By Darrell Etherington, GigaOM The iPad 2 is said by some to be arriving as early as February or April (at least in the U.S.), and as is always the case when Apple hardware nears the end of a product cycle, the rumor mill starts working overtime. As consensus grows and independent reports start coming in from multiple sources, we end up with a much better picture of what to expect from Apple’s next iPad.
SD Card SlotThe latest rumor making the rounds is that the iPad will indeed have an SD memory card slot. This isn’t the first time such expansion is a possibility for the iPad 2, but now it’s been reported by a “trusted source” talking to Engadget, and it’s showing up in case designs from multiple manufacturers, as identified separately by AppleInsider and MIC Gadget. Since Apple already offers a way to access SD cards via the iPad Camera Connection Kit, there’s no good reason the company would object to building in the same functionality. In fact, it’s possible the only reason an SD slot wasn’t included the first time around was that it wouldn’t fit in the case.
Mini DisplayPortThe same case designs that back up the SD card slot rumor also indicate that another port will be introduced at the top of the device. The cutout for this alleged port is quite small, leaving few options for what it might be. Mini DisplayPort is a likely candidate, since even though it would eliminate the need for the iPad dock connector-to-VGA adapter, Apple could still sell various Mini DisplayPort converter accessories. A far less likely possibility for the spot is a micro-USB port, but there’s no way Apple would include that and still keep the dock connector.
“Retina” DisplayThe iPhone 4 introduced the world to the Retina Display, a 960×640 pixel screen with 331 ppi, a pixel density apparently beyond the threshold of human detection that makes for super crisp text and graphics. According to recent rumors stemming from resources found in the latest version of Apple iBooks app (1.2), the iPad will get twice the resolution it currently enjoys, bringing the total from 1024×768 to 2048×1536. As Kevin notes, that only adds up to a pixel density of 265 ppi, which, while not at the same level as the iPhone, is still a massive improvement, and will probably still be granted the “Retina” from Apple’s marketing department. Simply doubling the display resolution makes sense, since it’ll allow existing iPad apps to be compatible with the iPad 2 through zooming, though image quality will be somewhat degraded.
Front and Back CamerasIf there is any “sure thing” for the iPad 2, it’s that it will have two cameras: one in front for FaceTime, and one in the back for… well, actually, on a 9.7-inch tablet, probably mostly for occasional FaceTime use, too. Using it for general photographic and film-making seems incredibly awkward, even if the iPad 2 does sport a lighter, smaller body design.
Lighter, Smaller Body DesignCase designs and an actual iPad 2 mock-up used by a developer at CES earlier this month seem to support the idea that the next iPad will be smaller and slimmer than its predecessor. This is a standard improvement for new iterations of Apple gadgets, and it could help appease customers asking for a 7-inch iPad, something the company seems unwilling to provide. AppleInsider recently reported on an Apple patent that would allow the company to reduce the thickness and power consumption of capacitive touchscreens, which could be partially responsible for a new, smaller physical footprint in iPad 2.
Improved Processing and Graphics PowerThe iPad 2 (along with the iPhone 5) is expected to get a new version of Apple’s custom A4 system-on-a-chip. According to a source talking to AppleInsider, the new version will have dual graphics cores to support the new Retina Display, and to allow for 1080p video playback (the current version tops out at 720p). The new graphics cores support OpenCL to share the burden of general purpose computing tasks with the GPU. The new chip will also pair the dual graphics cores with a dual core ARM Cortex-A9 chip for general processing. With a huge crop of potential iPad competitors unveiled at CES, these kinds of performance improvements are almost a necessity, but as is always the case with Apple products, hardware specs take a backseat to actual user experience, so if we see more modest improvements I won’t be surprised.
The iPad, Only BetterThat’s the rumor picture of the iPad 2 as it currently stands. While all of these might not pan out, it’s worth remembering that no matter what the predictions made prior to an Apple product launch, and whatever the initial reaction to what does get announced, Apple consistently delivers a product that’s much better than the one that preceded it. Whatever its features, rest assured that the iPad 2 won’t be an exception to this rule.
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