Jan. 20, 2011 at 12:56 AM ET
Now that the long wait for the Verizon iPhone is over in all but product itself, it's time to focus on that other elusive Apple product: the iPad. 2.
The first iPad has performed its service admirably, selling 14 million in the first 8 months. Despite its known shortcomings (sun-blindingly shiny screen, thick and kinda heavy, no flipping' camera), it was a solid device upon which Apple could launch its tablet OS. And the beauty is, if you bought a first-generation iPad, you'll be able to enjoy plenty of apps for years to come. The gift will keep on giving.
But if you haven't bought an iPad yet — or are thinking of getting a second because the first one keeps mysteriously disappearing into the hands of your significant other or your children — you gotta wait. Seriously. The second iPad is right around the corner, and the Apple rumor mill is churning out the speculative goodness even now.
So here's a basic rundown of what to expect:
Two cameras, front and back
If there's one sure thing in this crazy world we can all be certain of, it's that the next iPad will follow the latest iPhone and iPod Touch, and have two cameras with full FaceTime functionality. There are people who didn't buy the first iPad simply because it wasn't capable of videochats with grandkids. Now that there are many millions of FaceTime-capable machines (including all Macs with webcams), and Skype is getting its act together on the mobile video front, the iPad's video debut is nigh.
Thinner and lighter body
Nearly every report, from the freshest leaks to the ugliest rumors of last winter, suggests that the new iPad will be thinner and lighter than the current one. Why do we believe it? First, when has Apple refreshed a product to make it thicker and heavier? It's happened when there are good design or functionality reasons (more glass, larger hard drive), but mostly they strive to go thinner and lighter. Second, the iPad's weight is one of its key mainstream complaints. I don't know how they'll make it much lighter, but they're sure gonna try.
Dual-core processor with more RAM
Though this wasn't a big issue for most buyers, the sharpest geeks noticed that the iPad was underpowered, with only 256MB of RAM to support its 1GHz processor. Engadget has some clear evidence that Apple has a new multi-core chipset destined for the next iPhone and Apple TV. Meanwhile, the Android-based competition, led by the Motorola Xoom tablet, is gearing up with dual-core Nvidia chips. So while there's no concrete evidence, both Engadget and Gizmodo concur, the iPad 2 will likely have a dual-core chip, and some extra RAM to boot.
SD card slot
Yes, this may seem to come out of left field, but Engadget's well-informed tipster says that there will be "a dedicated SD slot built in" but "no traditional USB slot." Though it would be nice to see a USB port, it seems that Apple would be uncomfortable with it. Even the USB accessory currently sold — for $30, accompanied by an SD accessory — provides limited use. A built-in SD will save people $30, and a lot of confusion.
Dual GSM/CDMA chipset
Even if you don't keep up with the cellular jargon, just know that one of the strong rumors is that Apple is building one iPad that will be able to run on the wireless networks of both AT&T (GSM) and Verizon Wireless (CDMA). This not only makes sense given that Apple now has two powerhouse U.S. carrier partners, and it's cheaper for the manufacturer to produce one device that runs on both. It also means that, given the right configuration, Verizon could offer global roaming to its customers, something it won't be able to do with the new iPhone 4.
What we're sure we won't see this time around is an iPad that runs on the 4G LTE network that Verizon has up and running, and that AT&T will launch this year. Apple tends to proceed with caution when it comes to new wireless technologies; the safe bet is that LTE support comes in the spring of 2012, with iPad 3.
Slightly nicer screen
The biggest debate on the Internet is whether or not the screen on the iPad will be the same, slightly nicer or waaaaaay nicer, that is, the tablet equivalent of the iPhone 4's "retina" display, where the human eye simply can't make out the pixels. Alas, Apple know-it-all blogger John Gruber at Daring Fireball says his sources refute the "retina" possibility, and both he and a semiconductor-industry veteran named Avery Pennarun make a strong economic argument why it's impossible. The question that remains is whether or not the screen resolution may be upped a tad, and again, the answer is, "probably not." However, certain screen improvements can be made, including bringing the pixels closer to the front of the glass, and increasing brightness — these fixes probably will be evident.
After educated guesses and reasonable rumors, there are things we'd love to see, but have absolutely no evidence to support. Wouldn't it be nice if the iPad 2 had a ...
The biggest reason to buy a Kindle right now is that you like reading outside. People who get iPads quickly become vampires, shrinking from the awful sunlight that burns their eyes. There are some key LCD technologies that help make screens more tolerable in the outdoors, generally by bouncing sunlight off of the rear of the screen. Will Apple invest in this "transflective" technology? They haven't yet, but my eyes burn (literally) for this.
I don't know about you, but my iPad spends more time in the sticky hands of a toddler than it does in my own. Apple isn't good at spill-proofing, or water-proofing, or shatter-proofing, or anything proofing. In fact, Apple is good at selling beautiful breakable objects that are easily replaced by newer, more beautiful, but equally breakable objects. But tablets are cookbooks, kids books, beach accompaniments, travel mates — it would be nice if Apple acknowledged this, and ruggedized the thing, even a wee bit.
$399 price tag
OK, so this isn't totally baseless. If the screen stays the same, there's no massive cost increase to the device itself. Meanwhile, now that the company's sold 14 million devices, production cost per unit has to be decreasing. In the past, iPods have seen major cost drops after similar explosions in popularity. My bet is that Apple is aiming for a $399 iPad. But will it come this year?
Further iPad 2 rumor mill reading:
• Engadget: The future of the iPad 2, iPhone 5 and Apple TV
• Gizmodo: A basic sketch of the next iPad
• Daring Fireball: Cold water on the iPad 2 retina display hype