iPad2 coming on 2 March - but what new features will it bring?
Apple has sent out invites to an event on 2 March with a graphic, pictured above, showing a large '2' and the corner of a device that resembles the iPad - leaving little room for doubt that the iPad2 is about to be unveiled. "Come see what 2011 will be the year of," the invite proclaims.
Apple's original iPad was unveiled on 28 January 2010 - going on sale two months later, in April. By the end of 2010, Apple had shipped nearly 15 million iPads - encouraging rivals including HP, HTC, LG, Motorola, RIM and Samsung to work on slates of their own.
Rival slates have introduced smaller screen sizes to the tablet market with seven-inch offerings such as HTC's Flyer and RIM's as-yet-unlaunched PlayBook. There are also high-end - but expensive - Android-based products from Motorola and Samsung: the Xoom and Galaxy Tab respectively. HP's Touchpad - another slate that's still not out yet - includes a near-field communications (NFC) feature enabling web content to be shared contactlessly between the tablet and HP's forthcoming smartphone, the Pre3, by touching the two devices together.
While competition is certainly intensifying among tablets - fuelled by Google's announcement of Honeycomb, a dedicated tablet flavour of its Android OS - analysts say Apple is still enjoying its first mover advantage so the iPad2 is likely to be an evolution of the iPad, rather than a radical overhaul.
"Why fix something that's not broken?" said Carolina Milanesi, research vice president at analyst Gartner. "The bottom line with Apple is it's not just doing hardware for the sake of hardware... The iPad2 will be more of an evolution than a revolution."
iPad2: The speculation
Likely iPad2 features, according to silicon.com's Apple columnist Seb Janacek, include a faster processor, more RAM and storage; the addition of a camera or cameras - especially a front-facing camera for video-chat, aka FaceTime; and a thinner form factor.
More outlandish bets include a sort of iPad nano with a smaller screen size - to compete with rival seven-inch tablets; a significant upgrade to the screen resolution by bringing the iPhone 4's Retina Display to the iPad; a lower price tag to undercut rival slates; a slot for expandable memory; and even a USB for plugging in external devices, or a microUSB port to enable compatibility with universal chargers.
Such large changes are unlikely to be on Apple's road map for the iPad2, according to Nick Dillon, analyst at Ovum. "I would imagine the update won't be spectacular - it's going to be a fairly incremental upgrade, primarily since they did a pretty good job the first time around," he told silicon.com, adding: "The competition's been a bit slow off the mark. Aside from the Samsung Galaxy Tab, we haven't really seen any strong competition in the market so there's no real need for them to push things on too far."
Speculation abounds that Apple plans to include NFC tech in the next iteration of its iPhone smartphone - the iPhone5. But analyst Dean Bubley of Disruptive Analysis believes there's a chance a future iteration of the iPad will get an NFC reader so it can be used in conjunction with an NFC-enabled iPhone.
"Sooner or later Apple will put not just the NFC chip into phones, it will put the readers into next-gen iPads," said Bubley in a blog post. "I've already had an experience in a restaurant where the host came around with an iPad for people to enter their email addresses for the mailing list."
However, Gartner's Milanesi reckons NFC is likely to arrive in the iPhone before the iPad - so it won't be on the cards for iPad2. "Definitely Apple is interested in NFC - there's no question about that. With all the content that they sell and the opportunity that there is - absolutely... But I don't know if it makes sense to put it in the iPad first, not the iPhone," she told silicon.com.
Ovum's Dillon is of the same view. "If Apple are going to launch NFC services I think...