apple's iPad. I've been seeing sustained chatter about a successor to that best-selling tablet computer since at least December, but now it's starting to get specific.

The obvious feature on the next iPad will be front and back cameras. Now that Apple has anointed FaceTime as its preferred spelling for "phone call"--while competing tablets are all touting their own video-calling cameras--there's no way that the next iPad won't match the iPhone 4 and the current iPod touch in this regard.

But what other features will such a successor bring? A report by Engadget on Friday spotlighted an intriguing, improbable addition: an SD Card slot.

This would make perfect sense in the abstract--pretty much every non-Apple mobile device uses this format, or at least its microSD variant, for removable storage. But Apple has yet to standardize on SD Card slots in its desktops and laptops and has never added them to its mobile devices. I would be surprised if the next iPad had one.

The Engadget post also predicted that 3G models of the iPad 2 (which, to be clear, Apple will simply call "the iPad" if it sticks to its habits) will support both AT&T and Verizon's incompatible networks. We already know there will be a Verizon-ready iPad 3G, since an executive at Verizon Wireless blabbed about it to Bloomberg--on the record, even. But for Apple to adopt a hybrid GSM/CDMA design when half of that chipset would be useless in most of the world would be something else.

How about a higher-resolution screen? Reports at MacRumors and elsewhere have pointed to graphic elements in the latest version of the iPad's iBooks program to forecast a display with a 2,048-by-1,536 pixel resolution. I do expect a sharper picture than what the current model delivers, but those numbers, far above HD, seem like overkill to me. They also seem implausible at today's $500-and-up price structure.

Well, what if the iPad 2 cost more? A sighting of three vague listings in Best Buy's inventory database suggests the new model could start at $699 $599. That I can believe, because I've seen Apple do it before. I can almost picture Steve Jobs explaining why a $100 price increase represents an amazing and revolutionary bargain considering the new model's brilliance ... except, of course, he won't be heading up any product launches while he's on sick leave.

Finally, an AppleInsider post suggests that the next iPad will add a Mini DisplayPort video output. On one hand, Apple has been quasi-religious about keeping its proprietary iPod dock connector as the sole cable connection on its mobile devices. On the other, it's been pushing Mini DisplayPort as the future of video output on its desktops and laptops--even though HDMI makes plugging in an HDTV far easier.

(TechCrunch's iPad 2 rumor roundup, which I saw after I'd begun sketching out this post, offers a similar rundown of these possibilities and covers some I hadn't considered.)

I'm tentative about a lot of these forecasts (I'll leave it to you to suggest in the comments which ones are most flawed), but there are two more iPad 2 predictions I can now make with at least 95 percent accuracy. One, the next iPad will arrive in stores almost exactly a year after the first one, making for a retail debut in the first weekend of April. Two, people will line up to buy the first allocation of retail models, even though millions more will be on their way from factories overseas.

11:16 a.m. Fixed a typo in the supposed price of a new iPad as seen in a Best Buy computer system.

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