Saturday, February 26, 2011

Pre-Game Analysis of Apple's March 2nd iPad Event

First, I know nothing about what Apple is going to say in advance for March 2nd unveiling of the "iPad 2".  Zero.  Nada.  I'm not even going to get into what others say Apple will unveil.  Frankly, they're just delicious rumors for blog readers.  I'm gonna get ahead and make my own predictions and analyze each point and how iPad 2 is going to specifically influence the tablet market and the mobile market in general.

March 2nd Event:  I'll have my venti mocha from Starbucks, wait for 10am PST.  I would have gotten the day's work done earlier in the morning just so I can spend the rest of the day pouring over the analyses, blogs, and, of course, even offering an opinion or two of my own on Apple's latest and greatest.  

What is different this year is that Steve Jobs won't be there.  It'll likely be Tim Cook, Apple's headmaster until Steve returns.  He'll run through the numbers on Apple's successes over the Holiday quarter, the reception Apple products and services are receiving, and the new Macbooks that were just released last week.  

Then he'll hand over the rein to the iOS teams - the people who build the software and updated the iPad hardware.  We'll learn about the new features that will be available on the next iPad.  It's possible that Apple will unveil the hardware first - new case and specs.  

After that we'll see demos.  Some people don't care for it.  But I totally get that Apple needs to fill an hour or so of the presentation.  After all, people will fly from all over the country just for this.  It's a shame to have them come for a thirty minute or so press event.  But with all due respect to people who rather not sit through that, those of us who will go home later that night to watch the event after the fact can put a face or picture to what we see at home or work.  Most of us are working and are likely following live blogs instead of the stream.

Oh, and if you're fortunately enough not to be working or have to pretend to be working on the 2nd, Apple might stream the event.  They did that last time.

Then after the demos, Apple will move onto the last but very important part.  How much the next iPad will cost, who the carriers are, and when the iPad will be available.

Hardware:  I don't expect a revolutionary change to the iPad.  When the change from the iPhone 3GS to the iPhone 4 was made, it was a big deal.  Don't expect something like that this time around.  We will not see a glass back for the iPad until Apple has provided touch-input on the back of the iPhone first.

But there is a short list on what I expect to see from Apple:

  •  The case will change slightly.  We might see a thinner iPad.  Perhaps, the bezel might thinner as well giving us a smaller feel to the iPad.  There has been talk for years that area around the screen on the iPhone might disappear giving way to the 3.5" screen or a bigger screen.  Because of this, the iPad might be lighter still.  But I don't expect that to be the case.  
  • CPU:  Faster and more efficient brain for the iPad.  There is talk that we might see a dual-core chip and Apple will move from the designation of the chip to A5 from the current A5.  I'm not sold on the dual-core part just yet.  Apple's iOS implementation is very efficient and rely heavily on the graphics component of the chip.  I don't see a need for dual-core just yet.  However, if that doesn't happen, I fully expect a higher clock speed.  An increase from 1Ghz to 1.2Ghz is kind of "meh" but increasing from to 1.5Ghz by the CPU when needed would be enough to satisify upgraders and enough to keep the new iPad ahead in the tablet market.
  • More memory and storage.  It's possible we might see a 128GB model.  Apple will likely keep the 16GB model around on the low-end to keep prices low and maintain pressure on Google and its Android 3.0 (Honeycomb).  Heck, Apple doesn't even need to go all the up to 128GB on the high end from the current maximum 64GB.  Even 96GB will do just fine by my book.  And that might not even be necessary because I don't see any iPad competitor come out with a 64GB model.
  • Memory will increase to 512MB from the current 256GB.  A lot of people will complain that Xoom, Playbook, and even the Touchpad will have 1GB of RAM.  Well, just like the fact that I don't see Apple having to go dual-core just yet, Apple has no need to go up to 512GB for the iPad 2 because of how resource efficient the iOS is.  Even Apple doesn't do multi-tasking in the same manner as everyone else.
  • Cameras.  The iPad will have a frontal camera.  Apple is pushing Facetime.  Expect a big cheer for this when Apple brings it up.  It was an obvious omission on the current iPad.  I'm not sure about the iPad with a rear camera.  I don't see a lot of need for it but Apple will include it just because.  Even a low end 1MP will be more than enough.  1MP or 5MP, don't expect me to be holding up my new iPad taking family photos.  
  • Additional accessory support.  The memory and camera module for the iPad was kind of lame.  I fully expect Apple to do more on this front.  I don't know about an SD card slot but if there one, don't be surprised if Apple cripple it enough for users to upload pics and movies only and nothing more.  No doc sharing.  No offloading apps into a memory card.  But wait for jail-breakers to bring that feature to us.  And because of jail-breaking and security concerns, there won't be an SD card slot.  I like to see Thunderbolt support but that's probably not going to happen.  Any added accessory support will have to go through the usual channel:  Apple dock connector.
  • Home button:  there will be a home button.  I don't see Apple doing away with that just yet.  If it does happen, I expect Apple to move the home button rather than doing away with it entirely.  Hey, I'm all for Apple getting rid of it because it means Apple will implement some kind of a new touch scheme.  
  • It'll use the same chip in the current CDMA iPhone to access the cell networks.  It makes sense to do this regardless if there is one universal model for the iPad to support multiple networks or two, one with CDMA support and GSM support.
  • I think there will be only one model that will support both CDMA and GSM networks.
  • What it will not have is near field communication, NFC, support for mobile payment.  
  • Don't expect Retina support either.  Maybe in iPad 3 or iPad 4.  Some day but not on March 2nd.
  • Extended battery life.  The current models have anywhere between 10-12 hours (real world uses) for the WiFi-only model and 9-10 hours for the 3G model.  I like to see 12-15 hours but given the lack of competition, I don't see Apple too worried about this.  Any increase in efficiency from the screen or CPU is likely offset by the thinner and lighter profile.

iOS Features:  We'll see the Facetime app for the iPad 2.  Honestly, that's all I got.  At this point, I'm expect to be shown a feature that I didn't know that I need or want, you know, typical Apple innovation.  There are some features I like to have but it looks like Apple will have iOS 4.3 installed that will bring subscriptions.  That was the main feature of the next iOS update and that has been well documented.  

Will there be added iPad 2 support with new features that we are not aware of?  I hope so but I don't expect to see that until iOS 5 in June that will come out with the next iPhone.

Carrier Support:  This is going to be a big deal. And it'll reveal a lot about the next iPhone.  As I said above, I think Apple will release only one model to support both CDMA and GSM networks.  Users who buy the 3G+WiFi iPad 2 will get to chose which network they want to subscribe mobile data too.  To keep down design and manufacturing cost, it makes sense to go this route.  

If this does happen, I eagerly look forward to see if Apple adds additional carrier support.  Personally, I will be pulling for T-Mobile but Sprint, which uses CDMA like Verizon, is more of a front runner.  

And additional carriers for the iPad now will offer clue to who else might be in the running to carry the next iPhone when it is released this summer.  Again, I am pulling for T-Mobile.

Impact:  The impact of iPad 2 will be huge.  And this is where I've saved what I think the pricing for the iPad 2 is going to be.  First, expect Apple to follow through with offering a low end model based on the previous generation iPad.  

Apple offer users the iPhone 3GS as well as the iPhone 4 and last year's 2nd generation iPhone as well as this year's 3rd generation touch.  So I think Apple will offer this year's WiFi-only 16GB iPad as the base model along side the iPad 2 models.  

Apple will keep the same pricing structure for the new iPad 2 models and offer the base model below the $499 price.  I think going as low as $399 is possible but that could be wishful thinking on my part.  At $399, it is going to ereader territory.  Look for this to pressure the low-end tablets and ereaders big time.  

For the $499 price, the WiFi-only iPad 2 will occupy this spot.  Apple might shave a bit off the $130 premium for the 3G model and offer the lowest 3G+WiFi iPad for $599 (without the need for a data contract), the same price as the Xoom only if the user were to sign up for two-year data access.  It's possible these two models will have 32GB of storage.  

If true, this will really put the hurt on Android tablet makers, Playbook with its smaller 7" screen, and possibly knock HP's Web OS based Touchpad out of the market.  And even if Apple ends up keeping the $499 and $599 iPad 2 with only 16GB, this will still offer more affordable alternatives to competing products.  

And at $399, Apple is forcing users to pick between high-end iPod touch with 64GB and the low-end iPad.  Mobile will have to make a hard choice but Apple could hardly care so long as the user buys an Apple product. As for the rest of the iPad line-up, we'll continue to see an incremental increase of $100 for models with greater memory.  I'm still not sure if Apple will offer a 128GB iPad 2 because it will have zero competitors in that space.  However, one only hopes that happen.

Apple sees the tablet market in the same terms as they see the MP3 market.  Just as the iPod dominate the music player market, Apple is going to damn sure that it can own the tablet market.  iOS tablets have an advantage in that it is essentially the first major player in the market and has the support of a very successfully curated iTunes ecosystem.  And Apple has sucked up a large manufacturing capacity for screens and other parts essential to making enough devices to satisfy demand, not to mention the billions in investments and procurement that Apple has already made (this was unveiled in the last financial call).

So I think I've just covered everything.  All of this based on my own conjectures, movement in the marketplaces, mobile news, and past Apple behaviors.  Will this pan out?  Well, there are parts that I hope to be wrong and hope that Apple will wow us beyond evolutionary upgrades.  So on the 2nd, get to work early, finish what you need to do, and clear a hour or two of your time to watching tablet history unfold.

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