The 4th generation iPad and what Apple needs to deliver

The 4th generation iPad and what Apple needs to deliver

Summary: Apple's fourth generation version of the iPad, presumably due in early 2013, will have to break new ground in order to follow such a powerful third act.


In July of 2010, I wrote “The next generation iPad and what Apple needs to deliver.” Based on information gleaned from updates in iOS and information coming out of the semiconductor industry at the time, I updated that article in November and polished the crystal ball — in my usual purely speculative way — of what I thought that iPad 2 might look like or the features it should contain.

I followed that article up with a sequel in March of 2011 called "The iPad 3 and what Apple needs to deliver".

The iPad 3, or rather "The new iPad" is now here. For the most part, much of what I thought would be in the new model did actually come to fruition, but as usual, we got a number of surprises and also some disapointments as well.

The iPad 3 is an amazing feat of technology and consumer electronics engineering, and I have to say I am extremely impressed with what Apple has brought to market, given the manufacturing challenges and supply chain issues which almost certainly pushed the company's capabilities to its limits.

In the 4th version, Apple is going to have to break new ground, because the iPad 3 is such a strong product in and of itself. It's going to be a tall order to impress the market after what they've just done.

Let’s go through last year’s predictions about various anticipated features in the iPad 3 to find out where the hit and misses were, and to see if there is room for improvement in any of these areas that could make their way into iPad 4.


"Yup, the iPad 2 did in fact get a gyroscope, likely the same or similar part that’s in the iPhone 4. So all future iPads are going to have gyroscopes. Will there be new applications on iPad that will really take advantage of it? Does the iPad 3 need a higher precision gyroscope part than what is shipping today? That remains to be seen, especially when iPhone 5 ships and we see what features it contains."

There is yet to be any indication if the precision gyroscope part that was included in the iPad 2 and the iPhone 4S (heh, no iPhone 5) is any different. Until we get a teardown we won't have any idea if the part changed significantly. I'm leaning towards "No."


I would expect that the specs on both the front and the rear cameras on iPad 3 to be improved. iPad 2 uses a VGA-capable camera on the front and a “HD” camera that can do 720p video in the rear. Competitors which are shipping with integrated cameras in 2011 include the Blackberry PlayBook, which sports a 3MP video camera in the front and a 5MP in the rear, and the Motorola XOOM, which is 2MP in the front and 5MP in the rear.

Still, we can speculate that 3MP and 5MP camera components might be able to be secured in volume by Apple by end of CY 2011 to ship a device with upgraded parts in early 2012.

Well, that was an interesting one. Never mind the fact that both of the competitors I named originally ended up becoming total market duds, but we sort of went halfway. The crappy VGA front-facing camera remains, and there's certainly a ton of room for improvement especially if the new HD screen on future generation iPads is to be taken advantage of by Facetime.

In the rear, we got the new 5MP iSight camera, which while a substantial improvement over what we had previously and is 1080p video capable, is still not as good a camera as what's inside the iPhone 4S.

Next year, I should hope the front-facing camera is improved, and we get some rear-camera parity with the iPhone 4S.

System on a Chip/Central Processing Unit (CPU)/Graphics Processing Unit (GPU)

Room for improvement in the iPad 3 will be yet more graphics performance (particularly if the screen resolution is improved) such as moving to a PowerVR SGX6 GPU, increased clock speed and/or increased integrated L1 cache on the chip. The A5 has 64K of integrated cache (32K instruction + 32K data) like the A4. I’m not expecting a quad-core design in the next iPad on the A6 or A8, but I wouldn’t put it out of the question that it exists in Apple’s roadmap over the next two years.

That's about as good as I could have expected to do, prediction-wise. The A5X is in fact a dual-core ARM Cortex A9 SoC with a significantly improved (quad-core) GPU, which is needed to drive the 264 pixel-per-inch "retina" 2048x1536 HD display. No word yet as to whether the integrated cache has been bumped, but we'll find out as soon as the PoP is inspected under a X-Ray microscope.

Next year we will almost certainly see a quad-core CPU with yet even more GPU performance behind it. The current iPad 3 GPU, which is expected to be a PowerVR SGX543MP4 is rated to be twice as powerful as the iPad 2, and four times as powerful as the nVidia Tegra 3 in the current generation quad-core Android tablets.

So a move to a PowerVR series 6 GPU with twice the performance of the iPad 3 seems likely.


I don’t expect that the iPad 3 will have the same resolution screen as an iPad 2 — all indications are that the next model will almost certainly have a higher-res display, whether it is SXGA or UXGA or something even higher. In my earlier piece, I speculated that iPad 2 might have even used OLED or transfective-type displays, but this was a real reach on my part.While I won’t put some new technology out of the question for the iPad 3, it’s possible that what we will see next year will be a higher res, but still a commodity IPS LCD part. OLED is still too expensive to source in quantity and obviously transflective technologies such as Pixel Qi and Mirasol aren’t ready to use on tablets yet

So, this one is where we both got it right and got it very wrong. "Something even higher than UXGA" is correct, but I didn't realize just how high it would be -- QXGA, which is 2048x1536, which is even higher than the highest-resolution broadcast HD television (1080i) and even higher than 1920x1080 (1080p) Blu-Ray resolution.

While the iPad 3 uses LCD technology, I definitely wouldn't classify its retina display as a "commodity part."

It's going to be very hard to improve on such impressive display technology, and certainly Apple's competitors are going to have a devil of a time getting anything like that into their own products.

My main concern with the iPad 3 retina display is whether or not Apple's supply chain for this part, which is likely to take up the lion's share of the bill of materials and will almost certainly result in this product being sold at much thinner margins than previously can actually keep up with consumer demand. Will shortages occur? Is the part reliable? We'll have to wait and see.

Next year, Apple is going to need to be able to produce this same screen at very high volumes, because by then the iPad 3 will be in the same place as the iPad 2 occupies today, as the loss leader high-volume seller.

If there are any tangible improvements to be made at all with this display, it will have to be in the areas of power consumption and outdoor readability, and that will require moving to a completely different type of technology, such AMOLED and the aforementioned Transflective displays.

They could certainly make the display more retinized, such as the original 326 pixel per inch that was proposed well over a year ago, but I'm not sure if that would actually be a noticeable improvement. Goggle-less 3D, that's a strong maybe considering that a good number of movies have now been released in 3D theatrically and certain types of games might be able to take advantage of it. 4K resolution? Maybe not for five years.

[Next: Audio, Video Output, Networking & Connectors]»


While I haven’t yet experienced the quality of the speaker output of the iPad 2, I understand that they went from two smaller speakers that had monaural sound output in the iPad 1 to a single, but larger monaural speaker. With stereo devices coming out this year from Apple’s competitors, I would expect iPad 3 to have stereo speakers.

In actuality they ended up putting two speakers in the iPad 2, but they put them behind a single grille and still had monaural output. In any case, there is no indication they put stereo speakers into the iPad 3 yet. If they didn't, there's certainly room for improvement next year.

In order to support voice dictation I have to assume that a better noise reducing microphone was introduced in the iPad 3 hardware. My guess is that once Siri exits beta, we'll get it in a software update for iPad 3 or it will be introduced on the iOS released with iPad 4.

Video Output

Apple definitely delivered on this one. They created a new HDMI accessory that works on both iPad 1 and 2 and also included display mirroring capability on iPad 2, which is a big improvement in my book. The only thing I can think of to improve this on iPad 3 would be screen mirroring over Airplay to an Apple TV, but that might require some serious wireless network bandwidth.

Interestingly enough, Airplay screen mirroring is something that Apple ended up doing with the iOS 5 update for the iPad 2. However, it's kind of hokey when you use it with fast-moving games. I'm not sure how well this is going to work with the new, 1080p Apple TV 3 since we're talking about a massive increase in native pixel density in the iPad 3.

You'd have to downscale it to fit within a 4x3 box at 1080p (or 720p) resolution, of which you'd have to pipe the equivalent bandwidth of over wireless-N. On the iPad 2, you only had 1024x768 to deal with. Now you're talking about a LOT more pixels over Airplay.

I'm guessing improved Airplay mirroring is in the works for iOS 6 and iPad 4.


The current model iPad only has a single-antenna Wireless-N transceiver and has a maximum network throughput of 65Mbps. For 1080p, you’d need at least two antennas and would want to double (or triple) that throughput, and have network performance much closer to what a 5Ghz Wireless-N laptop chipset can achieve.

We haven’t done any throughput testing on the iPad 2 yet, but it would not surprise me if Apple stuck with a similar Wi-Fi transceiver on the new device in order to keep costs down and battery life where it needs to be. Obviously, I still think the iPad 3 would benefit greatly from a dual-antenna design that would permit full Wireless-N at 270Mbps and increased power for longer range signal.

Last year, it completely escaped me to talk about 3G. The 3G version of the iPad 2 apparently uses an integrated transceiver chip set that works on both CDMA and GSM 3G networks. However, unlike the Motorola XOOM and the BlackBerry PlayBook, the iPad 2 is not equipped to run on 4G this year. I’d expect that the iPad 3 will ship with models that support Verizon LTE as well as ATT’s 4G network.

We did end up doing throughput testing, and the iPad 2 ended up having pretty much identical 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz 65Mbps Wireless-N network performance to the iPad 1. There's no indication of whether the Wi-Fi version of the iPad 3 uses a more powerful transceiver or if it is MIMO, like a 2x2 or a 3x3, but it's something we plan to test as soon as we can.

One would hope that it can transmit and receive at double the rates of the iPad 2. If not, this is an area that is going to require serious improvement, particularly when heavy streaming of HD 1080p content is occurring.

The iPad 3 did get 4G LTE on Verizon and AT&T. That much I did get right. I would expect next year's iPad 4 to have more power-efficient versions of the LTE chipsets.

Dock Connector and Charging

This category didn't exist last year or the year before, but it's one that I do find particularly important. The 30-pin connector introduced in the iPad 1 is still in the iPad 3. A less fragile charge connector needs to be introduced, such the quick-disconnect type that is used on the MacBook Pro. Ideally, some type of magnetic induction dock or mat that could be used with both the iPad 4 and the next-generation iPhone would make sense in order to go completely cordless.

There are many other features which I would like to see in the iPad 4, but the ones I’ve described above are the most likely to make an appearance in 2013. What have I left out? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: iPad, Apple, Hardware, Mobile OS, Mobility, Processors, Tablets


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • Uh, there's not such thing as "loss leader" to Apple

    There is [b]no way in Hell[/b] that the iPad 2 is a "loss leader high-volume seller." No, I take that back, if the iPad 2 has a lower margin than the new iPad (i.e. 35% vs 40%) it could, conceivably be [i]considered[/i] to be a loss leader, but only in that for Apple a 35% gross margin is a [b]loss[/b].
  • ?

    How is a 12800*8000 pixel super-extra hd display? You will be satisfied if you look at it even with a microscope :)
  • The new IPad4 will most likely have 3d tri-gate transistor IC's

    That would either create a tremendous increase in speed or battery life or possibly a combination of both. Everything else seems leading edge already.
  • What about haptic feedback touch technology?

    You probably read the 11th hour rumor that this type of technology might be incorporated into the new iPad.

    You have to admit, however, if this technology were implemented, Apple would corner the niche market for electronic braille e-book readers.

    I doubt however, if this technology would work with flexible AMOLED screens currently being developed.
  • huh?

    both Asus and Acer have announced at CES that their next tablets will have have display resolutions of 1920 x 1200. While yes it's a little lower in resolution it's more than high enough to match the 2048 x 1536 of the iPad. The human eye won't be able to distinguish between the two. Sort of like comparing a 1080P 26inch tv to a 720PHDTV at normal viewing distance the human eye can't detect but blown up with a microscope sure but normal viewing nope.

    both are going to incredibly sharp and pleasing to the eye. after a certain resolution everything else is just a number. Reminds me of the arms race USA to Russia "We have 100 million nuclear war heads to your 90 million" after a certain point it doesn't make a difference.

    And you do realize that Apple doesn';t make display's right? More than likely this came from LG who also makes Asus's displays. And give the fact that Samsung is sort of the King of the hill in display manufacturer makes your comment how the competition will have trouble competing to match this level strikes me as a very odd almost unimformed comment. Even more troubling coming from a so called tech expert.
    • Display Technology

      Samsung is a very skilled and productive manufacturer of high volume commodity displays. But what we're talking about is closer to exotic display technology. Samsung may have the ability to produce such a display, but state of the art and volume manufacturing are entirely different things.

      We don't know who the manufacturer of the iPad retina display is. My money in on Sharp, but I have my reasons for that.
      • HDTV's aren't your thing huh?

        You say high volume commodity as if they are only producing entry level display's. Samsung's high End HDTV's, smart phones etc are among, if not the elite in the businees. Their image quality is among the highest standouts.
        but that is beside the point. My point is that with what Asus , Acer and Samsung will produce in their upcoming models, you won't (though I'm sure you will convince yourself) be able to distingish the difference between them. The resolution will be more than high enough where the human eye won't be able to detect it.

        But I'm sure Apple supplies you guys with Super Spidey Vision ; )

        With what Samsung is doing OLED displays, and not being bound to annual product launches, they are going to be the one to watch for screens displays. Asus will also be right there as well.
      • Display

        And isn't Sammy coming out with an 11" 2560x1600 tablet (double resolution of the current Honeycomb/ICS standard of 1280x800)?
      • Please see

        In reply to the "HDTVs aren't your thing" jab... I will note that my career includes working full time for two different Japanese display and semiconductor contract manufacturers. That's public knowledge, BTW.
      • @jperlow

        but the difference between Samsung and Apple is Samsung actully owns their own display panal manufacturing facility. It's one of the largest among the few that actually do. Their supply chain is already in place and THEY are the ones doing both R&D AND producing of the display panals.

        And as far as the "jab" goes, for someone who is so close to this scene you are being awfully dismissive and conviently leaving out facts. Samsung isn't in the same boat as Motorola, or Asus etc. They actually have a leg up on Apple since everything is done in House.

        And again for someone so close to HdTV world and not acknowleding the cutting edge in display that Samung is doing especially with OLED and making comments "only apple can do this" is just disconcerning.
      • @jonandkelly

        [b]"but the difference between Samsung and Apple is Samsung actully owns their own display panal manufacturing facility. It's one of the largest among the few that actually do."[/b]

        I don't think you understand how Apple works its relationships with contract manufacturers. LG Display or Sharp or Samsung may in fact be the contract manufacturers for Apple for the Retina display, but the production lines and factories that are used for this activity are reserved specifically for Apple and they cannot use them for their own products.

        This is due to commitments made years in advance using billions of dollars of capital investment dedicated to the manufacturing of those components. In essence those factories exist in a parallel universe to the OEM's own product activities and contract manufacturing that they do for other companies, which is why Apple has channel "lock-up" for those parts.
      • Display technology

        Doesn't Apple engineer the display and then outsource production? My point being that it wouldn't matter who produces the display as Apple owns the technology behind it and therefore all rights. As far as I know Apple manufactures only a small percentage of their products so I am not sure why "joanandkelly" made a rude reference to your knowledge.
      • Hmmmm

        If memory serves correct didn't you work for Sharp,lol.. Sharp I think is forgotten at times but they make awesome technology.
    • z

  • RAM - And the lack of it.

    Hi Jason,

    Nothing in this article was mentioned about internal storage, a.k.a. RAM!

    The internal storage maximum on the "new" iPad is still 64GB, which is insufficient to hold the growing amount of data and apps that will take advantage of the A5X and HD screen.

    Basically, SSD memory for 64 GB is really coming down in price and this iPad should have been offered with a 128 GB option. The iPad is expensive as it is, so do the right thing.

    An alternate suggestion would be to have 32 GB of internal storage and further internal expansion via a Micro-SD card.
    • Storage

      This is something I considered commenting on as I had done so in the previous two installments. I agree that there is no way you can store Blu-Ray quality content on an iPad 3 without having to do significant lossy-style compression techniques. The iPad may have the display capability but as we know, the source format is 50GB for a feature-length film in lossless MPEG-2. MPEG-4 will shave that down considerably if we want to go lossy, but there are challenges even with that. I believe that most downloadable iTunes movie content will continue to be offered in 720p MPEG4-compressed format whereas 1080p will be reserved for streaming, probably in lossy formats requiring 4Mbps-8Mbps sustained data transfer rates. Anything higher than that to improve quality and there are significant challenges for commodity broadband connections, not to mention huge implications for metered LTE data plans.
    • The Other RAM

      As in executable space..... Anyone have any idea on this?

      That is my single biggest complaint with the iPad 1 and 2 - as in lackaram?

      Would like 2gb or so.....
      I'm tired of the app crashes (several times a day) due to this. I know its the RAM. If I kill each app as I close it, I seldom see an app crash. If I rely on iOS to manage it, I get several a day.
  • Retina Display

    Human visual acuity is angular: approx. 1 minute of the visual arc (i.e. 1/60th of a degree) in the central 3 degrees of vision (called Foveal).

    So, 'retinal' resolution is not an absolute (e.g. 326 ppi) but a function of viewing distance: essentially the pixel size/density at a given viewing distance where you can just see an individual pixel or more exactly where to one pixel wide black lines separated by one (white pixel) line begin to look like one three pixel wide gray line.

    Or put another way, a pixel density that, given your viewing distance, increasing the pixel density further would be pointless since you wouldn't notice the additional resolution.

    Taking an extreme example: imagine a retina quality LED display that would be viewed from across a sports stadium or arena. How small would each pixel need to be? If the average viewer was a few hundred feet away from the display each pixel would only need to be a few hundred times the size of an iPhone or iPad display to look as small from that viewing distance.

    This is a simplification and those deeply schooled in the subject might add to this explanation.

    I tend to hold my iPhone closer (around 11" from my eye) than my iPad (around 13" from my eye) and the 'retina' pixel densities of the two screens - iPhone 4/s and new iPad almost exactly correspond to my personal viewing distances, which leads me to believe that I'm not alone. (for those with good near vision or appropriate corrective lenses this is probably pretty much the average).

    Of course, with respect to the new iPad this may be a happy coincidence since they started with a pretty standard screen resolution and exactly doubling it was the logical next step to allow existing apps to display properly.

    Anyhow, increasing the iPad (or iPhone) display's resolution further would seem to be pointless assuming a standard 2D display.
  • Question from an apple dummy

    Can i link my camera to the ipad3 with a standard USB cable, transfer the photos and see them on the pad ?

    because if this is not possible, for me this device is not worth a look.
    • There is a camera adapter accessory

      Apple makes one as does 3rd parties.