The iPad 2 will be one of the most popular holiday gifts this winter. Survey after survey has shown great demand for Apple's tablet, even in the face of cheaper insurgents like the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet; whether delivered by Santa Claus, Hanukkah Harry, Festivus Frank Costanza or Alan The Atheist Assistant, a new iPad 2 will end up in many, many homes this December, and children and adults alike will spend chilly winter days and nights flinging birds and cutting ropes and redirecting airplane traffic on bigger screens than they ever have before.
But once again, frequent rumors are raising a troubling, nerve-wracking question: Is now the right time to buy an iPad 2, or should you wait until the inevitable release of the iPad 3? And -- oh by the way -- when will that iPad 3 be released, and will the changes it brings be worth going iPad-less for the months before it arrives?
Let's try to answer those questions as best we can, shall we? We follow Apple rumors pretty closely here at HuffPost Tech -- updating you on the latest every week, in fact -- and we've put together everything we know about the next-generation iPad to help guide your purchase of either an iPad 2 for the holidays or an iPad 3 afterwards. And away we go:
When Will The iPad 3 Be Released?
If company history is any indication, Apple tends to designate a certain month that it releases a product and then sticks to it. A new iPhone has come out in July every year since 2007 (until this year when it came out in October); new iPods, meanwhile, were traditionally put out in September (again until this year, when no new iPods were released).
With iPhones in the summer, and iPods in the fall, it has been springtime for iPads in America. Now, there have only been two iPads released thus far, so it might be too early to declare that there is a certain Month of the iPad; however, both the first iPad and the iPad 2 were early spring releases, with the original iPad going on sale in April 2010 (after missing a targeted March launch date) and the iPad 2 hitting shelves in March 2011. Could March once again sprout a new iPad, or will Apple continue to buck trends and forgo its nascent springtime iPad tradition?
It's looking like Apple will march in line, so to speak, as there have been persistent rumors that the iPad 3 will become the third Apple tablet to be released in the spring. Digitimes, a Taiwanese trade publication that often uses Apple's component suppliers as sources, and Macotakara, a Japanese Apple blog, have led with several predictions of a March/April iPad 3. Ben Reitzes, an Apple analyst at Citi, sees the new iPad arriving in March, as does Apple website iLounge's best source.
Multiple sources are looking for a release in March or April, then -- not too surprising, given that the past two iPads were released in March and April. This is all based on speculation and anonymous sources, of course, but given the volume of these rumors and Apple's general adherence to scheduled refreshes, you can probably mark down the iPad 3 for March or April, barring any major production hiccups (the same major production hiccups that supposedly delayed the iPhone 5.
But what killer new feature will the iPad 3 pack? In what specific way will the new iPad make your iPad 2 seem quaint and old-fashioned, like the animation in Antz after A Bug's Life came out? Here's what we're hearing.
How Will The iPad 3 Differ From The iPad 2?
Most everyone agrees that the iPad 3 will increase the resolution of the iPad 2, from 1024-by-768 pixels to 2048-by-1536. This means sharper visuals on the screen, a special boon for those watching television shows or movies (might I suggest A Bug's Life?) on their tablets.
Past that, however, very little is known or has even been suggested as guesswork about upcoming iPad 3 features. Some have written that the iPad 3 will get Siri, Apple's popular voice command assistant, but this seems far from certain, and voice controls on a tablet seem far less essential and helpful than voice controls on a cell phone. There isn't even consensus yet about whether the iPad 3 will be thinner or thicker than the iPad 2 -- many reports have suggested that the hardware required to enable the improved display will necessitate a slightly thicker (0.7 mm, per iLounge) body.
One analyst -- Reitzes of Citi -- has even suggested that there might be TWO iPads released in spring 2012: An iPad 2S, with the same display as the iPad 2, and an iPad 3, with the upgraded screen quality. Both, Reitzes says, would feature a faster processor and Siri integration. The last time analysts claimed that Apple would release two new gadgets in the same line, of course, ended with with a lot of consumers waiting for an announcement of an iPhone 5 that never came.
Again, there are a lot of known unknowns and unknown unknowns surrounding the next iPad. Tales of total product overhaul and tablet revolution have been more muted than they were with the apocryphal iPhone 5, for what it's worth (very little); this update seems to be an iPad upgrade on specs rather than a re-imagination of the iPad's design and core functions.
Worth The Wait?
Back in July, when attempting (and -- full disclosure -- failing) to predict the release date and features of the iPhone 5, I wrote about the special kind of obsolescence anxiety that Apple inspires in its customers. Apple devotees can never be sure when the next device is coming until the moment it does, and when that moment comes, the new iGadget always seems to arrive with some new feature set that makes the previous generation obsolete or lacking in some obvious way (Think Siri, or an iPhone with 3G, or an iPad with cameras, etc.). The farther away from the original release date you buy a piece of technology, the more likely it is that an updated version will come out soon after your purchase, of course; with Apple products, the effect seems magnified, given the obsession surrounding each successive iteration of iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.
For many, the iPad is a perfect holiday gift, yet Apple's March release cycle means that the newest iPad could be announced soon after most Americans would buy one. Apple holiday shoppers have a tough (yet familiar) decision to make: Wait three or four months for the whispers of what the iPad 3 might bring (improved display, Siri) or satisfy themselves with what is already available, and can be obtained during gift-buying season (the excellent-yet-old-hat iPad 2). What they decide on depends on the importance they place in the specs of the display, the rumors of Siri and, mostly, how satisfied their loved ones will be with a terrific, yet slightly older, Apple gadget.
New Apple CEO Tim Cook and Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer complained on a recent call with investors that Internet rumors about the iPhone 5 led to a slow-down of iPhone sales leading up to the release of the iPhone 4S; three-quarters of the way through the life of the iPad 2, Apple has dug itself, and its customers, into a tough calendar position here again, given how soon after the holidays a new tablet will likely be announced. Is the iPad 2 an excellent device? Will the iPad 3 be a similarly excellent, yet iteratively better, device? Probably. Committed iPad shoppers have to make a decision between buying an iPad now and sacrificing a bit of quality a few months down the line, or waiting until after the holidays and sacrificing a few months with an iPad (and whatever emotional satisfaction might come with giving or receiving one) in favor of the newer model.
Alternatively, you could just get your giftee a $500 Apple gift card, and force them to decide when to use it.