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  • Keeping Up with the Next iPad

    September 29th, 2010

    One thing some of the nasty negativists in the tech media fail to realize is that new products aren’t necessarily one-offs. What that means is that, if this year’s version doesn’t have all the features you want, maybe next year’s will.

    The first iPad, for example, shipped without a camera. I don’t pretend to know why. Maybe Apple just wanted to entice you to upgrade to version 2.0, maybe the development process to add a camera wasn’t complete, or perhaps the bill of materials was a few dollars higher than the bean counters would like. Or maybe all or none of these are true. Regardless, a front-facing camera is probably number one on the feature list for most everyone, even those who love their iPads, and if Apple hopes to spread FaceTime far and wide, that capability is absolutely necessary.

    The other issue is the lack of direct USB support. Yes, there are dock adapters, but that means there’s yet another appendage  for you to place in your carrying case. One published report I read the other day suggested there would be a new mini-USB port on the next iPad, similar to the one you find on a digital camera. Now this feature may be added strictly to adhere to new European Union requirements about standardized connection interfaces. Or it may just be an extra connector designed for peripherals, rather than as a replacement for the 30-pin proprietary dock connector.

    Suggestions of a screen with a Retina Display seem less likely, if only because the cost of adding those extra pixels might be prohibitive.

    Other reports speak of a tinier iPad, sporting a 7-inch screen, which could no doubt shave at least $100 from the purchase price. Imagine a $399 iPad, which would drive the competitors nuts, since that’s not much higher than the price they are considering that also requires you to sign a two-year data contract with your wireless carrier.

    On the other hand, as has become apparent already with early reviews of 7-inch tablets, the form factor is limiting. Yes, it’s considerably larger than a traditional smartphone, but not large enough for a decent-sized book page, although it would certainly be easier to lug around.

    One thing that’s certain, however, is that Apple won’t release iPads in loads of sizes. There are six versions of the current 9.7-inch model, but the distinctions make sense, focusing on whether you want 3G support, and the amount of storage you require (or can afford). While I suppose it’s possible there will be a 7-inch version, the real question is the need and the sales potential, and I’m not about to judge either. It might depend on how the supposed iPad killers in that size fare. If they become popular because a smaller version makes sense, perhaps Apple will build one. Indeed, I’m quite sure there are loads of iPads with varying form factors in the test labs.

    In addition to a camera and a more convenient connection port, there are also suggestions that Apple will attempt to make the iPad thinner and lighter, which would actually be an extremely good thing. At 1.5 pounds (1.6 pounds for the 3G version), the iPad is a difficult beast for one-handed use. When I spent several weeks reviewing one recently, that awkwardness came close to being the deal breaker, and I still haven’t seriously considered buying one.

    If the 2011 iPad is lighter, and is equipped with a camera, I would definitely want to consider allocating a portion of my budget for one. However, that’s just me. It appears iPads are still flying off the shelves. Now that Apple has apparently caught up with production, the iPad will be available from more and more dealers, and I wouldn’t hazard a guess as to how many units will be sold during the remainder of this year.

    So far, not a single iPad killer, despite the favorable press coverage, seems to hold the promise of coming close to the iPad’s iconic status, not to mention attracting a large portion of customers. The lame business model such companies as Samsung are considering, tying you to a two-year data contract to get the purchase price down to a sensible level, won’t appeal to large numbers of people. That is, assuming they aren’t just opposed to anything with the Apple label on it.

    Then again, I wonder how many people, other than power users who want the utmost in control, early don’t consider Apple because of that alleged walled garden. I think the main argument against the iPhone in the U.S. is AT&T. Far too many people live in areas where AT&T’s coverage, despite promises of ongoing improvements, remains downright unacceptable. I suspect a fair number of people who buy Android OS phones simply want something almost as good that won’t drop calls so often.

    When it comes to a tablet, that may be a non-issue, unless a 3G data plan is a must-have, and I’m not sold on that concept. Most people in an environment where they’d want to use an iPad are located in a region where Wi-Fi is usually available (other than the beach of course).  In places where 3G is the only connection option, the smartphone might just be a better mousetrap.



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