Apple iPad 2012: Faster, brighter, cheaper

By Jonny Evans

Those Apple [AAPL] iPhone 5/4S images are appearing everywhere as we enter the final days of the long wait for the new product(s), but what of the iPad 3, can we really expect that device this year?

[ABOVE: That's the iPad 2 video. Insert 'iPad 3' where they say 'iPad 2' and add a few superlatives and that's probably what's coming...]

Dream on

The short answer of course is no. Not only is Apple already waay ahead of the pack with its existing tablet, but why would the company want to dent iPhone sales by introducing such a well-starred device at more or less the same time?

Development of the new device has begun, indeed, it's feasible that development of the fourth and fifth-generation iPads has also begun, though this will not be so advanced. I can't see iPad 3 showing up until next year.

Meanwhile, what can we expect from the new tablet? I'm saying the next-generation iPad will be faster, brighter and cheaper than before, and we may even see a lower-priced iPad 2 kept on sale as Apple bashes Android once again...

apple-a5-chip.jpg

Faster

It seems logical to expect the processor to be an A6 chip. These processors are already being manufactured by Apple's new BFF, TSMC, and should be built using a 28-nanometer process. (TSMC has also been contracted to deliver the A7 chip, which should be a 20-nm processor.)

What will this mean? First, these processors will require less power for their punch, meaning Apple will be able to deliver significant performance improvements with very little impact on battery life. Alternatively, it will be able to deliver similar performance and a far extended battery life: it depends which way the company chooses to trade.

What is interesting to reflect upon is that the existing A5 processor used in the iPad 2 delivers twice the performance and eight times the graphics capability of the iPad 1, which was itself no slouch. If that pattern continues, then it is easy to suggest the next iPad will be a capable computational device, opening the doors to a whole host of productivity apps.... PC makers unable to develop an effective alternative must be quaking in their boots.

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Given that a (quad-core) A6-powered iPad could be significantly more powerful (and don't even speculate on the A7, we've a while to do that), then some speculate Apple may contract TSMC to deliver 28-nanometer versions of the A5 chip.

Should Apple do this it will be able to deliver significant performance and battery life gains in its iPad 2 range, while offering a new flagship tablet (with an A6 processor) that is capable of handling many of the creative apps you might currently use a Mac for. Indeed, somewhere down the line these Apple-designed chips may actually become the engines for Macs, who knows?

Screen_shot_2011-06-21_at_14_31_22.jpg

[ABOVE: One day you may not need a Mac to run an app like that.]

Brighter

Already a thing of beauty the tough and hard-wearing iPad 2 display is incredibly responsive and good to look at even for extended periods. That high quality and happy user experience is helping Apple maintain its commanding position within the tablet market, even while competitors scrabble to get their products out of channel and into the hands of consumers.

Inevitably, Apple will improve the display once again with iPad 3. I'm anticipating a much higher resolution, perhaps as high as 2,048-x-1,536, rather than the existing 1,024-x-769 display. (I've nothing but rumors to support this expectation, but improvements in the display tech are part of Apple's standard practice with its iPhone range, so I see no reason it wouldn't maintain that strategy with this other mobile device).

The Wall Street Journal even goes so far as to claim display production for the device has begun, citing sources who claim Apple has ordered parts for 1.5 million of the devices for delivery in Q4.

"Suppliers will ramp up production and try to improve the yield rate for the new iPad in the fourth quarter before its official launch in early 2012," the WSJ reported. Who is making these displays? Samsung may still be making some, but given the increasingly bitter and tedious litigation between it and Apple, that firm surely knows its days are numbered. Sharp and LG seem in the display production frame, with LG Displays CEO Young Soo Kwon said that his company's high-res 'Retina' display "has been used in iPhones and iPads", according to the Korea Times.

Market reports have also claimed that Radiant Opto-Electronics will supply the backlight units for the iPad 3, these units will be used in the display production process.

Cheaper

I'm ignoring claims of an NFC chip and/or stylus. That's because I am not completely convinced Apple will adopt NFC for its mobile wallet attempt (because of a lack of terminals), and don't believe it will ever go back to a boring old stylus.

It is possible the iPad 3 may include a Thunderbolt port. This would enable Apple to shave a millimeter or two of device thickness; but would also likely mean most users without Thunderbolt-equipped PCs would have to use an adaptor cable of some kind, which -- given Apple's usual price-gouging practices when it comes to such peripherals -- may simply cost too much as well as being inelegant.

More storage, a better camera and production in both China and Brazil also make sense. (It will be interesting to see if a collector's market evolves in which some champion iPads made in one country above the other.)

Price will be the big issue. Apple's iPad 3 will face an army of emulative tablets from competitors who will be doing their very best to improve their position in the tablet market with their second or even third-iteration products. Prices will be as low as competitors dare go:

Will Apple undercut them on price?

Given Apple CEO, Tim Cook's, remarkable power over logistics, manufacturing and supply, it must be seriously possible Apple might shave a few dollars off the cost of the iPad range, perhaps by offering the iPad 2 (albeit an improved, but cheaper to produce model) at a significantly lower price. If Apple does this it will hit competitors where they already hurt, and ensure 2012 will also be the year of the iPad. And why you can hear Apple's competitors sobbing.

Your thoughts?

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