There is no shortage of rumors about a supposed next-generation iPad product from Apple Inc. Yesterday, the company announced that its CEO, Steve Jobs, will take a medical leave from his daily duties and today the company will announce its most recent financial results (including the third full quarter of iPad shipments).
Neither of these events will squelch fanatics about rumors of an “iPad 2” due out sometime the first half of this year (Apple has a fairly predictable cadence for new product announcements). While everything but the kitchen sink (is there an app for that?) has been talked about, ABI Research expects the following upgrades to occur as the tablet product line evolves:
A multi-core processor: Multi-tasking and HD media playback are increasingly common tasks asked of media tablets and not the greatest strength of iPad. The company’s investment in semiconductor development and the release of the A4 chipset (based on ARM’s Cortex-A8 single core architecture) should give cause for a dual-core applications processor based on ARM’s Cortex-A9 platform architecture. The resulting capabilities should be able to provide single and dual-stream 720p HD modes, and potentially some 1080p HD visuals if the screen resolution is also improved.
Camera(s): At least one, but likely two cameras (front- and rear-facing) will appear in the next iPad release. A glaring omission from the first iPad, supposed prototypes of cases for an iPad 2 have appeared that reveal camera placement. The presence of a camera fits into Apple’s software strategy for FaceTime video conferencing and third-party development of utilities and entirely new uses of the camera input.
Increased durability: Despite the talk that every corporation has deployed the iPad, most companies have not considered the role of a media tablet in their organizations. To become a true workplace machine, it needs to be hardened for survival and able to weather the elements. Can “rugged” and “style” both be delivered in the same product?
Memory card interface: How many meetings have occurred where the presenter wants to share a presentation file, but can’t get the iPad connected to the Wi-Fi network? If the machine were a PC or a Mac, a USB thumb drive would quickly solve the task. But not the iPad. A physical method for moving data on and off the device is needed.
4G (WiMAX or LTE) support: Simply put, there isn’t sufficient network coverage within any country to warrant Apple’s cost to create a custom 4G modem module. The ability to support all of the “major” LTE implementations (about 12) is also complex. There is talk that Apple will start relying on Qualcomm’s modem baseband components in future products to deal with the need for UMTS- and CDMA-based 3G network relationships it already has. Maybe in 2H’2011 the situation for 4G will improve, but we think a 1H’2012 provides suppliers, including Apple, greater confidence.
A 7” model: In October, company executives were quick to dismiss competitive tablets that offered 7” displays (compared to the iPad’s 9.7” glass) as dead on arrival. While the 10” class media tablets are being well-received for in-home use, the mobile usage case is showing interest in the 7 to 8” displays.
A CE price-point: Sub-$250 is necessary to see media tablets become interesting to mass markets. This doesn’t mean that every tablet needs to be at or below this threshold, but the vast majority of consumer products do. ABI Research has no reason to believe that Apple will give up its high-end positioning; rather the company will let the early majority market shake out over the next 24 months and skim from the top.
The combination of 4G wireless, ruggedization and a more mobile size are the recipe for media tablets segmenting into mobile internet tablets. Its formation is where business use really takes off, and one that we’re currently skeptical Apple has the channels and the product offering to compete long-term.