Friday, February 24, 2012

Applecasting - iPad

Its that time of year again.  Like clockwork and the seasons the day quickly approaches when a new, fun, Apple product is announced.  This time the cycle happens to land at the end of the iPad’s life cycle.  So it’s a pretty safe bet that there will be a new announcement regarding this year’s version of the iPad.

Just like the year before there are theories, hopes and dreams abound.  Some may be shattered and some may see the light of day.  Let’s take a look at some of the more popular theories from last year.
  • Higher resolution screen.
  • Embedded SD card reader.  <--This one in particular is more of a dream.
  • Front facing camera.
  • Faster processor.
  • Thinner size.
  • Smaller size SKU (8”)…and so on and so forth.  Those were the ones I remember being the most popular.
The technology was there and capable for many of those things but only a few made it through.  The most disappointing for me was the lack of a higher resolution screen.  A lot of different websites and analysts (including myself as a hobbyist) were convinced that the higher resolution screen was a done deal.  Apple usually spreads the wealth of their technology across their entire family of devices.  This time it appeared they held back.  Perhaps they purchased too much of the older tech and they wanted to run out of their complete stock?  We may never know the truth but that brings us to today.

Here is my uneducated guess as to what we will see in the iPad 3 and how I came to these conclusions.
I believe Tim Cook was afraid to take the helm since Steve's passing, understandably.  I believe the decision was his to push the 4s with the minor iterations we saw instead of the more dramatic overhaul many expected for the 5.

Now that he has some time to warm up to the thrown he has been sitting in for a few months, I believe he is more willing to take risks.  First we have to consider exactly what merits a new version number.  Is it just the form factor?  Or perhaps dramatic changes with the operating system that merit the new title?  Would software or minor changes alone be enough to satisfy the masses?

One of the first things I noticed about the iPad 1 was how ugly the icons looked.  They were the same resolution as the ones on the iPhone and were just expanded to fit the iPad screen proportionally.  They were very ugly.  If the resolution of the new iPad 3 is increased, they would be facing that same problem unless they took precautions before the fact.  For example including higher resolution icons in the OS and snippets of code to permit their use.  (They have.)

So the higher resolution screen is a very distinct possibility.

One of the things I was most excited about with the iPad 2 was the rumor that it would include a built-in SD card reader.  Obviously locked for specific uses since the major bucks are made with simple expanded memory versions of the same product.  I was hoping that Apple would permit us to use our memory cards to display photos.  As an amateur photographer I would find it VERY convenient to remove the memory card and show people the photos I have taken using the iPad instead of my relatively tiny 3” screen on my camera.  Well that was not to be.  You had to buy a dongle and it was limited to import.  You could only preview tiny thumbnail images before importing.

I don’t believe this will change for the 3rd iteration.

Aside from the lack of an SD Reader the next biggest complaint about the iPad 2 was the horrible cameras.  Yes, we all know that no one is out there taking pictures with their iPad.  Unless you’re director Spike Lee.  Still, it is pretty terrible experience when you use it and the device is thick enough to hold the same high quality lens the iPhone 4 and 4s have.  The bigger question is why not?

I believe a higher resolution screen will finally merit a higher quality lens.

The processor increment is inevitable.  Why update the iPad if you aren’t updating the processor.  This seems kind of a moot point and the ONLY way I could them releasing a new iPad without updating the processor is if it was in a dramatically new form factor.  (Like an 8” size.) If the device stays the same size, we will see a faster processor.  If only by a little.

As for thinner, I doubt it.  It has one of the best battery lives in the industry and I don’t think they would sacrifice that success.  As for proportions…this one is tricky.  Apple has often denied interest in mid-range tablets.  Different media outlets can’t seem to come to an agreement.  Some say it is coming and others say it is impossible.  There are two things to consider here.  First of all there is no denying that the low budget nook and Kindle tablets are experiencing a moderate level of success.  Whether Apple is threatened by this is anyone’s guess.  They have never really cared to compete in entry level products.  Second, the full fledged Android iPad competitors priced themselves out of the game by attempting to match or even surpass the Apple price range while failing to deliver on the polished experience and infrastructure that people have come to expect with premium priced products.

I can’t really call this one but if Apple does create an entry level low budget tablet, I would be genuinely surprised.

Earlier today, Farhan proposed the question to me regarding whether I think this year’s iPad will be more of an iPad 2s than a full blown iPad 3 update.  I had to take a moment to seriously consider everything I’ve heard in the past year and important events that have occurred since then.

The catastrophes in Japan, the Foxconn problems, the death of Steve Jobs and even the successes (and failures) of competition all play a part.

I believe the 2012 iPad won’t be much of a change.  Whether that merits the “3” namesake will be completely up to the beholder.  I believe the iPad (2012) will have a higher resolution screen for the reasons mentioned above.  The built-in SD card reader will not see the light of day until people outright refuse to buy the large capacity versions.  Higher resolution/quality lenses are a must.  If they use the same they did last year it would be a serious mistake.  I tend to believe the incremental processor rumors though I hope they are false.  The graphics the iPad 2 can handle are pretty great and I don’t see a reason to go processor crazy like the PC’s did.  (Which has ultimately led to their dramatic decline in popularity IMHO.) The form factor will not change though we may see some alternative color or rear texture options.  Because of the issues overseas I think the changes to capacity, if any, will be minor.

So will it be a MAJOR difference?  No.  Will it be noticeable?  Yes.  I’m not too concerned with the minor processor upgrade if that is the case.  I believe the iPad 2’s current processor was designed to handle the higher resolution the iPad 3 will get so the minor increment of the rumored 5x will be more than enough.

The biggest complaint I’ve heard from Apple and Android users alike is that Apple hasn’t taken any risks.  That they seem to have reached a state of complacency and feared innovation.  I tend to agree.  They rebuilt the failing category of tablet PC’s and have nearly destroyed both laptop and netbooks together with their strides.  They may have grown comfortable in their leadership.

So no.  I don't think it will be a dramatic change at all.  At the same price though, it would be to your detriment if you purchase anything but the latest from them if you buy anything at all.  The combination of higher resolution, better cameras and faster processor will merit the #3 if they choose to stick with that naming standard.  Though I wouldn't be surprised if they choose something that ties together their mobile products like...

iPad Pro
UPDATE:  The invitations to the press have gone out.  March 7th is the day we will find out about the newest bit of hardware from Cupertino.  It may be a bit much to try to pull clues out of a little ad like this...but why the heck not right?  It's all in fun.

From what I can tell, the icons DO look a little higher resolution.  I will attempt to recreate this photo with my iPad 2 this evening for a better comparison.  The edge "appears" to be a bit sharper, but it could be the angle.  It also looks a little darker.  I wonder if there will be a darker steel tinted version?  They also don't show you the full frame so they leave the possibility that it can be a smaller tablet.  The water wallpaper background is a staple of iOS5 so I don't think we will have a full version update to look forward to.  The more interesting tidbit out of all of those was their emphasis on "touch."  Touch has always been integral to iOS functions, so why call attention to it now?  Unless something has changed?  As of today no one has been able to do force feedback well on touch.  There were a few companies that tried and failed.  I wonder...