iPad 2 Day is upon us

Well, it’s finally here. Later today Apple is widely expected to announce an update to the best-selling iPad at an event in San Francisco. The whole thing kicks off at about 6pm UK time, and numerous sites will be liveblogging the event; my usual ones of choice are MacRumors, Engadget or TUAW. Recently Apple has also provided a live video stream of their events; it is not known if they are planning one this time around but they have a habit of announcing the stream at the last minute.

So, what can we expect from this launch? Many rumours have been thrown around regarding the iPad 2 and what else might be announced at the event. I did a rumour roundup a little while ago, but as we approach zero hour rumours usually increase in quantity and accuracy, as Apple inevitably have to let more people in on the secret. So, let’s take a look at what we might expect to see.

Updated iPad hardware

It goes without saying there’ll be updates to the hardware. The current favourites are a thinner, sleeker design, dual core processor, dual core graphics, front and back cameras more akin to the iPod Touch than the iPhone (ie 720p video, but nothing like 5MP photos), improved speaker, ‘world’ version compatible with both CDMA and GSM, and additional hardware that saw its debut in the iPhone 4 such as a gyroscope. Rumours of a high res ‘Retina’ display have persisted but are unlikely to be true.

Several rumours over the last month or so have pegged today’s iPad announcement as more of an ‘incremental’ release, with the massive change coming later in the year. Hopefully we will still see the improved internals listed above, even if they are in an only slightly upgrades shell.

We are also likely to see the iPad 2 hitting the shelves quite soon after the announcement, as supplies of the original iPad are already drying up.

 

Updated software

We are also quite likely to see iOS 4.3 made available at today’s event. It’s ben rumoured to drop for almost a month now, so today is likely the day they have been waiting for (it is always possible the iPad 2 will get 4.3 as an exclusive for a little while also).

We could also see a preview of iOS 5. This is 50/50 however, as usually Apple dedicates a whole event to this subject alone. I wouldn’t be surprised either way.

 

Steve Jobs to make an appearance?

It has also been reported that Apple’s CEO could make an appearance at the event, despite being on medical leave. Nothing is decided, it seems, but it is definitely something that’s ‘on the table’. I can’t see Jobs making the effort for a ‘minor’ update, however, so this either casts doubt on this rumour, or lends credence to the fact the update won’t be that disappointing.

 

MobileMe updates

An increasing raft of evidence is also pointing to an update to the MobileMe service. Some rumours have pegged it as simply going free, but there are signs that a number of new features are set to be released over the coming year, such as ‘Find my Mac (akin to the ‘Find my iPhone’ feature), an online digital locker, ‘Find my friends’ and others, all expected to make use of Apple’s new data centre. I’m sure we’ll at least hear something about MobileMe today.

Thunderbolt: the future begins

Yesterday, Apple as expected released a new round of MacBook Pros. Making use of Intel’s new ‘Sandy Bridge’ processors and available with optional quad-core  configurations and new graphics chips, the machines are apparently twice as fast as the previous generation of MacBook Pros (and make my Core 2 Duo first-gen unibody MacBook Pro seem positively creaky – sorry girl).

The speed inside the machines however is being overshadowed a little by the speed outside of it. Or rather, the speed at which things can get into and out of the laptops.

The big news is that Intel’s Light Peak technology – now dubbed ‘Thunderbolt’ – has finally hit the market, bringing 10Gbs data transfer in both directions alongside video transmission.

If you’re out of the loop on Thunderbolt, it is basically the next generation input/output connector, that will eventually make USB and FireWire obsolete (and kill off USB 3.0 before it’s even had a chance to breathe).

Thunderbolt will eventually change everything. It’s capable of 10Gbs now, but Intel expect it to hit 100Gbs by 2020. That’s pretty much quicker than you can move data around inside your computer currently. That is really, really impressive.

If you don’t believe me, take a look at this video:

Rumour Roundup

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to update this blog. It’s been a very hectic couple of weeks, and over last few days I’ve barely been able to even think about updates, let alone sit down to actually write any.

Unfortunately for me, it has been quite an active week on the rumour mill, especially for Apple. Very active. In fact, so active that we’re almost certain to see a new Apple product this week, if not early next.

To that end, let’s have a quick roundup of all the news that’s been bouncing around over the last week, starting with the big one.

 

New MacBook Pros, Light Peak Imminent?

This is now looking very likely. Numerous reports have pegged tomorrow, which is also Steve Jobs’ birthday, as the release date for the new MacBook Pro range, which will feature numerous hardware updates, including – apparently – a separate SSD boot drive for the operating system, and the alleged premiere of Intel’s new Light Peak technology.

In fact, today what appears to be the packaging for a new generation MacBook Pro has been posted around the web. It suggests that Apple will brand Light Peak as ‘Thunderbolt’, that FaceTime HD is about to be released, and the presence of an SDXC card reader (no mention of a separate boot drive however).

Thunderbolt is also apparently making use of, and in the MacBook Pro sharing, the Mini DisplayPort connector.

Intel is also expected to announce Light Peak’s release tomorrow, separate from the Apple event.

 

iPad 2, iPhone 5 delayed? Apparently not.

Two separate reports also emerged over the weekend alleging that due to ‘production bottlenecks’ and last-minute design changes, the iPad 2 and the iPhone 5 would be delayed until June and September, respectively. These reports both apparently came from Wall Street analysts.

The reports were both quickly refuted – indeed, since then more reports have suggested that, far from being delayed, Apple is in fact intending to announce the iPad 2 at a media event next Wednesday.

That said, a new story today claims that Apple has indeed lowers its initial order of iPads due to “device changes”, so there may have been a hint of truth in the rumour, even if it has not caused delays to the release of the product (although it will make the iPad 2 harder to get ahold of).

First indications that the reports were bogus emerged when reactions to the news of the iPad’s delay to June was met with concern of it bumping up against the iPhone’s release. This was quickly followed by another report that the iPhone was also delayed, this time until September. Which of course bumps up against the iPod release schedule; they would no doubt have also been rumoured as delayed if various reports debunking the whole thing hadn’t come along.

Long story short, we should hear about the iPad 2 in the next couple of weeks, and the iPhone is still expected to arrive in June/July.

 

iTunes to start selling higher quality, 24-bit music?

A handful of reports have made note that Apple is looking to improve the quality of the purchasable music in the iTunes Store, increasing it up to studio master quality of 24-bit (and presumably with a 192KHz sample rate). Obviously this sort of audio quality is of no interest to people who primarily listen to their music on their iPods or on cheap computer speakers, but for those using high-end audio systems they will really notice the difference.

 

Final Cut Pro/Studio to receive an ‘ambitious’ update this Spring?

Yet another report (like I said, there’s been a few lately) has suggested that Apple has shown off a major update to Final Cut Pro to a selection of professionals, ahead of an April release. The update will bring full 64-bit support, and a major user interface update.

As is often the case, there is no mention of the other apps in the Final Cut Studio suite, such as Motion or Soundtrack Pro, although these will presumably also get upgrades, at the very least to 64-bit (and hopefully Motion will be a little more stable).

“iPhone Nano” rumours resurface

iPhone Nano MockupRumours have once again cropped up claiming that Apple is working on a smaller, cheaper version of the iPhone. These rumours have been floating around almost since the release of the original iPhone, but this time, they may actually be true.

One thing I’ve come to believe during my time following Apple rumours is that almost every rumour has some truth to it. Usually ‘working on’ in the rumour sense can mean anything from ‘someone at Apple drew a picture of one’ through ‘a few prototypes have been produced’ to ‘there is a model feature complete and awaiting mass fabrication’. Usually it ends up being the former two; that generally means there is no guarantee that Apple will actually release a product they are ‘working on’ to market.

I have no doubt that Apple have been experimenting with small form factor iPhones since perhaps even before the original was released (the iPhone itself is basically a small form factor iPad, since Apple was working on the iPad prior to the iPhone). Now, however, the time may be ripe to actually release a device.

For starters, the iPhone is now well and truly embedded in the mobile phone market. It’s moved on from the niche device it was when it was first released to a mainstream device competing effectively with some of the previous incumbents in the sector. Releasing a low-end phone (in addition to, or more likely instead of, the previous generation iPhone which usually remains for sale at a lower price) will now only help Apple to gain more market share (I say market share, but Apple has often said, they don’t care about market share, they care about profits).

Secondly, the iPhone 4 screen. It has shown that you can squeeze a lot of pixels into a small space. The technology is now there that a smaller phone can have a screen with the same default iPhone res of 480 by 320 pixels, meaning the all-important compatibility with existing iPhone apps can be achieved, which is a must for any ‘nano’ iPhone. We would still likely see a third (or fourth) class of app (alongside  iPhone and iPad apps) which are better formatted for the smaller screen (much like iPad apps are for the larger screen), but original apps should still run (albeit with smaller screen elements). I also think they’ll change the main iOS UI for the smaller screen, as seen in our quick and dirty mockup, making icons the same screen size (no stylus here!)

Thirdly, it will provide a cheaper option for iPad users who don’t necessarily need the full-blown iPhone. Existing iPad users already have a device they carry with them capable of most of what the iPhone can do, and may find the cost of having an iPhone 4 alongside the iPad a needless expense. A toned-down iPhone, still capable of running most iPhone apps but at a fraction of the cost, could fill that gap.

Finally, with Nokia’s hold on that section of the market currently in some turmoil, the time is ripe to stake a claim on that territory. If Apple don’t get there Android will.

The return of these rumours, combined with how widely they’ve been reported (the Wall Street Journal is involved, and they are getting increasingly good at this game) and the increases in technology that actually make it a little more feasible, mean we could very likely see an iPhone Nano in summer.

Flash is rubbish, Exhibit A: Flash 10.2

Adobe on Wednesday released an update for its Flash player, bring it up to version 10.2.

What is of note to me is that Adobe proudly claim that this version of Flash is up to 34 times more efficient than the previous version. 34 times! Now admittedly that is a best case (a few reports from users on various forums seems to show that it is in fact not quite that good in the real world), but if even Adobe claim that Flash 10.1 was 34 times less efficient, what does that tell you about it? Sounds like an admission that it was indeed a sluggish piece of crap after all.

On a separate note, Adobe’s Flash website has a link that says, ‘learn how to optimise your website for mobile devices’, and the link doesn’t say anything about using HTML 5. It seems to recommend using Flash. Maybe even Adobe believe the shit they’re shovellin’.

(and I should note, that is exhibit A for my case against Flash, not the case as a whole)

iPad 3 in September? It kinda makes sense [u]

The iPad 2 has reportedly only just started rolling off the production line, but talk is already turning towards the iPad 3. First hinted at by Daring Fireball (where the line between speculation and inside knowledge wobbles from time to time), and backed up by a report from TechCrunch, the reports say that Apple wants to bring the iPad refresh cycle in line with the iPod range, which is updated in September.

John Gruber of Daring Fireball is often one of the most informed speculators in the Apple rumour community. A single hint from him is often reported on all of the other rumor without any other corroborating evidence, such is the strength of his information. He is also quite an intelligent speculator, meaning that even when he doesn’t know for sure, his guess is a pretty solid thing to go on.

Summer feels like a long time away. If my theory is right, they’re not only going to be months behind the iPad 2, but if they slip until late summer, they might bump up against the release of the iPad 3.

What was written as a piece of speculation (admittedly one that could have a ‘nudge-nudge wink-wink’ about it) has been jumped on by several other rumour sites, especially with TechCrunch adding their weight to the story. But I’ve been following rumours for years now and I know that sites have a habit of taking a guess, and citing a ‘credible source’ or a source ‘familiar with the matter’ (of course, they could just be listening to a source who is making shit up).

Still, Apple releasing the iPad 3 in September kind of makes sense. Admittedly there is not currently a ‘refresh’ cycle for the iPad as there has only been one; there is no historical data to say when the iPad 2 and its descendants might arrive. But the leaks and rumours are increasing, which usually happens as we get closer to the launch of an Apple product, and all things point towards a March or April release for the iPad 2.

Moving the iPad to a September release cycle would have several effects. Firstly, it will probably annoy many adopters of the iPad 2 who will feel that their generation of the device has been cheapened by only being available for 6 months, and might not like that they could have waited a few extra months and gotten a new, better device, especially if the iPad 3 take a big leap of any kind ahead of the iPad 2. Secondly, it will allow Apple to announce the iPad alongside the iPod range in September, which is increasingly becoming an iOS-based  lineup.

However, moving the iPad to an autumnal release schedule does mean that the iPad – which Apple sees as second only to the iPhone and probably ranks higher than the iPod touch in their eyes – will be released on a slightly more fresh version of iOS. Currently, the iPad’s April release date means that it is launched with a 9-month old version of iOS, that the previous generation of users have had for some time. A September release will mean the launch version of iOS will only be 3 months old, making for a much fresher feel for the device.

Whether this is idle speculation or a glimpse of things to come, it is very early days yet. Time, as it often does, will tell.

 

Update: Gruber has elaborated more on what he clarifies as a guess:

In the early years of DF, I’d generally write up my predictions for Apple announcement events the night beforehand, and my track record was, well, not that great. I tended to err on the side of optimism — predicting what I hoped for, not what I truly expected. In latter years, though, I’ve built a stable of good sources within the company, and, armed with solid information, my guesses turned into “guesses”. This was fun for a while, but I painted myself into a corner. Now when I make actual guesses, some people (not unreasonably) think I’m being coy and actually releasing information that I know. Henceforth, when I say I’m guessing, I’m really guessing. That includes what I’m about to guess about the iPad hardware release schedule.) …

I don’t think April is a particularly good month for an annual iPad release. I don’t think it’s a particularly bad month, either, but it doesn’t make as much sense as September. April is four months into the new year, but still feels like “early” in the year. That leads to whispers and rumors during the holiday season that people should wait. Shipping new hardware in April adds another milestone to the iOS release schedule, too.

Thus, my gut feeling is that Apple will move the iPad to a September release schedule, alongside the iPods. But they wouldn’t want to wait over a year and a half from the announcement of the original iPad to announce the second one — not with these stakes, and not with so many serious competitors trying their best to catch up.

So, here’s my guess at Apple’s iPad plans for 2011:

  • An iPad 2, fairly soon. Say, a March announcement, shipping in the first week of April. Faster, more RAM, maybe more storage, thinner and lighter, a front-facing camera. Running iOS 4.3.
  • iOS 5, announced at a developer event in March, shipping in June.
  • iPad 3, shipping in September, announced at the annual iPod event. Running iOS 5.1, same as the next-generation iPod Touch.

How could Apple release a third-generation iPad just six months or so after the second one? Maybe it won’t be an actual next generation model. Maybe it’s more like an iPad 2.5, or iPad 2 Pro.

I think he has a point. An iPad update early in the year is likely to make people hold off buying in the lucrative holiday quarter. You only need to look at the iPod sales figures to see the massive spikes in the Xmas quarters every year, the combination of a new product update and the biggest gift-giving event of the year. Adding an iPad to that lineup could boost sales dramatically – provided that Apple can make enough to keep up with demand.

This does pose a secondary question: Do those people waiting for the iPad 2 (myself included) then wait another six months for the possibility of an iPad 3 with even better specs, or take the plunge when the iPad 2 is announced in the not-too-distant future? One of the benefits of a regular product cycle is giving consumers an idea of what to expect with regards to product life when they purchase, so they don’t feel cheated when what they’ve bought has been superseded by a new device soon after (an advantage of Apple’s less frequent product updates).

Metro apparently surprised by iPad sequel

Maybe it’s because I’m used to monitoring Apple rumour sites with, as the old cliché goes, their fingers on the pulse of Apple news and speculation, but I always hate reading it when national newspapers pick up on Apple rumours.

Sometimes, when the papers run Apple rumour stories, they put a reporter on it who knows what he’s talking about, and offers a balanced view because he or she has done more than just read one article on AppleInsider and can actually offer the likelihood of said rumour coming to fruition.

Usually however, the reporter will read one story, present it all as true, and generally aim the piece at people who, like them, don’t really care that Apple is working on an iWhatsit.

Take this morning’s Metro, for instance. Their story focuses not on most of the rumours that have been floating around the Internet for months, but entirely on the Wall Street Journal’s report from Monday that the iPad 2 is now in production in deepest China.

Oh yes, and they also seem surprised that Apple are planning on releasing the iPad 2 at all, let alone a year after the last one (they do settle down later in the article – posted right – and start quoting people who are actually in the know).

Not that surprising from the phone that greeted the arrival of the original iPhone with a headline along the lines of ‘iPhone – yours for £1,500’.

Does Elton John have advance knowledge of the iPad 2 release schedule?

Elton John
Photo: Richard Mushet (Flickr)

As ever for a work day, I had the breakfast news on in the background whilst attempting to wake my brain up enough to convince my legs it was somehow in their best interests to get up and take me to work.

This isn’t strictly relevant to this story; I’m just trying to make it clear I don’t actively seek out and monitor interviews with Elton John as part of my daily routine.

Just as I was leaving an interview with the aforementioned singer came on; he was discussing his new, gnome-based version of Romeo and Juliet. This also isn’t really relevant.

One thing he did say during the interview, however, caught my ear.

“I can finally buy the iPad in April,” he said. “I’m waiting for the Skype iPad.”

By Skype iPad he no doubt means one with a front-facing camera to allow videoconferencing, which he seems quite certain to be hitting the shelves in April.

Now, to you, I, or anyone else who keeps their ear to the Apple rumour sites, this is all stuff we already know to be almost definitely accurate. However, Elton John doesn’t strike me as being the sort to monitor the rumour mill. He rolls in circles high enough that he’s more likely to have heard it from more reliable sources than, say, MacRumors. Maybe he got on the blower to someone in Apple PR and asked when he’d be getting a front facing camera.

Of course, it could just be that he is far more interested in Apple than he’s let on in the past. Or maybe one of his showbiz friends is an Apple fan like us?

 

UPDATE: UK users can check out the interview on the BBC News website.