iPad 3 Release Date: From Specs to Price Rumors (What we Know so Far)

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By Surojit Chatterjee | February 17, 2012 12:41 AM EST

Apple is a forerunner in the technology industry when it comes of design and innovation. Hence, it's not surprising to see the excitement among iPad fans reach a fever pitch especially as the latest wave of rumors suggests that the next generation Apple tablet, dubbed iPad 3, will be unveiled in the first week of March, possibly on March 7.

Here's a rundown of the latest rumors about iPad 3 release date, specs and price - and what we think about them.

Release Date: iMore has cited "sources who have been reliable in the past" as saying Apple has fixed March 7 as the iPad 3's debut date.

Earlier, AllThingsD reported that the next generation iPad will debut at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco in the first week of March and will hit the market 1-2 weeks after its unveiling event.

However, The Verge believes that iPad 3 could debut on Feb. 29. "There are 29 days in February this year (it's a leap year), and the 29th falls on a Wednesday (the day on which Apple has announced every other iPad). The iPad 2 was announced on March 2nd, 2011, and made available the following Friday (March 11th). If Apple were planning on having these ready for the weekend of March 9th, it seems relatively possible that they could choose that date... perhaps with a catchy theme like "It's time to leap ahead," the site said.

According to Game Zone, iPad 3 might launch on March 29. The site got the hint from Amazon's France's timeline. The online retail giant doesn't sell iPads, but it has added two iPad 3 books to its online catalog - iPad 3 pour les nuls (or iPad 3 for Dummies) and Auf die Schnelle iPad 3.

iPad 3 for Dummies will be published on March 29, 2012, according to Amazon France's listing. It suggests the new iPad may also be launched on the same date or around that time.

DigiTimes and Macotakara have put the release date of iPad 3 around March. Other Apple rumors claim the tech giant could unveil iPad 3 on Feb. 24, in honor of the late Steve Jobs' birthday.

What we think - A March launch looks imminent because Meijer, a Michigan-based supermarket chain has already slashed the price of the base iPad 2 model (16GB, Wifi only) by $70 to $429 to clear its shelves for the new tablet. Moreover, a March release would give Apple the time it needs to solve its trademark dispute with Proview over the name iPad.

Price: The price of the basic iPad 3 is expected to remain at $499 (16GB model) but don't be surprised to find Apple dropping the price of the base iPad 2 model by at least $100. The possibility of the price reduction isn't too far-fetched as Apple has dropped the price of the older iPhones for the past couple of years whenever the company released a newer version in the market.

The rumor that Apple will slash the price of iPad 2 is also gaining ground because Apple is facing severe heat from other tablet makers that are producing cheaper tablets.

"Apple will take the advantage of the iPad 3 launch to slash the price of its iPad 2 to US$399," DigiTimes said.

What we think - Apple is likely to cut the price of iPad 2 after the unveiling of iPad 3, provided the tech giant decides to continue selling iPad 2. If iPad 2 remains in production, expect Apple to sell the base model in the $299-$399 range, which would effectively take the wind out of the likes of Amazon Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet.

Display: The hype machine expects iPad 3 to boast of a higher resolution display, possibly Retina Display.

Rumors are swirling that Apple will add a second LED bar, which will make the display not only brighter and sharper but also last longer.

The iPad 3 will "come with a QXGA (2048x1536 pixels) display...although its other hardware specifications may not be so amazing as expected," DigiTimes has cited Apple's Asian supply chain, as saying.

MacRumors and Techunwrapped have also suggested that the new iPad will debut with Retina Display.

Meanwhile, Japan-based tech analyst at DisplaySearch, Charles Annis, said he believed Apple may opt for Sharp's IGZO flat panel. Speaking to CNET, Annis said: "There's not a single commercial IGZO (indium gallium zinc oxide) FPD (flat-panel display) available right now."

"And if Apple does start accepting them for the iPad 3 and starts selling then in April, that would be a world's first and we do think that's likely to happen," he said.

Apple may adopt IGZO panels because with the new technology, "you either get higher brightness or you can reduce the number of LEDs at the backlight, which reduces the cost. Or you can reduce the number of optical films at the backlight, which reduces the cost. Or you can increase the lifetime of the battery," he added.

New York Times also reported an Apple insider as saying that the new tablet will come with "an improved and 'truly amazing' screen."

Parts reseller iLab Factory also released a batch of photos on Monday, suggesting that Sharp will be the main supplier of LCD panel for the next generation iPad.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported earlier this week that Apple is working with its suppliers on a smaller iPad, which could bear an 8-inch screen.

"Officials at some of Apple's suppliers, who declined to be named, said the Cupertino, Calif.-based company has shown them screen designs for a new device with a screen size of around 8-inches, and said it is qualifying suppliers for it. Apple's latest tablet, the iPad 2, comes with a 9.7-inch screen. It was launched late last year.

"One person said the smaller device will have a similar resolution screen as the iPad 2. Apple is working with screen makers including Taiwan-based AU Optronics Co. and LG Display Co. of South Korea to supply the test panels, the person said," WSJ reported.

What we think - iPad 2 is a good device but its 1024x768 pixel resolution display has vastly diminished its potential - the display is good for viewing basic images and videos but it cannot handle 3D architectural renderings or true HD quality videos well.

No wonder, ever since iPhone 4 came out with Retina Display, all eyes have been on the next generation iPad to boast of the same high resolution display. After all, why should iPhone users only get to enjoy watching movies and browsing the Web on the ultra-sharp, ultra-clear display? Let's admit it, once you've seen the iPhone's Retina Display, the iPad screen just doesn't make the cut.

Expect iPad 3 with a higher resolution display, if not a Retina Display.

However, we don't think Apple will release an iPad with a smaller screen as it would mean going against Steve Job's belief that the size of iPad's display is optimum for viewing as far as a tablet is concerned - "the 10-inch screen size is the minimum size required to create great tablet apps," the tech guru said in October 2010. Kindle Fire and Galaxy Tab 8.9 be damned.

Camera: The iPad 3 definitely needs a better camera to induce us to buy it. The original iPad had didn't have a camera and iPad 2 has been crippled with a poor 0.7 megapixel camera offering 720p video recording capability and an equally sub-standard secondary VGA camera for video chatting. In comparison, most rival tablets these days boast of 3-megapixel camera, if not a 5-megapixel shooter with LED flash.

RepairLabs reported that a leaked photo of the rear shell of purported iPad 3 suggests "the camera is different," because of the mounts on the iPad 3 casing. However, the report didn't specify how different the new camera will be.

What we think- If Apple wants to its iPad cult followers to grow, a better camera is a must. So, don't be surprised if iPad 3 features a 3- or 5-megapixel shooter with LED flash that can capture 1080p full HD-quality videos. Also expect a front-facing HD camera for better FaceTime experience.

Siri: iPad 2 doesn't have Siri, the personal, voice assistant that is exclusive to iPhone 4S.

Siri may not be the perfect voice assistant but it is the best voice assistant in the market so far and it has played an important role in iPhone 4S' success.

If so, why shouldn't Apple take advantage of Siri while it's ahead in the race?

Moreover, an iPad user can take better advantage of Siri than iPhone an user. Siri is meant to boost one's production and in this regard, when paired with the iPad, the technology has incredible potential. Many people in the corporate world is becoming more and more dependent on the iPad because of the flexibility the tablet offers, but coupled with Siri, the iPad can do more - it can not only also remind employees of meetings or help them perform research but also set timers if they're working on a deadline.

And beyond the boardroom, an iPad with Siri could have a tremendous impact on education. Imagine a student holding an iPad, which can read aloud a selection from a new iBooks textbook, or remind the student to study for an upcoming test. And, if the student has a question and the textbook doesn't offer a satisfactory answer, the student can always try asking Siri. More importantly, Siri may be able to help people who are physically challenged or have learning disabilities.

What we think - We are expecting to see iPad 3 feature an advanced version of Siri, possibly one that can support a dozen languages, if not more.

Processor: iPad 2 debuted with a dual-core A5 1Ghz processor but it has been overshadowed by rival tablets, such as Asus Transformer Prime, which boast of quad-core chip.

Apple blog 9to5Mac.com claims the latest beta build of iOS 5.1 has references to "core.3" which, the tech site explains, refers to a quad-core chipset.

"Extremely reliable and knowledgeable people familiar with iOS's inner workings explained to me that core references begin at "0." For example: A single core device would be limited to '/cores/core.0,' and a dual-core device would come in at '/cores/core.1.'," 9to5mac explains. "A 'core.2' (which is not referenced in iOS code) would be a triple-core processor according to this labeling method. iOS 5.1 beta 2 now includes core.3, a seemingly quad-core chip from Apple."

BGR also cited an unnamed source as saying that iPad 3 will be packed with quad-core chip. The source also provided BGR with photos, suggesting the iPad 3's model number is S5L8945X, whereas the A4 model was S5L8930X and the A5 is S5L8940X. If the photos are correct, the new processor will probably be a quad-core model, which will make the next generation iPad much faster.

However, The Verge has reported that iPad 3 chip will still be dual core, although it will likely feature a "significantly more powerful" graphics processor unit.

What we think - Could a quad-core powered iPad 3 be on the way? Possibly yes, because a quad-core powered iPad 3 will be able to support multitasking, demanding games, a better resolution display, and Siri with ease.

Battery: Taiwan-based DigiTimes has reported that Apple will bump up the battery from 6,500 mAH to 14,000 mAH i.e., it will more than double the battery life of iPad 3 compared to iPad 2. Even if that does not happen, Apple will most certainly improve the battery life of iPad 3 as the next generation tablet will be a power-hungry device.

What we think - iPad 2 has one of the best batteries among tablets, in terms of battery life. However, a higher resolution display and Siri could drain the existing battery pretty fast.

Hence, expect to see iPad 3 feature an improveed battery that can handle the hardware and software upgrades we're all expecting to see in iPad 3.

4G LTE: Apple is in grave danger of losing its customers to Samsung Galaxy Tab and other rivals unless iPad 3 supports 4G LTE network. All major wireless carriers have rolled out the 4G LTE network nationwide and Android tablet users are enjoying the benefits of the wireless network, which offers speed up to 10 times faster than 3G network.

BGR reported that iPad 3 would possibly come with 4G LTE option. CNET also reported that the new iPad may feature a Qualcomm 4G LTE Gobi 4000 chip.

The Wall Street Journal has also chimed in by saying "Verizon Wireless and AT&T Inc. will sell a version of the coming iPad that runs on their newest fourth-generation wireless networks."

However, WSJ, which cited "people familiar with the matter" couldn't confirm whether Sprint and T-Mobile will also offer a 4G iPad.

What we think - Can Apple afford to launch iPad 3 that supports only 3G network? No. 3G is so passe. Despite Apple CEO Tim Cook saying the first generation LTE chipsets will force a lot of design compromises with its devices and that the company was not willing to make those compromises, don't be surprised to see 4G LTE come to iPad 3.

NFC: Users of all Android tablets running on Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) are looking to take advantage of Android Beam, which is based on NFC (Near Field Communication) technology.

However, some analysts feel Apple may not introduce NFC technology in iPad 3 because it could face battery life issues.

What we think - Why should iPad users miss out on the fun? Absence of NFC technology in iPad 3 could be a deal-breaker as iPad fans will definitely want to use the technology that allows simple transactions, data exchange, and connections with just a touch. The battery issue can be solved by equipping iPad 3 with a more powerful battery.

Design: Apple is well-known for introducing simple, yet cutting-edge design in its products and iPad 2 boasts of one of the sleekest and minimalistic industrial designs among tablets.

According to several reports, including one by iLounge, a better battery and higher resolution display could make iPad 3 a tad thicker - by 1 mm.

9to5Mac claims to have got hold of some images of the purported rear shell of iPad 3, which suggest that overall the form factor of ipad 3 will be similar to that of iPad 2. However, "the camera lens is larger than the iPad 2 camera lens, and iPad 3 would feature magnets to support the Smart Cover," 9to5Mac said.

Others rumors have also poured in, saying that the shape of iPad 3's dock connector will be the same as the current iPad. The position of the hardware buttons as well as the camera button will also remain unchanged.

Some rumors also say Apple had hired a carbon fiber expert in 2010 and, hence, iPad 3 could be encased in a lightweight carbon fiber casing. If that's true, a carbon fiber casing will not only protect the new iPad against the accidental drops and bumps but also will make the tablet lighter.

Carbon fiber will also make it possible for Apple to offer iPad 3 in a whole new range of nuanced hues, making for a more vibrant and enjoyable viewing experience.

What we think - We don't expect iPad 3 to boast of radical design change. Apple will save that for iPad 4. However, a new curved glass back would be welcome and make the new tablet look more sexy.

RAM: iPad 2 features 512MB RAM, which is good for running basic applications but a minimum 1GB RAM is necessary if iPad 3 is to handle demanding games and apps. Moreover, it would make iPad 3 more responsive and zippy and would nicely complement the faster processor we are expecting to see in iPad 3.

What we think - Apple will equip iPad 3 with more RAM, possibly 1GB, especially if it bumps up the processor.

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