NEW YORK – Apple is expected to reveal a new iPad model today, with a sharper screen and perhaps an option for faster wireless broadband. The upgrades are relatively minor, but the iPad is secure in its position as the king of tablets.
The iPad 2 was a big step up from the original iPad, since Apple included a camera and reduced both the thickness and the weight of the device. But there isn’t that much Apple can do to jazz up the iPad 3. Company watchers expect the new device to have the same basic size and weight as last year’s model.
Nearly a year ago, the iPad 2 went on sale nine days after it was revealed. Apple watchers expect similar timing this year.
Some of the rumored new features include:
• A sharper screen, similar to the “Retina Display” on the iPhone 4 and 4s. The rumored resolution is 2,048 by 1,536 pixels, which would make text look smoother and some high-resolution pictures look better. It won’t make much of a difference for images on the Web or video.
Some speculate that Apple will call the model the “iPad HD,” for “high definition,” rather than “iPad 3.”
• Siri, the voice-activated “assistant” found on the iPhone 4S, could be included in the new iPad. Siri has gotten mixed reviews, but Apple has been touting the feature heavily in its advertising, and it would make sense to expand the availability of this high-profile feature.
• Faster wireless capabilities. IPads are available with built-in modems for AT&T’s and Verizon’s third-generation, or “3G” cellular networks in the U.S. The iPad 3 could come in a version that offers faster “4G” or “LTE” networks. However, most iPads are used only on Wi-Fi, so an “LTE” chip wouldn’t matter to most buyers.
• A faster processor. This is pretty much a given, since every new iPhone or iPad has improved on the computing power of its predecessor. But few users complain about their iPads being slow, so this should not be a major selling point.
Sarah Rotman Epps, an analyst for Forrester Research, said hardware features aren’t that important to tablet buyers.
“It’s about the services – what you can do with the device,” she said in a blog post.
Apple’s competitors have slowly come to realize this, but only after bringing out dozens of tablets with whiz-bang features like 3-D cameras. The competitor that’s done the best is Amazon.com Inc. Its Kindle Fire tablet is cheaper than the iPad, but what really sets it apart is that it’s tied into Amazon’s book, movie and music stores, making it an easy route to entertainment, just like the iPad.
Still, the Kindle Fire has a long way to go. Epps estimates Amazon sold 5.5 million Kindle Fires in the fourth quarter of last year. Meanwhile, Apple sold 15.4 million iPads, and has sold 55.3 million in total.
One big unknown is whether Apple will keep the iPad 2 in production at a lower price, like it kept the iPhone 3GS after the launch of the iPhone 4. If so, the iPad 2 could carry a price tag that would make consumers think twice about buying a Kindle Fire.
Another unknown is whether Apple will reveal its rumored foray into making TV sets. Some have speculated that the invite to the Apple event, which said, “We have something you really have to see,” points in that direction.
Apple already sells an “Apple TV,” but that’s a small box that attaches to a TV set to display movies and play music from iTunes.