Feb. 28, 2011 at 3:27 PM ET
Wednesday brings a new iPad, this we know. And we know that, from 20 paces, it will probably look like the current iPad — Apple's own event invitation indicates as much. As for the details of the reveal, here's what else we think will happen, and what we're pretty sure just won't go down.
The iPad 2 (which may or may not bear that name) will almost certainly match some specs of its competing devices. This would include a faster dual-core processor, reported by Engadget and others, and both front- and rear-facing cameras.
About those cameras, the front-facing FaceTime video conferencing camera is all but confirmed. As for the rear-facing one, though third-party cases and other not-too-reliable sources have anticipated it, I wouldn't be totally blown away if Apple skipped it. Taking pictures with a tablet looks, and feels, stupid. Then again, leaving out a high-rez shooter would make the haters howl, and this is the company that tried to turn its iPod Nano into a camcorder, albeit briefly.
Unlike the Android-based competition, the new iPad would be thinner and lighter than its current 1.6 pounds, and likely to stay in the just-under-$500 price range.
One other likely possibility is some kind of iLife software, particularly for imaging. We're hoping for iPhoto and iMovie (the iPhone already has iMovie), though a recent leak on Gizmodo only referenced the Photo Booth novelty program and the FaceTime videoconferencing apps.
And as for that white iPad you may have heard about, just think about it: The elusive white iPhone 4 has become a Melvillian joke, so the white iPad might be intended as some kind of vindication. It's definitely a reasonable possibility.
Possible but unlikely:
The key advantages of the Android competition are access to higher-speed 4G networks and a more sophisticated interface.
But for wireless, the next iPad's timing is a little weird. The very first phones to run on Verizon's fast LTE 4G network are only just shipping, and the Motorola Xoom tablet doesn't yet run on the network. Meanwhile, AT&T just started to ship 4G phones as well, but not ones that run on LTE. The confusion you may be experiencing reading this paragraph is part of the problem: Does Apple really want to market a "4G" product when nobody knows for sure what that is? Meanwhile, does Apple want to be among the first on a new, unproven network technology? The answer to both of those questions is a resounding "maybe."
That said, Verizon Wireless CEO Dan Mead mentioned just the other day that Apple was on board with LTE. That's a no-brainer, but his timing is suspicious.
As for Android's new Honeycomb interface being more sophisticated than the iPad's, that's just a fact right now. As Gizmodo's Jason Chen pointed out, notifications, multitasking/app switching and file and app syncing are all far more advanced on the Android tablet (and on HP's new Palm-based TouchPad, too).
But whether Apple will close this gap with minor tweaks to the current operating system, as they have made all along, or with an overhaul of the home screen is anyone's guess. It's just as likely that they will ignore the problem for the time being, or even argue that the iOS is better because it's simpler.
Some earlier rumors seem to be put to rest at this point. Engadget's freshest leak indicated that an SD card slot, though nice, is out, and so is a display that's higher in resolution than the current one. Though the iPad would look amazing with a "retina" screen like the iPhone, especially for e-books and other in-your-face applications, it seems it presents problems with developers, and who knows, maybe with battery life and other performance too.
Another speculation that is probably not going to pan out is that Apple will relaunch MobileMe this week. They are definitely overdue for overhauling their premium e-mail-and-photo service (make it free! make it free!). But Apple was probably not signaling any major shift last week when it stopped physically selling MobileMe in boxes: That was probably just an effort to save cardboard.
Mr. Jobs? iPhone 5? iPad 3?
What we are sure of is that there are lots of 2011 Apple mysteries that will not be resolved at Wednesday's event. For starters, we don't think that Steve Jobs will appear there. Though he did recently meet with President Obama and the luminaries of Silicon Valley, and he has been quoted on recent press releases, he is still officially on medical leave of absence. In his stead, we expect COO Tim Cook, flanked perhaps by design chief Jonathan Ive, worldwide marketing head Phil Schiller and mobile software boss Scott Forstall.
We also know that while there's most assuredly an iPhone 5 in the works — one that will in all likelihood have a larger screen, come simultaneously to both Verizon and AT&T, and run on higher speed networks — they are not going to mention it. Nor will they mention any sort of cheaper and/or smaller iPhone intended to compete against cheaper Android phones.
Confirmation of the next phone would all but kill nascent Verizon iPhone sales, and besides, the thing probably isn't ready yet. Apple only shows off hardware products that are good and done, or at least on their way to manufacturing.
There's some talk lately about an iPad 3 coming by Christmas. That defies Apple's one-update-per-year product development strategy, but like anything else not prohibited by law or physics, it's possible. Still, you can bet you won't hear a peep out of Apple on the matter, not until August or September, when they roll out their fall products.
How's that for making sense of the rumors and mutterings of Twitter and the blogosphere? Still have unanswered questions? The answer, until Wednesday, is probably, "Who knows?" but feel free to shoot them to me, either in comments, on Twitter or on our Technolog Facebook page.
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