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Summary:

Despite speculation from reputable sources, 2011 appears to indeed be the year of the iPad 2, not the iPad 2.5, and almost certainly not an iPad 3. But, as Apple has demonstrated in the past, just because something doesn’t add up doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

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Back in February, a number of high-profile bloggers suggested Apple might actually launch more than one iPad in 2011. John Gruber speculated that it made more sense to move the iPad launch from spring to fall, adding new iPads with the widely-expected Apple event for iPods. Jim Dalrymple agreed, thinking Apple might “enhance” the iPad line. MG Siegler was less circumspect, citing a “very good source” for “a big fall surprise” related to a “would-be iPad 3,” but later backed off from that actually being an iPad 3. Finally, Leander Kahney, citing an Apple staffer, said the iPad 3 is the “one to make a song and dance about,” and that it was “on track” for this year.

In contrast, TheAppleBlog’s Darrell Etherington urged caution in predictions of an iPad 3, though he suggested there might be room for a complementary model. Arguably, his caution was prudent. During the iPad 2 launch event in March, a Keynote slide declared 2011 to be the year of the iPad 2. Singular.

Even so, Apple leadership has a habit of altering the company’s course, often very suddenly, as with the transition from Mac OS to OS X or from PPC CPU architecture to x86. More recently, after years of asserting a 13-inch display was the minimum size for a laptop, the company launched the 11-inch MacBook Air. Perhaps similarly, after asserting a 9.7-inch display was the minimum for a tablet, Apple might yet launch a 7-inch iPad 2.

The problem with a 7-inch iPad is that there doesn’t seem to be a lot of interest, or rather, there’s a huge amount of interest in the 9.7-inch iPad 2, which suggests consumers aren’t sweating the lack of a smaller version. From AppleInsider, Ticonderoga Securities analyst Brian White’s “barometer” of Apple component suppliers suggests their triple-digit growth “was driven largely by the ramp of iPad 2.” Fortune reports on a “small but growing group” of analysts predicting 7 million iPads sold this quarter. That would come after Apple sold a record 7.3 million iPads during the holiday quarter last year, and would be a strong indicator of iPad sales in excess of 30 million this year, double last year’s total. Finally, DigiTimes is citing supply-chain sources that “have not yet received any notice for next generation iPad products and do not believe iPad 2 is a transitional product.”

The circumstantial evidence so far is against another iPad this year, including a 7-inch model. Setting aside the repeated denunciations of the smaller display by Apple executives, the real question would be, why introduce a new model when the current one is so successful? There is no reason, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Take the example of the iPod Mini. In 2005, the multi-colored iPod Mini with its hard-drive storage was hugely successful, and yet in the fall of that year, it was promptly replaced by the smaller iPod nano.

There’s something about the “year of the iPad 2″ assertion that seems too certain, too definitive for a company as unpredictable as Apple. Since when does Apple provide any information about its product release plans more than a few weeks in advance? Despite indications that Apple is sticking to one iPad model release per year, there’s just no such thing as a safe bet when it comes to this company.

  1. well the rumour never made sense, its just not apples style. An iPad 2.5 would make the iPad 3 a less impressive upgrade aswell. it seemed like they were struggling to significantly improve the iPad anyway.

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  2. I personally would want a larger iPad not a smaller one. It is very small now, and not great for watching videos etc.

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  3. “why introduce a new model when the current one is so successful? There is no reason …”
    Well, there is one very good reason: the 7inch tablet size is a window of opportunity for the competition to establish itself in the tablet market. – Not that I think Apple’s worried enough that they will compromise on their belief that 7 inch is too small a screen to make sense on a tablet.
    As for your idea of “year of the iPad 2″ is “too certain” for such an “unpredictable company”: That is a weak argument. And Apple uses this kind of subtle messages to quell unfounded and potentially damaging rumors. If they bullshit about this just once they will have lost the ability to communicate this way with any credibility forever.

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    1. No matter how circumspect the question, the constant refrain from Apple executives at press conferences and earnings conference calls on future products and roadmaps is always a refusal to comment. It would be a striking departure for the company to announce a roadmap for the next ten to twelve months for a product, especially one as pivotal as the iPad. Curious behavior on Apple’s part.

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  4. I’d be shocked if it was coming in the autumn. Its almost summer and most people still can’t get an iPad 2 without waiting weeks. Even the sites that track dozens of international locations, like iPad2Tracker.com, don’t show stock. As it is, demand isn’t going to be met until mid-summer, and any new iPad before spring is going to be overload. There really is such a thing as Apple Overload (well, maybe).

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  5. I would never underestimate this company; Apple may have some new product like another iPad model up their sleeve in time for the Christmas shopping season.

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  6. Hamranhansenhansen Wednesday, April 13, 2011

    In the fall, iPad 2 will be running iOS 5. That by itself could be a huge upgrade. They could also bump up the storage at that point, like they did halfway through the original iPhone’s one-year life.

    > Even so, Apple leadership has a habit of altering the company’s course,
    > often very suddenly, as with the transition from Mac OS to OS X

    The transition from Mac OS to Mac OS X was announced in 1996, didn’t ship until 2001, and wasn’t the default OS until 2003. What is sudden about that?

    > 13-inch
    > MacBook Air
    > 11-inch

    All Apple said was you have to have a full-size keyboard or don’t bother. The 11-inch MacBook Air essentially has a 13-inch screen with the top 3rd removed, it still has a full-size keyboard, it is still quite a bit wider than a netbook.

    > 7-inch

    All of the sturm and drang over 7-inch tablets leaves out that is half the size of an iPad, not 70% like it sounds. You can’t run iPad apps on there.

    If Apple ships a 7-inch iOS device, it will not be an iPad, it will be an iPod touch. It won’t run the 10-inch apps scaled down, it will run the 3.5 inch apps scaled up. Fingers can deal with buttons being made larger, but not smaller. Since the 3.5 inch apps are 640×960, they could ship a 7-inch 640×960 full device and it would not need to do pixel doubling, the apps would run at native resolution. It might be popular for gaming. But my guess is people would rather pay $100 more and get an iPad so they can run PC class apps, not phone class apps. Graphical PC’s have 9-10 inch screens or larger, like the original Mac. The appeal of iPad is it replaces a PC for most things, not replaces a phone.

    The key thing is there are 2 classes of apps:

    • mini phone apps, 3.5-4 inch, one-hand operation, fits in a pocket, based on the original iPhone, for both native and Web
    • full-size PC apps, 9-10 inches, two-hand operation, fits in a book bag, based on the original Mac, for both native and Web

    … all apps fit into one of those 2 categories. Even Mac and Windows apps. The devices have to adapt to that reality because their sole purpose is to run apps.

    On the Mac or Windows, apps run inside windows that essentially emulate a screen. Terminal windows are even called terminal emulators. So screen size can expand upwards from 9-10 inches, but notice that as the screen size goes up, window size typically remains the same. No matter what size screen, each window essentially emulates a 10 inch screen in most cases. On a 13-inch screen, your browser will be 3/4 of the screen wide, and on a 30-inch screen, it will take up only a small portion of the screen. The exception would be widgets, which used to be called accessories on the original Mac, which run in tiny windows that essentially emulate a 3.5 inch screen, like an iPhone. Like running the iPhone simulator on your Mac.

    So a 7-inch device was not in the minds of all the native and Web developers who built our existing app platforms. They were thinking of either a mini widget app or a full-size PC app, not something in-between. Very few apps, whether native or Web, will make a satisfying experience on a screen that is half the size of an iPad. You have either a PC that is too small to be practical (your fingers are too big) or a phone that is too large to be portable (it doesn’t fit in your pocket.) The users who will buy that device are provably small. Only a small handful of 7-inch PC’s have ever been sold. Likely less than 10 million over the past 20 years.

    The one thing a 7-inch tablet can do is show a single page of a paperback book, but it can’t show magazines and cookbooks and art books and tech books, which can all be shown by a 10-inch screen. So it is even a hack for reading. And again, if you put anything other than a paperback book on there, it will be mini 3.5 inch apps scaled up. It won’t be a small PC, it will be a large phone optimized for reading. You’ll still have to zoom Web pages as on a phone. If Apple does such a device it would be a mega iPod touch with a big screen, not a mini iPad with a half a screen.

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    1. Regarding OS X, it was released in 2001 and shipped on all Macs in 2002. Even with backwards compatibility for Mac OS, that’s pretty quick.

      As for 11-inch display on laptops, when the MacBook Air was originally introduced Steve Jobs talked about what was “wrong” with then current ultra-light laptops.

      http://web.me.com/jadespace/Ars/201010/mba_specs.jpg

      Another example, there’s also the issue of Steve Jobs stating no one would want to watch video on a tiny screen.

      Finally, I’m in the camp that thinks the iPod touch is a tablet. I imagine that had it been released after the iPad, it would simply be a 3.5-inch tablet, or iPad mini. Regarding portability, 3.5-inch is better than 7-inch which is better than 10-inch. Usability in browsing on a 7-inch display hardly seems like an issue, as 7-inch tablets are selling, and will continue to sell. Regarding applications, even if resolution independence could not be achieved in the future, surely applications could be designed to work on the 7-inch display in the same way there are versions for a 3.5-inch and 10-inch display.

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  7. Did 2011 feel like “Year of the iPad” to you? http://t.co/bghoLzWL

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