Friday, February 25, 2011

The iPad 2: How Will Apple Stay Ahead of the Pack?

iPad Now that we have a firm date for the announcement of the iPad 2, it’s hard not to set one’s mind to wondering what changes Apple will unveil to this new, massive pillar of their business. New Comers, The iPad 2: How Will Apple Stay Ahead of the Pack? While on some level, Apple could simply coast on this one: by simply throwing in a faster, dual-core chip and dusting off their hands, Apple will have likely learned their lesson from how quickly Google became a legitimate competitor in smartphones.

With Android having exploded, it’s unlikely that Apple will be willing to let all those upcoming Honeycomb Android tablets get close to the iPad. Once burned twice shy, as they say.

The iPad 2: How Will Apple Stay Ahead of the Pack?

So what  might we reasonably expect Apple to do to maintain their lead? And what do we want to see?

In Design, A Big iPod Touch

The iPad 2: How Will Apple Stay Ahead of the Pack?

We know Apple’s strength has always been design. But though the original iPad is a beautifully designed piece of hardware, it’s likely that in order to cement their design lead, Apple will move to an iPod Touch style design.

By that, I mean the back of the device will taper to the edge, and the back will be covered in something more ‘luxurious’ that the brushed aluminum look it has now.

More to the point, it will be the thinnest tablet out there – mainly so Tim Cook (who we assume will run the keynote) can say “this is the thinnest tablet out there”. And a glossy, silver back will starkly distinguish the iPad 2 from the Xoom, Playbook et al.

It’s a shame, as I quite like the slab design of the current iPad, but competition often means simply needing to differentiate a product.

Keeping Costs Down Means No Retina

The iPad 2: How Will Apple Stay Ahead of the Pack?

Those clamoring for a ‘retina display’ on the iPad – i.e. a doubled resolution of 2048 × 1536 – are, to put it nicely, a bit nuts.

Not only would it require an incredibly expensive screen, you would also need a very fast CPU-GPU combo (probably quad-core) to drive the 3D effects of iOS at that resolution, which would itself cause battery-life headaches.

On top of that, after asking app developers to adjust the resolution of their apps for the iPhone 4, Apple will now ask them to do it all over again for the iPad apps they just wrote? I don’t think so. If you’re dead set on a ~10″ retina display, wait for an iPad 3.

But in order to stay ahead, look for an improved display in terms of brightness and viewing angles.

Cameras, *yawn*, Facetime, Dual-Core, More RAM etc.

There is some stuff on the way that could only be surprising if it’s not included. Those things are cameras on the back and front and a dual-core A5 Apple ARM-based processor – probably running at 1.2GHz. Yawn.

Since the iPad only has 256MB of RAM, this will obviously get an upgrade too, though whether it’s to 512MB or 1GB is likely a matter of cost. I’d expect the latter, since iOS quite strict in how it handles multi-tasking. 1GB might be overkill.

The only surprise might be the lack of a rear camera. It’s unlikely, because we’ve seen cases with holes for a camera. But I’d like to think that Apple might be saner than some other tablet manufacturers: who wants to hold up a 10″ tablet to take pictures? No-one, that’s who.

All of this will be added simply to keep pace with upcoming Android tablets and the Playbook.

Possible Surprises? Price? No Home Button? Holographic Projection?

Holoographic projection? Yeah, I was just messin’. I don’t even know what that is.

But no home button? A possibility. After all, we’ve already seen gestures that make the home button somewhat obsolete. (Though that does limit multi-finger gestures to the OS rather than apps.) It would also line up with Steve Jobs notorious hatred for buttons, and would make a lot of sense given that the iPad is used as much in landscape mode as it is portrait.

What about the price? Well, it may be optimistic to think it will be cheaper, but look at Apple’s projected figures of 40 million units for 2011. In 2010, they sold 15 million units. Is it possible that, due to Apple’s control of the supply chain – in things like their huge $8 billion deal with Samsung – that they could drop the base unit down to $399? What else might account for more than doubling sales projections for a product with an average selling price of around $700? Yes, the product is insanely popular; but is it so popular that 40 million people around the world will drop the cost of a new laptop?

Let’s say there’s a 50/50 chance Apple will cut prices by a $100 across the line.

What Do You Want in an iPad 2?

Overall, the iPad’s market lead won’t be about hardware as much as it will be about iOS. It will be about how Apple’s ecosystem is positioned as the most appealing. So expect a modest, if overhyped upgrade to the original.

But what about you ahlidesain readers? 4G? A USB or Lightpeak port? NFC? SD expansion slot? What do you want to see in the next iPad? Hit the comments and let us know.


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