2010 was undoubtedly the “Year of the iPad”. As much as the last couple of years have been the iPhone years. Initially some pundits predicted that the iPad would only sell in numbers approaching 1 million. Well, Apple has surpassed those estimates by an order of magnitude!
Ah, but then those same pundits were then quick to counter with claims that the iPad would soon be eclipsed by sales of competing Android based tablets made by the likes of Samsung. Ironically the Samsung Galaxy Tab has shipped a little more than a million units to date – despite being universally heralded as the next best tablet on the market.
Next up was RIM’s Blackberry PlayBook which with a dual core processor and all manner of features sorely missing on the iPad, like cameras and Flash support (just like the Samsung Galaxy Tab), was set to blast the iPad out of the water in late 2010 / early 2011. And yet today we learn that Blackberry’s “iPad Killer” can munch its batteries in a couple of hours of use. About 5 times faster than the iPad does. Consequently the PlayBook is now set to launch much later in 2011, while RIM designers scramble to get their dual-core “fire breathing” tablet under control. Part of the reason that their dual-core device is giving them problems is that instead of making their silicon and their OS from scratch to be a specialised mobile device (like Apple did with the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch) they bought off the shelf chips and a bloated OS as the core of their, admittedly pretty, but certainly not ready for primetime design.
It is clear that Apple wants, and needs to add cameras to the iPad 2 (second generation tablet). It is also clear that the original iPad really needs a bit more RAM on board. It could even do with being a bit easier to hold. So the iPad we all use today is certainly not perfect – despite still selling in massive quantities in the lead up to Christmas. Estimates for iPad sales in 2011 are hovering around the 65 million mark! That is an insanely impressive number for a device that simply did not exist a year ago.
Apple still has a massive lead over other manufacturers, as is evidenced by the cracks appearing in the Android OS eco-system as device designers try to get the smart phone operating system from Google to look a little less like a giant phone on the tablets it runs on. Because of this lead, and the eagerness of competing brand name computer manufacturers to jump on the tablet band wagon, we are seeing a lot of mis-fires from big name manufacturers. Their hardware may be impressive, albeit not as polished as Apple’s, but the OS and the user experience is just not their yet on competing products. And this seems to be something that all but the most ardent zealots agree on. The other tech companies will get there, eventually, but many I suspect are wondering (yet again) just how Apple manages to do what it does time after time!
This is all quite ironic. Apple was derided for making a “big iPhone” when they first announced the iPad. People also poked fun at the name of the iPad, which just 12 months ago would have conjured up an entirely different product image in many people’s minds.
Apple also came in for some stick with its partially botched acquisitions of various ARM SoC boutique design houses which helped it produce a custom ARM processor for the iPad and iPhone 4. Some people said that the acquisitions didn’t go well, and key members of staff defected once they found themselves in the stifling atmosphere of Apple’s obsessive industrial design orientated corporate structure. And yet the Apple A4 derivative of the ARM Cortex-A8 processor which powers the iPhone 4, iPod, and the iPad, literally sips power and provides a user experience that puts most competing smart phones and tablets to shame. This is also in no small part because iOS has been carefully designed to run on both smart phones and tablets – as opposed to Google’s Android which is undoubtedly a capable smart phone OS, but has been unable to find a comfy fit on the larger screens of the Samsung Galaxy Tab and other less successful and lesser known Android tablets.
And so we head into 2011, and it seems that the rumour mill has got back into full swing where Apple’s plans for their next generation iPad is concerned. So much so that it is clear that instead of Apple’s rivals putting the once crippled but now largest tech company in the world on the back foot, it is them again that are sitting in their offices dreading what Apple may shower upon the iOS faithful as early perhaps as February, just a few weeks away.
We know the iPad’s flaws. It hasn’t got enough memory to have lots of tabs open in Mobile Safari. It doesn’t take pictures. Facetime is non-existent on it. And you can’t plug anything remotely USB into it without an ugly dongle; and even then some of those peripherals will require a separate power source.
For what seemed like the longest time (if you read the blog-o-sphere obsessively) the iPhone OS that the iPad ran was woefully lacking features like multi-tasking, folders and unified-email inboxes that the iPod Touch and iPhone boasted. As we all know Apple took the time to make sure that both the tablet centric version of iPhone OS, and the smart phone centric iPhone OS were carefully integrated to become “iOS” – and undoubtedly the premier mobile operating system there is out there. All the while Google, Palm, Microsoft and RIM floundered, failed to learn from Apple’s own mobile eco-system growing pains and stubbornly pushed forwards with their various “iPad killers” – just as they had all done with their “iPhone killers” the year(s) before!
So what is Apple doing about the rest of the iPad’s niggles?
Here’s a rumour round up for you, along with which we think will happen:
1. More RAM : It is almost certain that the iPad 2 will come with the same RAM as the iPhone 4. Which is double what it has today. The PCB in the current iPad which has the Apple A4 SoC on board is identical to the iPhone 4 except for the RAM size and a marginal clock speed difference.
2. Cameras : The only question here is whether the iPad 2 will have 2 cameras or one. Because Augmented Reality is an increasingly important feature on tablets and smart phones today it is very likely that the iPad 2 will have a camera on the back for taking pictures and shooting video. And because Facetime is a core iOS feature, and extremely important to Apple we can’t see why they wouldn’t also put a low resolution camera specifically for video on the front – just like on the iPhone 4. In fact supply chain rumours seem to confirm this – as we have reported before.
3. Smaller and Thinner : I can’t remember an Apple product ever being produced in it’s next generation form without being “smaller and thinner”. And recent leaks of “iPad 2″ cases seem to bear out the supposition that a new more iPhone 4 style form factor will grace the next gen. iPad’s design aesthetic.
4. USB : Apple is very fond of its iPod connector, but some are convinced that because of recent smart phone related legislation in the EU, which demands all phones should charge from a universal type of charger, that Apple will equip the iPad 2 with USB instead of their own proprietary cable. We’re not so sure about that. The iPad is not a phone after all. But perhaps Apple will go that way to unify their connections in future between the iPhone and the iPad. But, as I have said, we’re not 100% convinced.
Note : Having said that it is of course possible that Apple’s rumoured expansion of the iPad range to include CDMA capabilities, as well as the existing 3G model, could well mean that they are going to have to conform to these EU regulations.
5. Landscape and Portrait Docking : Doesn’t seem to be happening. At least based on what we have seen. But there is some confusion about whether holes in third party iPad cases are for new speaker grills, or perhaps another connector. It is more likely, in our opinion, that Apple will go with a “connector-less” dock design later in 2011.
6. Dual Core Apple A5 : With all the brouhaha over upcoming dual-core ARM tablets and smart phones, some analysts are of the opinion that Apple must be planning to bring a dual core chip to the iPad. Whilst this will certainly happen at some point in 2011 it seems unlikely that Apple would do that with this coming revision to the iPad. Far more likely, in our opinion, is that the iPhone 5 and the iPad 3 (which may come as early as the end of 2011) will sport an updated central processor which is dual core. Apple are often very conservative with the progression of silicon they use – preferring to make good use of tried and tested technology and extremely efficient power management, and resource use in a cohesive operating system environment which brings long battery life and still manages as smooth as silk user experience. Expect a tweak of the Apple A4, rather than a fully blown upgrade for the iPad 2.
7. 7 inch iPad? Not happening (yet). Apple has one. But they don’t see the need. Samsung and RIM simply have not made enough in roads into their market lead with different form factor tablets to worry them enough into making a move they are not comfortable with.
Have we missed anything? What do you think the (second gen) iPad 2 will have? Have your say in the comments…