The last year was supposedly all about the next major iteration of Apple's iPhone series. Unfortunately, all eager users got was a new operating system integrated into what was largely the same phone... except for Siri. The only other notable changes were an 8 megapixel camera (with 1080p HD video), an A5 dual-core processor and an improved antenna.
With the introduction of the new iPad around the corner, we consider similar rumours that came and went in the build up to the tablet...
4G LTE: Judging by Apple's previous practices, the company does not change chipsets among non-linked products. For example, the same baseband chipsets are shared between the iPhone 3GS and the iPad, as well as the iPhone 4 and the iPad 2. Now, even if Apple introduces Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology in the iPad 3, there will be need for another Printed Circuit Board (PCB). The current leading supplier of LTE baseband silicon is Qualcomm and there is currently no baseband hardware to support both LTE and voice (over 1x/WCDMA) without extra silicon.
Moreover, Qualcomm's new chip will enter production phase in Q2 2012. However, the company has yet to confirm delivery of a LTE + 1x/WCDMA voice solution and neither has any other company. Notable, if PCB is increased to accommodate another chip, then there will be a negative effect on battery life.
Therefore, a LTE 4G-enabled iPad 3 may be launched with the iPhone 5, if a single chip, including LTE and voice (over 1x/WCDMA) is manufactured before October.
There is the possibility of Apple introducing it first in the iPhone 5 and then bringing it to the iPad in 2013.
There may be prototypes of the iPad 3 being tested to check 4G capabilities. However, given the number of carriers in the US expanding their 4G networks and an increasing number of 4G-capable devices, it cannot be very long before Apple joins the bandwagon.
Quad-Core Processor: The rumours suggest the iPad 3 will support a quad-core A6 processor... these have come about due to a recent iOS 5.1 beta code being linked and supposedly connecting the A5X and A6 chips.
Now, although the A6 could happen, it should also be remembered that Apple may simply have been checking the two to see which works best. The point is Apple's suppliers seem unsure of producing the A6 just yet. The Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company Limited (TSMC) has begun trial manufacturing of the Apple A6 on their 28nm fabrication process. However it is as yet uncertain if they will be the only suppliers since it has also been reported that Apple will retain Samsung as their primary supplier due to fabrication issues at TSMC. The A6 is based on the 28nm process and Samsung's facility is too small for that. Therefore it is unlikely the new quad-core chip will debut in the iPad 3.
Now, if reports suggesting Samsung is ramping up production on 32nm chips is true then one could expect the iPad 3 to feature a similar processor the iPad 2 but delivering speeds close to 1.5GHz... otherwise it will probably have the same chip as the iPad 2.
Retina Display: One of the biggest rumours circulating concerns the Retina Display. The point is that extrapolating the Retina Display technology to the iPad's 9.7-inch screen is not as easy as it may sound. Apple's claim of 326ppi was just about possible for the iPhone, given its smaller 3.5-inch screen. The more recently released Android phones with screens of 4.5-inch or even 5-inch failed to match that rate. It is therefore difficult to see how a 9.7-inch screen could support Retina Display, without pushing the price range beyond the $600 mark.
Bigger Price Tag: The new LTE chip and the quad-core processor means the iPad 3 will need a more powerful battery. Added features like Retina Display will also drive the price up. However, since we have ruled out the above features, it is unlikely that the iPad 3's price will be significantly affected. Moreover, Apple's wording of the invitation - "We have something you really have to see. And touch" - suggests the changes are software-related. Any hardware changes are likely only to be minor.