Apple Rumor Patrol: New iPads And iPhones Coming Soon

iPad 3

iPad 3 Arrival Date

According to the usual wonderfully unreliable (and always anonymous) "sources," Apple may be poised to reveal the iPad 3 during an early March event, with in-store availability just a handful of days later. If you look at the booking information for the Yerba Buena center in San Francisco, an Apple staple for this sort of event, it looks like Wednesday March 7th is being held open for an undisclosed booking (or at least this day is oddly empty among a cluster of other bookings). In 2011, Apple revealed its iPad 2 in an event at the center on Wednesday March 2nd, and the tablet was on sale March 11th.

Could Apple be planning something similar this year? Our money is right behind this rumor, as the timing feels just right--we're dubious Apple would delay the launch (like it did for the iPhone 4S) to adjust its launch windows, as it has plenty of competition from hot newcomers like the Kindle Fire.

iPad 3 Back-Shell, Camera, And Battery

Leaking out of Apple's eastern supply chain come several images claiming to be the rear shell of an iPad 3. Of course Apple is famous for inspiring knock-off designs of its products, some amazingly accurate, so it's plausible that these pieces of machined metal and plastic are destined for a jPad or a qPhone...

But if you look at the high-resolution photos of the metal "iPad 3" rear shell there are design traits that are so very similar to the iPad 2 we're inclined to believe they're the real deal, because they suggest Apple's followed its usual habit of evolving the internal components carefully (necessitating slight adjustments in things like screw holes and mounting points) rather than radical overhauls.

And what of these new components? Some analysis suggests a redesigned/repositioned motherboard is a little smaller in the iPad 3 and is shifted to allow more interior space for a bigger battery. This larger component has been long-rumored, and would be needed to give the iPad better (possibly class-definingly good) battery life and/or support the bigger power needs of a rumored retina-resolution screen. Slight tweaks to the mounts for the screen inside the back shells imply a new version is definitely on the cards, and there's even been a leak of what may be a Sharp-produced high-res screen for the device with 2,048 by 1,536 pixels--four times the total for the current iPad. 

We don't know what camera the iPad 3 will use, but it looks like it's a different unit and may be slightly repositioned in the iPad 3 versus the iPad 2 ... and that could tally with a rumored 5-megapixel rear-facing unit.

Some suggestions from the source of the leaked back-shells say the new iPad may not be thicker than the super-skinny iPad 2, and a leak of the purported internal magnet setup suggests it's similar to the iPad 2's.

We're inclined to be suspicious of drawing too many conclusions from these leaked parts, but we're leaning toward believing these to be real components for an iPad 3 device. There's something to this volume of details. Of course, these unmarked parts may be part of Apple's normal design round, and represent mere prototypes ... but that would be a surprise.

A6 Quad-Core?

We'd been expecting Apple's A6 chip--the presumed powerhouse for the iPad 3 and iPhone 5, assuming Apple follows its usual habit--to be a quad-core unit. After all, the first Apple-designed iDevice silicon, the A4, was a single core unit and its successor the A5 was a duo-core chip. There are also plenty of high-power Android tablets on the market, and some competitors are even trying to appeal to consumers (who were suckered by the megapixel claims during the ascension of the digital camera) by touting quad-core chips in Android phones and tablets for 2012.

Now a fresh rumor says the iPad 3 will have a boosted CPU over the iPad 2, but it won't be quad-cored. Instead the beefier CPU will be accompanied by a significantly improved GPU to drive the bigger display.

We're not sure here. It's possible Apple took the design decision to follow this path, and a boosted GPU would definitely propel the iPad's gaming prowess to new heights (an important trick, as the device is already changing mobile gaming). But we're not sure for one main reason: The iPhone 5. Apple will presumably choose to benefit from design efficiency and economies of scale by putting an A6 chip inside the iPad 3 and the iPhone 5. We're expecting the iPhone 5 to be a significant overhaul of the phone because the iPhone 4S wasn't much of one--and such a market-leading smartphone, arriving in the later half of 2012 would look slow if powered by a dual-core chip compared to many of its peer quad-core devices.

iPad 2S?

Will the iPad 3 merely be an iPad 2S of sorts, following the way the iPhone 4S was introduced? It's almost possible. The iPad is still the market-leading device, and Apple has achieved nothing short of a clone-inducing iconic design with the iPad 2's look and feel--it would be foolish to depart too far from this position. Apple detractors would hail any such iPad 2S (even if it were named the iPad 3) as being the end of the iPad's reign.

But we're thinking Apple will call it the iPad 3 and it'll boast so much of a boost in internal features over the iPad 2 that these criticisms would ring hollow. It's all about that screen, you see. If it really is of so high a resolution it'll likely best the laptop screen you're staring at, and will deliver so much clarity for reading e-books that it'll banish much of the competition from e-Ink Kindles and possibly the inferior-specced Kindle Fire tablets, even though their price is less.

iPhone 5 Date And Design

Murmurs of the iPhone 5 have died down of late, as everyone's getting excited about the iPad 3. The latest rumors have suggested it will be a big overhaul of the device, with a 4-inch screen (possibly topped with Corning's new improved Gorilla glass) and a redesigned chassis. The body of the phone may or may not have the long-rumored tapered aluminum chassis, but there's a hot suspicion that Apple may try to include some form of waterproofing tech in the device. That'd be welcome news for many folk who've lost their precious phone--or at least, lost its warranty--through water damage.

We're keeping an eye on these rumors for you, and will update when the iPad furor has died down.

Why is this all important?

Some people dismiss the attention brought upon Apple's upcoming products as pointless, or fanboy activity. But with Apple's recent finances proving that the company is still aggressively growing, with its mobile devices literally changing the way many people around the world use the Internet and access 3G data (with knock-on effects for companies like Sprint that sell its tech), and with competitors literally breaking their own backs to compete with or outmaneuver Apple, like Nokia, the tech world and billions of dollars are literally hanging on the iPad 3 and iPhone 5.

Update: We think the iPad 3 i imminent, and now there are reports of in-store shortages of both the Wi-Fi and 3G models of the current iPad 2. That's typically the habit before a new product hits the shelves, as the complex layers of the supply chain change mode and gear-up to get the newer hardware out to stores. Some may think it casts doubt on the idea Apple will keep the iPad 2 on sale after the 3's launch, but this isn't necessarily so--the current shortages may just represent a high-level supplies strategy by Apple.

Meanwhile other reports are hitting that the Apple TV is also seeing supply constraints. Could this mean a new TV unit will also arrive at the same time or shortly after the iPad 3, perhaps in some way taking advantage of the iPad 3's power (with uprated CPU and graphics capabilities, surely). 

Still more rumors suggest Apple is soon to radically overhaul its MacBook Pro lines, taking inspiration from its Air design as it does so. This is something we predicted for 2011, but it looks like it'll happen several months from now.

Update 2: More fuel for the Mac Pro rumor fire--Apple's now said to be planning a switch back to Nvidia's hot new graphics cards for the refresh, making the most of synergy with Intel's Nehalem chips. Whether or not it's true, the increasing rumors about the Pro update are unusual, and possibly a good sign. 

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

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