We know the iPad 2 is coming—be it a feeling in your bones, a sign in the wind, or because it's typical of Apple's normal hardware update pattern. Now we have enough rumors to give us a shape to the idea, and hints about what it'll be like.
Size and Shape
Numerous leaked iPad 2 cases have arrived from China, and though the first ones were viewed suspiciously, enough have now arrived to suggest that Apple has shared some basic dimension data with its third-party manufacturer partners.
iPad 2 is going to be slightly smaller than iPad 1, but much slimmer—that's the big take-away, which may imply that it's lighter than the first generation device (to tackle one of the few criticisms of the tablet). Its back is also flat, so it can rest on a table and not rock around when you tap at its screen, and the edges seem to be styled similarly to the iPod Touch so it keeps design consistency. One thing we don't know is what it'll be made of? Part of the shaping of the iPad 1 was due to milling inside its aluminum casing designed to make it stiff, but thin and light. With a flat back to the iPad 2 the risk is that the rear face may flex if it's made of thin aluminum, which is a design trick Apple is unlikely to tolerate. To compensate for this, Apple could either incorporate clever structural elements inside the device (which risk impinging on space that could be better used for battery) or use a different material. Will we see a carbon-fiber iPad?
Non-Smudge Screen Tech
One of the other criticisms of the iPad (although you can level it at other tablets too) is that jabbing at its screen leaves you with hundreds of greasy finger smudges. This is something that Apple, which is hypersensitive to questions of look/feel/user experience, has worked on and new rumors suggest the iPad 2's touchscreen--which will be the same physical size at 9.7 inches as the existing iPad's—will be both smudge-proof and anti-glare. If Apple manages this, it'll improve both the day-time and night-time use of the iPad, and give it a big leg-up in the battle with Amazon.
Speakers and Ports
The leaked case designs sparked many rumors about the ports the iPad 2 will have because of an enlarged slot where the existing speaker ports are on the iPad. At first people connected a rumor that the iPad 2 will have an SD card slot with the enlarged hole in the case, but thinking has now centered on some better speakers, with a slightly re-positioned grille—possibly driven by the thinner profile of the device.
The iPad 2 will definitely have a rear-facing camera, given the holes in the top-left corner (seen from the back) in the leaked case designs. The size of the orifice is close to a centimeter, which is bigger than the hole found in front of the camera on a MacBook, or in the front of an iPhone 4—both units are low resolution ones. The iPad 2's camera may even be higher resolution than that on the rear of the iPhone 4 (a 5-megapixel unit with autofocus), or it may have elements like an optical zoom that need more space.
The cases we've seen this far don't impinge on the front of the iPad, so they don't interfere with the touchscreen, so this doesn't tell us anything about a front-facing camera. It would seem logical for the iPad to get one, though, so Apple can push its FaceTime video calling system further.
Apple's A4 chip, now in the iPhone 4 and Apple TV, was the iPad's secret sauce, so it makes sense that Apple would push the tech in the iPad 2. Now there are strong rumors that the iPad 2 will get a dual-core CPU, certainly based on ARM tech and probably using a Cortex A9 reference design. This decision would allow Apple to significantly boost the processing (and graphics) power of the iPad without pushing the clock speed up too high or sucking too much precious power from the battery.
Models and Verizon Version?
New rumors suggest the iPad 2 will come in three versions, not two like the current edition. The tech in each will be Wi-Fi only, UMTS, and CDMA, manufactured in a ratio of 3:4:3 to match expectations of sales of CDMA units and informed by current sales patterns of the iPad.
Did we say CDMA? Oh yes. Paralleling rumors that Apple's embracing the 3G (ish) tech that Verizon uses for its U.S. cell phone network, it seems the iPad will also be available natively on Verizon. This is one sure-fire way for Apple to seize huge swathes of the U.S. tablet market in 2011 all to itself.
Foxconn is reported as being ready to ship about 500,000 iPads as soon as the end of February 2011—only about 10 weeks away. This could imply Apple is bringing the device to market sooner rather than later, in order to stem the tide of Android tablets expected next year.
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