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iPad 3

The iPad’s yearly update cycle is drawing near. Rumors are increasing and converging toward a particular set of details. Here is a rundown of what to expect.

Display

Rumors are pointing to iPad 3 gaining a retina display. The resolution is expected to increase from 1024x768px to 2048x1536px. Assuming the screen remains 9.7 inches, the new screen works out to a pixel density of 264 ppi.

Given that the iPhone 4S has a pixel density of 326 ppi, does the purported iPad 3 screen actually qualify as retina? Yes, with some caveats. I’ll spare you the math in this post, but a person with 20/20 vision will be unable to distinguish pixels at 264 ppi as long as the device is held 13 inches or further from the eyes. This is a pretty normal viewing distance, so the display is retina. Of course, the distance requirement will increase or decrease depending on the eyesight of the user. In any case, the screen will be amazing.

I’m sure many of you are zoning out with all of these numbers. Here is a nice graphic from Chris Koerner that illustrates the screen’s capabilities. In short, one could view a full-resolution Blu-ray movie and still have screen left for content.

Internals

Hints in the latest beta release of iOS 5.1 point to the possibility of iPad 3 containing a quad-core A6 processor. While most rumor sites are in agreement regarding the CPU, The Verge’s Josh Topolsky reports that sources have claimed that the processor will remain dual-core. This is more of a feeds-and-speeds marketing topic. The end-user will be happy in either scenario.

Speculation remains about what GPU will be used to power the new high-resolution display. One likely candidate is the PowerVR Series6, which is 20 times more powerful and 5 times more efficient than previous generations.

Generally the iPad has been ahead of the iPhone in terms of storage. With the iPhone 4S gaining a 64GB option, many speculate that the high-end iPad 3 will bump to 128GB. Given all of the improved components rumored to be in the iPad 3, plus Apple’s push toward iCloud, I think Apple will pass on 128GB in order to maintain profit margins.

In terms of memory, the iPad 2’s 512MB of RAM has proven sufficient. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if they increased it to 1GB.

Cellular Connectivity

Questions remain about cellular connectivity. Most sites are confident that the iPad 3 will support the latest generation 4G LTE technology. However, as Mickey Papillon points out, world devices were more plausible with 3G devices because antennas only needed to cover four main bands. With 4G LTE, there is a potential for upwards of 38 different frequency combinations. Another issue is that while AT&T and Verizon have the capabilities, Sprint isn’t rolling out LTE until this summer. Apple could potentially release a U.S. model for AT&T and Verizon - limiting Sprint to CDMA - while releasing international models that cover popular frequencies.

Another issue is battery life. LTE devices have been plagued with poor battery performance. Apple will not significantly sacrifice this on an iPad. Thus, I’m assuming Apple will use a newer, more efficient LTE chipset.

Smaller Version

Rumors of a smaller iPad (8 inches) are again circulating. The idea is appealing if you believe Apple needs to compete with the Kindle Fire. I recently wrote why I don’t think Apple will do so. Today, John Gruber addressed the possibility of a smaller iPad:

I wouldn’t bet on it.

Availability

Rene Ritchie reported yesterday that sources confirmed that the iPad 3 will be announced on Wednesday, March 7th, 2012. Jim Dalrymple responded with a simple “Yep”, which, given his track record, translates to “it will happen”.

Both the iPad 2 and iPhone 4S were announced early in the week, made available for pre-order on that Friday, and went on sale the following Friday. Assuming Apple continues that trend, I would expect the iPad 3 to be announced on March 7, made available for pre-order at 12 AM PST on March 9, and released for sale on March 16 (maintaining current price points).

Summary

The iPad 3 is shaping up to be an incredible update. It will prove a worthwhile purchase for those who have never owned an iPad or for those with an iPad 1. The screen alone will be enough for me to upgrade from an iPad 2. While everything remains rumor now, all will be revealed in a bit over three weeks.

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