iPad 2: A Clearer Picture of What to Expect

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New rumors are circulating that the next iPad will have front- and back-facing cameras, and FaceTime. We looked at what you might expect from the iPad 2 back in August, but in the intervening months, much has come to light that paints a different picture.

With more competitors entering the fray, Apple will have to really impress to maintain its commanding lead when it does introduce a new model. The next iPad will deliver more of what users want, and it’ll pick up a few tricks from its nearest Mac relative, the MacBook Air.

All-in on FaceTime

Apple will bring front and back cameras to the iPad. Even if the reports about OmniVision’s contract for image sensors for both a 5-megapixel rear and VGA front-facing camera hadn’t surfaced, I’d be sure of this. The cameras are a definite upgrade incentive for first-gen iPad owners, but they also expand the reach of FaceTime and bolster Apple’s mobile video standing.

Many will object that the rear-facing camera isn’t as much of a certainty, especially if Apple just wants people to use video calling, but I think we’ll see it. It’ll draw in users who don’t already have an iPhone or iPod touch for mobile video, and besides, the ability to switch between views is something Apple really pushed in its FaceTime-based iPhone marketing campaigns. It’s a key differentiator, and Apple wants users to have it on all mobile platforms.

More Ports

If there’s one thing Apple hates, it’s slots, knobs and buttons marring the edges of its machines. Still, some are predicting more of those for the next iPad. Goldman Sachs analysts say the iPad 2 will get mini-USB, and Mission:Repair says the iPad will have two dock connectors so it can be docked in either portrait or landscape mode.

The mini-USB thing just isn’t going to happen. Apple has too much invested in the dock connector for now, and I think if they ever do replace it, it’ll be with a micro-dock connector or some other proprietary tech. I do think two 30-pin ports makes sense. From a UX perspective, the lack of a second dock connector is probably the thing I find most frustrating about the iPad. It’s a minor annoyance, but it annoys so frequently that I can see Apple addressing it.

New Case

The case will get an update, though it probably won’t be a dramatic one, like what we saw with the iPhone 4. Instead, look to the example of the iPod touch and the MacBook Air, arguably the iPad’s spiritual “parents,” for what’s coming next for the physical design of the iPad.

We’ll see a slimmer and lighter iPad, made possible by new tech introduced in the MacBook Air, including a low-profile camera unit and better battery tech. The aluminum back will stay, unless Apple’s patent for nitride coatings for stainless steel has already borne fruit, since that would allow better communication from the iPad’s various antennas.

More Power

The A4 powering will remain, but it’ll get a speed bump. We’ll probably see a 1.5GHz version, and we’ll definitely get at least 512MB of RAM to bring the iPad up to par with the iPhone 4. I’m thinking speed and performance will be what Apple focuses on to distance itself from BlackBerry and other competitors, since it has a head start in this arena with its own low-power mobile processor design.

The Best Mobile Screen Available

Another focus, and one that Apple will sell much more heavily to consumers, will be the quality of the display. Apple showed with the iPod touch that it was committed to bringing Retina Display technology to devices beyond the iPhone, and it won’t stop there.

Analysts are predicting a Retina Display in the iPad 2, and I agree. By the time the next version is ready for production, costs on the tech should’ve come down considerably thanks to lessons learned with the iPhone 4 and iPod touch, and I bet even with the size increase, there won’t be a problem with margins. Apple’s introduction of higher res screens in the MacBook Air is a good indication of where its priorities lie.

More Storage

Another inheritance the MacBook Air will pass on to the iPad 2 is greater storage capacity. As Apple boosts mobile storage to further its efforts with Apple TV and AirPlay, and as flash prices continue to drop, 128GB will be an option with the next lineup. More storage will also be important as more and more people opt to take their video files with them on the go.

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