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Opinion: Is the iPad 3 coming in February? Signs are saying yes.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Just as you were getting excited about the new iPad 2 you were getting for Christmas, word has trickled out that the iPad 3 may be arriving in February. We’ve seen our share of faulty Apple rumors before, but this last one would make sense for a couple of reasons. First, five-core Tegra 3 products like the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime have already started to hit the market. Second, Kindle Fire sales are likely eating into the iPad’s potential market, largely as a result of its lower price.

So what will the iPad 3 look like?

Inside the iPad 3

Rumor has it the iPad refresh will largely bring a much higher resolution screen that Apple may already have cornered the market for, making it difficult for other manufacturers to get a similar screen in volume. Tablets are very visual devices, and presented in a group, this would allow the iPad to stand out and appear to look far better than the low-cost alternative tablets. The new (presumably Retina) display apparently requires more resources, so rather than getting slimmer, this new iPad may actually chub out a bit, consistent with the latest leak on the new iPad case.

Typically, fast product refreshes don’t bring a lot of changes because there isn’t the time to work them through. That may make the iPad 3 an in-line update, and Apple doesn’t necessarily have to iterate the product (calling it the iPad 2S or something like that).

Other possible changes next year

Broad speculation suggests we may be close to having an iPad family, much like we eventually did with the iPod. In effect, we already do, since the iPod Touch is kind of like an iPad Nano now. But with the success of the Kindle Fire, and Tim Cooks’ greater willingness to spawn multiple products (given his Compaq background), such a move does seem likely sometime next year. Historically, at least under Jobs, Apple hasn’t been big on defensive moves, but they certainly made one when they switched to an Intel processor. And, once again, Cook isn’t Jobs.

There is also a strong belief that Apple’s refreshed product will have the Samsung A6 quad-core processor. However, given how Samsung and Apple are pounding on each other in court, I have doubts whether Apple will stay with Samsung. A quad-core processor would seem likely, given the arrival of the Tegra 3 five-core chip in competing products this month, and a new Retina display will likely require more performance to render images quickly.

Tablet decline?

One interesting piece of news this week is that iPad sales are soft, being hit by both the Kindle Fire and MacBook Air hard. The latter isn’t a problem for Apple, but it is a problem for the segment. Anecdotally, I’m finding that a lot of my friends who had hoped to live off of iPads have switched to MacBook Airs instead. Next year, the Ultrabook category is going to come down in price sharply, putting it within shooting distance of tablets, both on price and battery life. When that happens, tablets as a class may drop into decline. Convertible tablet designs running Windows 8 present another threat, potentially providing close to the best of both worlds.

The only thing certain is change

Apple is facing a number of pronounced threats next year, ranging from vastly better competitive products to broadened lines from Amazon that could more aggressively attack the iPad’s dominance. Add to that Windows 8 on Ultrabooks and tablets, and you get what will likely be a major test for Tim Cook’s Apple. Tim Cook is no Steve Jobs, meaning we can’t depend on what Apple has done in the past to accurately predict its future. So more interesting than the iPad 3 or whether there will be one, is next year we’ll get a solid glimpse of the new Apple and that company may turn out to look nothing like the company that dominated the last decade.

Guest contributor Rob Enderle is the founder and principal analyst for the Enderle Group, and one of the most frequently quoted tech pundits in the world. Opinion pieces denote the opinions of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of Digital Trends.

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