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Apple’s ‘iPad 3’: Sifting through the rumors

We’re in the home stretch for iPad rumors, with Apple’s media event set to go for this Wednesday.

Keep in mind that Apple hasn’t even said, explicitly, that this Wednesday will bring a new iPad, but with a picture of an iPad on the invitation and the company’s track record of releasing a new tablet every spring — let’s just say it’s very, very likely.

At least something is. Everything else about the third-generation iPad is up in the air, from its name to its guts.

The rumor that seems to be the closest thing to fact is the speculation that the next iPad will have a retina display, which is already present in the iPhone. What, exactly, is a retina display? According to Apple, it means that there are so many pixels on the screen that your eye can’t distinguish individual pixels. The iPhone 4S displays 326 pixels per inch. A better display on the iPad is good news for those who use the tablet to watch a lot of video.

Along with the display, a likely rumor is that Apple will put a faster chip in the iPad. Some people are split as to whether it will be a boosted dual-core A5X chip or a quad-core A6 chip, but the general consensus doesn’t seem to question that the tablet will be quicker.

Speaking of speed, Apple has yet to make a device that runs on high-speed 4G networks, one way that the company has lagged behind competitors. Analysts expect that Apple could make the next iPad the first to run on the nation’s fastest networks, though Sterne Agee’s Shaw Wu pointed out that Apple will have had to make some battery improvements to avoid the 4G pitfalls that have plagued other tablets.

Siri, the “personal assistant” software, was the most notable feature of the latest iPhone, and tech bloggers and analysts have assumed that Apple will put the same natural-speech and dictation technology into the iPad. Siri doesn’t seem to be as natural a fit in the iPad as it is in the iPhone — lifting your iPad to ask Siri a question would be even more awkward than talking to your phone — but a built-in way to dictate e-mails would be a welcome addition to the iPad.

Moving into more speculative territory, there’s thought that the tablet’s display could be such a main selling point that Apple will reflect the better screen in its gadget’s name. So far, Apple’s naming convention with the iPad has been straight-forward — iPad, iPad 2 — but there’s been some speculation that the third-generation tablet will buck the trend. Right now, the leading candidate for a name that isn’t the iPad 3 is the “iPad HD,” a nod to the all-but-confirmed speculation that the new tablet will have a better display.

Also in the “possible category”: better cameras for the iPad. The camera sensor is really where the iPad falls down against its competitors, so it would make sense that this would be targeted as an area of improvement. Not to mention that the iPhone got a bump with an 8MP in its latest incarnation.

Related stories:

‘iPad 3’ event prompting trade-ins of older iPads

Report: Apple planning to launch TV service by Christmas

Report: ‘iPad 3’ to have 8MP camera?

There’s a rumor that the expected bump in the iPad’s display quality could require Apple to make the next tablet slightly thicker — which would go against the company’s usual design objective to make everything sleeker and simpler. If the iPad is thicker, it’s likely that it won’t be that noticeable, but could force some iPad owners to get new cases.

Finally, we move into the more wild rumors, a couple of which would be excellent “one more thing” fodder for the company.

With all the improved components expected in this iPad, there has also been some speculation that all that extra goodness could lead to higher prices. A pricing chart leaked to MacRumors indicated that the tablet may be more expensive, but a later leak from 9to5 Mac indicated that the price will remain $499 and up.

As for major changes to the iPad itself, obsessive analysis of Apple’s media invitation has fished up the possibility that the next iPad won’t have a home button, and that users will have to use multitouch gestures to return to the main screen. Apple does have a history of getting rid of buttons (see: trackpad on the MacBook Pro), but has yet to eliminate them completely. Even if Siri does make the cut for a voice-controlled iPad, remember that iPhone users still rely on the home button to summon the program.

Another report that’s surfaced from the (occasionally correct) Taiwanese tech site Digitimes is that Apple will diversify its line and add an 8GB version of the iPad 2 to its tablet lineup. Such a move would help Apple in the lower-end tablet market, and — in some ways — mirror the strategy the company has taken with the iPhone.

Digitimes has also been the main voice behind one of the more interesting rumors out there: the idea the iPad itself will shrink down to a 7.85-inch form factor, in order to better compete with Amazon’s Kindle Fire and Barnes and Noble’s Nook Tablet. Apple’s late co-founder, Steve Jobs, was famously against smaller tablets, so if Apple does do this, it will be seen as a radical departure.

There’s also some speculation that Apple will announce a major television development Wednesday, which also seems a bit unlikely because a report from the New York Post last week indicated that the company was headed nowhere fast when it came to negotiations with television content folks.

Finally, one of the buzziest rumors about the iPad going into the media event isn’t really about Apple, but rather about it’s arch-rival, Microsoft. The iPad has been catching on with the enterprise market, and the Redmond, Wash.-based company is said to be planning iPad versions of its Office suite. That would be a boon to businesses looking to switch from laptops to iPads, but this rumor is based mostly on the self-proclaimed “random, wild guess” of CrunchFund partner MG Siegler.

Related stories:

‘iPad 3’ event prompting trade-ins of older iPads

Report: Apple planning to launch TV service by Christmas

Report: ‘iPad 3’ to have 8MP camera?

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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