Tablets are shaping up to be THE big-ticket gift item this year. Fifteen percent of respondents to a ChangeWave survey said they want one. Top on the tablet wish list is the iPad 2, with 65% of respondents voting for it over the next contender, the Amazon Kindle Fire. What's more, analyst Gartner Inc. predicts Apple will sell 22 million iPads just between September and the end of December.
But before you rush out to buy one yourself, you have to think about the future, about the next iPad coming down the pike. So let's try to read the tea leaves on iPad rumors to determine if you should buy the iPad 2 now or wait for the next version.
Tracking the rumors on the release date has been a roller coaster. First the buzz said the iPad 3 would come out in time for the 2011 holiday season… nope. Then display problems from manufacturers were rumored to push the release all the way back to Fall 2012. Now, according to multiple Apple analysts, the display is in production, and we should expect an early spring debut. But remember, none of this information is officially from Apple; we're talking about rumors, speculation, and predictions.
Likely Hardware Improvements
High Resolution Display
Critics have complained about the clarity of the iPad 2's 1024-by-768 pixel screen and hoped that the next iteration will feature the same high resolution display that's on the iPhone 4. According to Richard Shim, an analyst at DisplaySearch, manufacturers are mass-producing 2048x1536 display panels for the iPad . That means higher quality movies, TV shows, and pictures on the iPad 3.
Supply chain leaks also indicate a smaller, more efficient battery will make the new iPad about 20% thinner and lighter, but this new battery reportedly adds 20-30% to the manufacturing cost, which could increase the retail price of the iPad 3.
A possible hint in the design of the new iPad body comes from a patent application, in which Apple alluded to devices made of carbon fiber. Carbon fiber is strong and light, and can also take color, potentially offering tablet buyers a range of hues.
An improved camera with a flash is a no brainer. Hopefully, it will be as good or better than the 8 MP camera in the iPhone 4s.
4G LTE Connectivity
About two-thirds of iPads sold to date have cellular data connections, leading many people to hope for a super-fast 4G LTE version of the next iPad. LTE can increase data downloads on mobile devices to feel more like broadband speeds. Recent rumors from Japan and some dissection of a recent IOS update have lately been increasing the speculation that Apple is working on some form of an LTE iPhone and/or iPad.
The iPad 2 has a dual-core A5 chipset. You can bet the next upgrade in the iPad3 will be powered by a Quad-Core A6 Processor, which will give it a noticeable boost in computing power. One crazy rumor is that instead of running the IOS operating system that's powered iPhones and previous iPads, Apple could announce a hybrid OS for the iPad 3 that's more like a real computer operating system, making the next iPad more of a productivity tool and less of a toy. But a full-fledged version of OSX on an iPad — I'll believe it when I see it.
Low Probability Rumors
Some say the iPad 3 could have a smaller docking port, possibly even a thunderbolt port, the super-fast data transfer port found in new macbooks that transfers data 20 times faster than USB 2.0. It may be a necessity if the iPad 3 is as thin as predicted, but it means existing iPad accessories like docking pads will not be compatible.
There could be a cheaper 7-inch budget option. Originally, I thought this was doubtful because Apple's business model has been to discount older technology, but not to create competing budget hardware options. Steve Jobs prided himself on limiting Apple's products to just a few clearly differentiated devices. But the popularity of the 7-inch Kindle Fire may have the new bosses at Apple a little concerned.
Will this iPad run Flash, have a USB port or SD slot? No way.
If you're itching for a faster iPad with a better display, the iPad 3 is worth waiting for, especially if it really shows up in March. But if you 're new to iPad or have to have it as a gift this holiday season, you'll probably be happy with the iPad 2 — and only have a twinge of regret if the new one comes out this spring.