Rumor Patrol: Apple's Juicy 2012 Plans

2012 has barely begun, and forget Steve Ballmer's CES keynote: The tech world is already abuzz with Apple intrigue. Here's our take:

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iPad 3 "HD"

After months' worth of various speculation, now we're hearing about leaks of parts from Apple suppliers that are said to be from an iPad 3. Supposedly there are more ribbon cables connecting to the 3's display than for the iPad 2, which means more data to the screen, which means a higher resolution.

Numerous sources are now saying that in early 2012 we'll indeed see an iPad 3 which may, or may not, have some label associated with "HD" (our money's on not). It'll also feature up-rated cameras, with a Facetime HD unit on the front beating the current VGA-res one, and a camera on the back that may rival the iPhone 4's (a 5-megapixel shooter) or the iPhone 4S's (an 8-megapixel one). Many times we've heard that while it'll keep the same basic form and makeup of the current iPad, it'll be ever so slightly thicker to support the uprated internals--making a deal of sense, as one of the key deciders for the iPhone's depth is its camera unit. Some suggest the extra depth will allow for a bigger capacity battery--perhaps double in size--which may outperform all Apple's tablet peers by a wide margin.

There's a risk these rumors are people borrowing ideas from each other, warming them over and recycling them as apparently new rumors. But it's looking more and more likely that Apple will indeed have an iPad 3 with a radically better screen and perhaps a slightly deeper chassis.

We also like the parallel idea that Apple will keep the iPad 2 on sale--maybe for $400, maybe less, to compete with the entry-level tablets like the Fire.

iPad 4 in October

This notion has popped up a couple of times, and it's doing the rounds again. The idea is that Apple will release a slightly up-ticked iPad 3 early in 2012, and then follow it in October with an altogether more radically updated machine that matches Apple's new iPhone update schedule.

We're not sure about this. Apple's never been about launching products on each other's heels like this--and launching two iPads inside half a year would certainly destroy good public feeling among the early adopters. Even Apple's iPods had a roughly annual update cycle, and when Apple beefs up its Mac lineup it tends to do minor spec upgrades without any fuss, and big redesigns on a more or less annual basis. To upgrade from the iPhone 4 to 4S Apple even waited around 18 months.

We're very skeptical here. If Apple does have a bigger iPad even planned later in the year, it's unlikely to be a made-over iPad 4. It could be a 7-inch iPad, designed to capture a lower price bracket and sell by the millions for the holidays. But we doubt it.

50-inch Apple TV

There's been a lot of talk about Apple's television plans. The latest rumor is that head of design Jon Ive (soon to be Sir Jon) has a 50-inch Apple HDTV prototype in his design lab, bigger even than earlier rumors that had mentioned sizes in the 30-inch to 40-plus bracket. It's got built-in Wi-Fi... but other than the label "slick," which we'd thoroughly expect to apply to any product coming from Ive's hands, there's little extra data.

One hint is that Apple's not quite as advanced in the plan as had been thought, and hasn't ordered screens in bulk yet...which may mean a product is a year away. The exploding hype about the TV does have an echo of that which preceded the alleged metal iPhone 5 in late 2011--which never materialized (although leaked data later suggested Apple had pursued the design right up to development prototype phases), so we do sort of believe an Apple television may be some way off. As for 50 inches? It's plausible...and matches Apple's habit of aiming at the middle to high end of the market.

New York press event

Many a rumor is going around that Apple has a press event on the cards in late January, based not in one of its habitual West Coast launch venues ... but instead in New York city. The venue choice is said to marry better with the rumored topics of the event: An announcement that may encompass education, non-music content, and iTunes. 

The most believable theory is that the event is to launch something that was one of Steve Jobs' final favorite projects, a boost to iTunes and the iPad that'll bring digital textbooks to millions of students at reduced rates. Some suggest Apple's also embracing a new e-book standard that better allows more dynamic, interactive content in textbooks so the educational value is even more 21st century. A generic focus on publishing is the consensus.

We're in the dark on this one. It's very rumory, and there's a paucity of facts to back it up. But Apple has run events like this before, to highlight big news that's not its typical type ... and its timing is nicely similar to earlier Apple efforts to counter the glut of CES news. If it's true, expect a flurry of excitement in a week or so when the invites hit NY journos' inboxes.

Quad-core A chips

Tiny fragments of code inside Apple's iOS 5.1 have been unearthed by developers and have revealed something interesting: Apple's building support for quad-core processors into its iDevice operating system.

No surprises here. Apple's A4 chip inside the orignal iPad was a 1GHz single-core unit. The A5 inside the iPad 2 was a dual-core slice of silicon. And following developments in the ARM reference designs that Apple bases its own-brand chips on, a quad-core CPU would be a logical extension for the iPad. Some competing Android units already proffer quad-core power, and it would be natural for Apple to stay abreast--as well as offering more power for content creation on the iPad. And while a quad-core A6 chip may eat up more battery, there is that strong rumor the iPad 3 will have significantly bigger battery capacity.

Thunderbolt in iDevices

New patent applications from Apple have stirred a lot of speculation that Apple is planning on building Thunderbolt wired connections into future iPads and iPhones.

In the application itself, Apple notes that the amount of data flowing over a cable when syncing a device like an iPhone has skyrocketed--and that's something anyone who's tried a full re-sync of their 32GB iPhone will attest to, given the length of time it takes.

This is the giveaway here, as a Thunderbolt connection has theoretically much higher speeds than a USB 2 cable, and thus syncing future-gen iPads and iPhones (which will surely have bigger storage aboard) would be swifter. Thunderbolt also allows more power to flow through it, and it could allow for more rapid charging of portable devices.

So this all makes sense. But given the slow speed of adoption of Thunderbolt, no matter its superiority, we wouldn't hold out for this idea proving true in 2012--especially as Apple's patent application is a bit wooly on whether the tech is exactly Thunderbolt-related. Next year, however, is a different matter. 

[Image: Flickr user The D34n]

Chat about this news with Kit Eaton on Twitter and Fast Company too.

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4 Comments

  • Marc T

    I realize it's just Jan 10, but this article will probably be in the running for the coveted most-mindless-and-pointless-of-2012 award.

    Kit Eaton is the very definition of an iSheep.  He's worshiping the Apple like the 2nd incarnation of Christ.  Has Fast Company really descended to such lows that they keep that joker posting here?

  • Mogwai Ahoy

    Marc T, your diligence in confirming that an article entitled "Rumor … Apple … ", bylined Kit Eaton, with obviously speculative subheads was ^indeed^ full of rumors and speculation about Apple, is profoundly comforting.

    I sleep soundly knowing you are on this case.