Apple Rumour Mill Churning Along

As always, the global sport known as “Guess What Apple Does Next” continues in full-force. The latest are swirling around the next iPad. I’m wondering how far over the top the predictions will get this time. All I can predict is that people will make predictions that are over the top, Apple will release a device that is still pretty good and will still sell well, but they will be beaten up for “falling short”. Some will complain that Apple didn’t do enough to contain the speculation (Like what? Kidnap all the bloggers and reporters? Deploy lawyers to shut down their sites? How do you shut down Forbes or the New York Times?). Others will see it as the first flop for the company in a while.

The latest batch of rumours is rather amusing. Mobile Magazine had a piece that summarized some of the speculation from one source. It claims that Apple will use iWorld (formerly known as MacWorld, run by IDG, and not Apple) in January to announce iPad 3. The source claims that the new iPad will sport a smaller, but higher-resolution, screen, and that the iPad 2 will stick around as an entry level model. Wired has a fairly comprehensive roundup of rumours, which they note are contradictory at times. As for Apple using iWorld to announce products: not likely. Apple used to use the MacWorld/iWorld keynote for major product announcements, but the last was in 2008, when Apple said they would only announce at their own events or at times and locations of their choosing. I don’t see why Apple would change that up, at least not yet. As for another rumour claiming an announcement at CES: Apple seems to largely ignore the show, or at least pretends to ignore it. There are rumours every year about Apple attending the show and making some major announcement, and every year it turns out to be false. You would think after years of this, people would figure that one out.

There are a few things I expect for the next iPad, technologically. Not surprisingly, I expect a bump in processor (possibly even a quad-core) and graphics, as well as an increase in storage. I also expect somewhat longer battery life. Getting more speculative, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a retina display, but part of me wonders if they’ll wait one more generation, and put a retina display in the lower-volume MacBook Air first. It would give Apple a chance to see how predictable the manufacturing quality is for panels of this size. This could also be Apple’s first shot at adding 4G support, again given it is a lower-volume unit than the iPhone, and a place to see how it works out. In the “I would sure like to see it added/wishful thinking” category is support for GPS in the Wifi-only version of the device.

What I don’t expect in this iteration is for the main iPad model to get a smaller screen. Apple might add a physically smaller model, but that’s a long-shot in my mind. The Kindle Fire is the only smaller tablet to have sold in any volume, and there is speculation that Kindle Fire sales may not have been as big as expected or assumed. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a smaller iPad make its debut in 2013. I also wouldn’t be surprised if the iPad 2 carries on, with a price reduction, to broaden the line. It just seems to me that, with a larger form-factor MacBook Air, a “new TV” of some kind, iPad3 and likely iPhone 5 this summer, engineering a 5th brand-new device would be a bit much.

Of course, the “iPad 3” could actually end up as “iPad 2G/2S/2e”, as well as carrying on with the iPad 2. Instead of a net-new device, we could see something that is more of an upgrade (faster processor, better GPU, more storage, maybe 4G) like we saw with the iPhone 4S, but the bulk of the device remains largely unchanged. That would be in line with how Apple has handled the iPhone, alternating “upgraded” and “net new”. It would also allow the current accessory market to get another year out of the device before having to re-tool for a new form-factor. In some ways, this route might make more sense, if Apple is truly working on a new TV, the iPhone 5, as well as the larger MacBook Air (or thinner MacBook Pro). There are only so many cycles when it comes to new-new product design. Trying to stretch and release 5 completely new things (iPhone, big and small iPad, TV, MacBook) would be a bit much.

So, until we hear officially, we get to listen to the churn and chatter of the rumour mill as it grinds away on whatever grist it can get.