So of course, after yesterday's blog post, the next question that I got was — "What's the iPad 2 going to be like, anyway?"
It's actually a little bit hard to predict, but typically what Apple does with the next version of a hit product is to address the top complaints — the reasons that people cite for not buying an iPad. Factoring out complaints with the software (some of which will be addressed with next month's iOS 4.2), here are the biggest things Apple could do, to increase the mass appeal of the iPad:
- Reduce the weight
- Increase the screen resolution (i.e. add a retina display)
- Decrease screen glare (so you can use the iPad outside)
- Reduce the price
Unfortunately, I don't think any of these improvements, while certainly welcome, will make the cut for the iPad 2. Let's go through them one by one, shall we?
Marco Arment really nailed this one: if you break the iPad down into its components, it's not clear how Apple will be able to shave much weight. Maybe they could switch to Gorilla glass (like on the iPhone 4) — I'm not sure if that weighs less than normal glass. But barring some major innovation with materials, batteries, or construction, I don't see the iPad going on much of a diet.
A Retina Display on the iPad would be simply breathtaking. On the iPhone it's amazing (and one of the top things that I love about my iPhone 4), but at a 10" size, it would really be something. And while I firmly believe that a higher resolution display will come to the iPad some day, I just don't think that it will happen in 2011. But we're getting pretty close. Just today, Hitachi announced a 6.6" IPS display that gets pretty close to the resolution that Apple would need for an iPad Retina Display.
But even if a suitable 10" 2048x1536 panel existed in the world, Apple would have a second problem that they'd need to solve: getting a fast enough graphics chip in the iPad, to drive all of those pixels. I think that Apple could kick out something today that could handle 2D graphics in that resolution. But unfortunately, Apple has really been promoting 3D games running on the iPad, and to do suitable 3D graphics at that resolution require a really powerful graphics chip. With today's technology, that would be a chip that is large, consumes lots of power, and runs really hot. All three things that are not suitable for the iPad.
But never fear, because Moore's law will eventually get Apple to a Retina Display in an iPad. Just not in 2011.
Amazon has been tweaking Apple's nose about the glossy display of the iPad, with a decent ad for the Kindle. But I don't think that Apple can get rid of the glass on the front of the iPad — it's essential for the excellent multi-touch experience that is at the center of the iPad. I think Apple might be able to make some minor improvements here, fusing the LCD display to the outer glass (à la the iPhone 4), for example. But barring some sort of major breakthrough, the iPad 2 will still be really reflective.
I actually think that from a technical perspective, Apple has the most flexibility with price. What they lack, however, is the will. As I wrote to a friend:
"I'm not so sure the iPad will get any cheaper. If it does, it will start to encroach on the iPod Touch's territory, and Apple doesn't like to mix up their product lines like that."
To put it another way, the price of a product is also something that Apple designs, and I get a feeling that they're pretty happy with how that came out with the original iPad. So, unless Apple starts messing around with carrier subsidies (which I hope they don't do), I don't expect the iPad 2 to be any cheaper.
Aside from the "big changes", there will be a host of minor improvements:
- Apple will add a faster CPU, likely dual core (the A5?)
- Apple will increase the RAM to at least 512MB (possibly going up to 1GB)
- Apple will add dual cameras on the front and back (probably equivalent to the new iPod Touch)
- Apple will add a gyroscope
- Apple might add a second microphone, for noise canceling, like on the iPhone 4
- Apple might add micro USB, in keeping with new EU regulations for standardized cell phone chargers. To be clear, this micro USB port would be in addition to the 30-pin dock connector, and would probably only be used for charging.
- Finally, if the iPhone 4 hits Verizon next year, the the iPad 2 certainly will as well.
All-in-all, I think it could be a fairly tepid update, much like the iPhone 3G. I think that, barring some sort of major screw-up, when Apple nails a product, it's tough for them to make a major leap forward. It will take Apple a few years of sustained innovation, making incremental improvements, until there is a major leap. Think about the iPhone: the original one was a great leap forward, but it was followed by the 3G and the 3GS, which were more iterative updates. And three years after the original iPhone was released, Apple released the iPhone 4, which was a major leap forward.
So, there you have it. That's not to say that the iPad 2 won't be a hit, and I won't want one. Considering how well the original iPad is selling, an even better model will do pretty well. And who knows? Maybe Apple does have some sort of impressive trick up their collective corporate sleeves. That's why it's so fun to play armchair quarterback with them...