Yesterday, one day ahead of the 2012 CES, I saw what’s supposedly the next-generation iPad. I’d show you a picture, but there’s honestly nothing to be seen. Think iPhone 4 to iPhone 4S: this device so resembles the iPad 2 that differences are only obvious when they’re placed next to each other. From the back, you could walk past this new iPad on display and have no idea that anything had changed.
Here’s the scoop on what companies believe Apple will announce in the next two months. The new iPad’s body is so slightly thicker than the iPad 2 that the change is unnoticeable on first inspection; a roughly 1mm increase will barely be perceptible to users. We’ve heard that the only accessories that might have issues are cases, and then, only cases that were precisely contoured to fit the iPad 2’s back. On the rear, the camera in the upper left corner has become bigger—noticeably so when placed alongside the iPad 2, but not so huge that anyone would think they were different at a distance. The new camera hole is silver-ringed, and does in fact look the same size as the iPhone 4S’s much-improved rear camera system, minus the LED flash.
From the front, the next iPad and iPad 2 appear to look basically the same—apart, of course, from the screen. That’s going to be Apple’s big focus when the new device is announced, but I didn’t see it. One company claimed to have heard the screen would be just a little smaller than the iPad 2’s, but if that’s the case, the front glass bezel I saw didn’t seem to suggest that. Switch, button, speaker, and other elements located on the side edges are all the same, as are the headphone and Dock Connector ports. In other words, last year’s accessories should generally work properly with the new model, which is great.
While it would be exciting to lead with a sensational “I touched the iPad 3!” headline, I feel obliged to mention a couple of things to put the information above in proper perspective. First, these changes are so modest that Apple could easily call this device the “iPad 2S” or “iPad 2HD” if it wanted to start the lettering game with its tablets. The screen and other major internal changes could collectively justify the “iPad 3” moniker, but we’ll see. Second, I don’t get the impression that what I saw was just manufactured—it actually seemed to be more than half a year old. That’s not a huge surprise given how long pre-production takes for a “new” device, but a lot can change between mid-2011 and early 2012. All I can tell you is that every company I’ve asked about the next iPad seems to think what I’ve told you above is correct, apart from the possible screen size tweak, which remains uncertain.
Last year, on the first day of the 2011 CES, iLounge was the first to show pictures of a nearly final iPad 2 shell—one that looked virtually identical to what was announced, apart from tweaks to the bottom speaker grille and side switch. The curves and proportions were the same, the various elements in the right places, and so on. No one was 100% certain as to what was inside the new iPad, or even that it would be called “iPad 2,” but there were educated guesses that it would be faster, more powerful, and have twin cameras. This year, the smart money is on similar upgrades, but with improved image quality across the screen and cameras as a paramount focus. Those will be improvements worth getting seriously excited about.