Is Apple going to release the iPad 3 and 4 in 2012!?! It's not as crazy as it sounds, but the report does come from Asian supply chain watcher DigiTimes; who doesn't have the best track record when it comes to Apple rumors. Citing "Taiwan industry sources," the DigiTimes writes that Apple is prepping to release two iPad models in 2012. The so-called "iPad 3" will feature a QXGA (1,536x2,048 pixels) display and longer battery life. The so-called "iPad 4" will ship with many "upgraded hardware specifications and integrated applications." The iPad 2 will be reduced to $399 to compete with Sony, Motorola Mobility and Samsung Electronics' cheaply priced tablet PCs.
This may sound like a new rumor, but it's actually not. Component suppliers are just using the names "iPad 3" and "iPad 4" to describe what could be the new mid-range and high-end Apple tablets we've been hearing so much about. Previous reports from the supply chain have claimed Apple is working on a "complete iPad series" for 2012. The new iPad line will feature a $299 to $399 entry-level Wi-Fi only iPad, a new mid-range iPad and the high-end iPad 3. The new iPad line is supposedly Apple's plan to compete the Amazon Kindle Fire and Google's rumored new tablet PC.
The latest iPad rumors come from iLounge‘s Jeremy Horwitz' Twitter feed (via 9to5Mac). According to Horwitz, the next generation iPad will feature a front-facing FaceTime HD camera, and the rear camera will be more "iPhone 4S-like." 9to5Mac also heard Apple was prepping an 8-megapixel camera for the iPad 3 last summer.
Horwitz also tweeted that the iPad 3 will be thicker like previous reports have suggested. This is due to the rumored dual OLED backlights for the improved LCD display.
“Curve radiuses on the body will change only a little to accommodate the added thickness, not dramatically. Think iPad 2 Pro, not a redesign."
"Body of the next iPad is, as we previously reported, getting just a little thicker to accommodate new parts - little = 1mm give or take."
Apple is poised to retain its dominance of the tablet market worldwide, and one leak of information after another is streaming out of Asia to reveal glimpses of what's next. Reports of more than one iPad model on the horizon are not new, however DigiTimes research indicates there could be three tiered models coming early this year.
The flagship model iPad 3 would be a high-end device featuring an updated screen with Retina-like resolution and top specs, including a next generation A6 mobile processor. A second tier A6-equipped iPad would feature the same insides however with a display matching the resolution of the iPad 2, which would reduce the price. Here's the kicker:
News of Apple's move towards IGZO (indium gallium zinc oxide) technology in the iPhone 5 display is not new, however reports have surfaced that show Apple could be using IGZO in the next generation iPad. The current iPad uses an IPS (in-plane switching) display, which provides a large viewing angle.
As seen in the diagram above from Semiconductor Portal, one advantage of an IGZO display is improved electron mobility. This means display pixels can be smaller (higher resolution) and more light passes through the IGZO display from the backlight. This reduces the brightness level needed from the backlight and saves power.
Contradicting their previous report that Apple is working on a 7.85-inch iPad, the DigiTimes writes that Apple will release a "complete iPad series targeting the entry-level, mid-range and high-end market" in 2012. The iPad 2 will be reduced to compete with the Amazon Kindle Fire, and the next-generation iPads will "focus on the mid-range and high-end segments," according to sources in the supply chain.
The new iPads will feature 9.7-inch screens, QXGA resolution (1,536x2,048 pixels) and the rumored dual OLED backlights we keep hearing so much about. The new "high-end version" of the iPad will feature an increased battery capacity of 14,000mAH compared to 6,500mAH used currently. Both new devices will use the quad-core A6 processor being manufactured by Samsung.
According to Focus Taiwan, iPad manufacturers are working overtime to release the iPad 3 on Feb. 24 to mark Steve Jobs' birthday anniversary. OEMs and ODMs are asking their employees to work during the holidays to meet the deadline.
"To meet the iPad3 delivery date, the sources said, main assembler Hon Hai Precision Industry's iPad division will only allow its employees to take five days off during the Lunar New Year holiday, while staff at the company's other divisions will have a longer holiday."
Amazon has proven that affordable smaller tablets can sell well, but are they selling well enough to force Apple to change their opinion about 7-inch displays? According to a recent report from the DigiTimes, Apple plans to begin production of a 7.85-inch iPad next year. The smaller tablet, dubbed the "iPad mini," will be available in Q4 of 2012, and the iPad 3 will still launch in February or March of the same year. DigiTimes claims Apple will purchase the 7.85-inch panels from LG Display and AU Optronics, and that production of the new models will begin at the end of the second quarter of 2012.
The success of the Kindle Fire has revived old rumors about a smaller iPad that date as far back as 2010. The Korean Times wrote in November of 2011 that Apple met with LG Display to discuss production of 7-inch displays, and a few analyst have restarted the iPad mini rumor mill this year as well. The device will reportedly feature the same resolution as the iPad 2, and will be Apple's answer to the growing demand for more affordable tablets.
Now that reports have surfaced of a possible February or March iPad 3 launch, Asian suppliers have started to offer iPad 3 components for sale. The latest part to spring up is a wholesale microphone flex cable ribbon, which according to photos from TVC-Mall is much different than its predecessor.
The new part, pictured above, could indicate a major redesign of the next generation iPad hardware. The site claims this microphone ribbon cable is an authentic replacement part for the iPad 3, however similar claims have had a mixed record when it comes to accuracy.
Production on the iPad 3 is moving along and the next generation device should be ready to launch in February, according to Citi analyst Richard Gardner. Gardner wrote that "several sources" have confirmed the iPad 3 will launch early next year.
The new 2048 x 1536 displays for the iPad 3 started shipping in November making earlier estimates for a release in March. The new iPad is rumored to be thicker to accommodate the new dual OLED backlights, and there may return of the curved profile we seen in the original iPad. The iPad 3 should also feature the new A6 chip which is currently being produced by Samsung.
More evidence of a thicker iPad 3 design has surfaced from Asian suppliers. The latest report from Macotakara claims to reveal an iPad 3 prototype case photo, as seen below. This prototype is incredibly boring, and indicates no cutouts for a rear camera or any other distinguishing marks that help prove it's an iPad case.
If this silver blob means anything, the iPad 3 will not only be thicker, but the back of the iPad 3 could be a return to the curved profile see in the original iPad. This form factor was replaced by the second generation iPad's flat back and thinner profile. If Apple is indeed planning to increase this dimension on the iPad 3, there had better be a good reason.