It's hard to believe it's been a little more than a year since the original iPad's introduction. Since its unveiling last January, Apple has sold more than 15 million of the devices, well beyond the company's original expectations, as can be witnessed by the long wait times in its first few months of availability.
Competitors like Motorola are just now beginning to release iPad competitors like the Google Android-based Xoom, with HP trailing not too far behind with the WebOS-powered TouchPad due this summer. Meanwhile, Microsoft is plotting to make Windows squeeze into all matter of form factors in its move to support ARM processors in the next version of the OS.
That brings us to tomorrow, when Apple is expected to detail the next major version of the iPad at an invite-only event here in San Francisco. CNET will be there to bring you the news, as it happens, with our live blog. In the interim, there's a small laundry list of things that can be expected alongside a successor to Apple's slate effort:
A new iPad
If you're expecting Apple to release a follow up to the iPad tomorrow, chances are you're right. As with rumors leading up to the original iPad's release, there have been all the signs a product refresh is on the way, from reseller supply chains drying up, to a number of purported parts showing up from overseas manufacturing facilities.
The new iPad is said to be thinner than the original, as well having a slightly smaller bezel--the black area around the screen where users keep their thumbs while holding the device. That bezel could also be white, according to a photo that surfaced this week on 9to5Mac.
Other exterior design rumors have pointed toward a possible change in case material from metal to something that's "similar to carbon fiber." That possible detail came last month from iLounge, which also reported that Apple was working on a 7-inch variant of the iPad, which may not end up for production in the immediate future.
As far as the specs go, a report from The Wall Street Journal in early February pointed to the iPad successor getting a more powerful processor, along with a built-in camera for video conferencing, and models that will work on both AT&T and Verizon's networks. The camera rumor on its own is a particularly safe bet based on evidence that Apple had been testing iPad units with cameras since the launch of the first unit, and has since launched FaceTime-ready cameras on the iPod Touch and on its latest MacBook Pro laptops.
According to a report by Engadget last week, the newer unit is also said to be packing a very important improvement in its internals: more memory. The current iPad carries 256MB of RAM, with the iPad 2 said to be packing 512MB, matching what can be found in Apple's iPhone 4. Why is memory important, you may be wondering? Similar to the effect of increasing the amount of RAM in your computer, this lets the device store more information in that space, without having to dump extraneous bits to make room for the new. In real-world use this could mean keeping more Web pages and applications open without losing whatever you had been doing due to the system asking running applications to free up their memory usage.
Finally, there's that important issue of cost. Will it cost more than the current iPad? Apple has a solid track record of bringing the price of its products down as they progress, though the original iPad was no cheap affair, ringing in at close to $260 in parts for its bottom model, and rising to $348.10 for the top of the line, according to estimates from an iSuppli teardown. It's also been selling rather well, with Apple moving 7.33 million iPads in the last three months of 2010. The other, longstanding item that would suggest Apple does not plan to bring the price down is the current price of the iPod Touch, which tops out at $399 at retail--$100 less than the entry-level iPad.
iOS 4.3 and beyond
The follow-up point release for iOS 4.2, 4.3 brings a few new features like AirPlay support for apps, as well as the personal hot-spot feature that was introduced for Verizon iPhone owners. Other major tweaks include a software option to adjust whether the switch on the iPad is used to mute the volume, or lock the screen orientation, functionality Apple had changed after the iPad had been released.
iOS 4.3 was first seeded to developers in January, and has received two betas since then. Rumors pointed to it being on its way in mid-February, though it would make sense for Apple to hold its release to coincide with any additional features that may be unveiled tomorrow.
Given that the company also hosted a preview event for iOS 4 in April last year, we could even get a sneak peek at features that could come with that next version.
Changes to MobileMe
MobileMe (formerly .Mac) is the paid add-on service Apple has been pushing with its iOS devices and computers since its introduction in mid-2008. More recently, however, boxed copies of the tool have been phased out at Apple's stores, in favor of being sold as digital licenses to customers post-purchase. A remote iOS device-tracking service, which had been one of the key selling points for the service, was also turned into a free feature for owners of current generation iOS devices when Apple released iOS 4.2 in November.
So where does that leave MobileMe as a product? Apple still positions it as an e-mail, calendaring, Web site, and media host, along with pulling duties as a storage and synchronization service. Though a recent report by Cult of Mac points to Apple wanting to build on that and possibly include things like a live video streaming tool, and geolocation features like a check-in tool and place pages.
New small-business tech support service
This is the one non-consumer-oriented item that's likely to appear at tomorrow's event: a tech support service aimed at small businesses.
Reportedly dubbed "Joint Venture," details of the service leaked out to blog AppleInsider yesterday, saying the $500 a year service would provide coverage for up to five Mac computers, and give purchasers priority tech support at the Apple's Genius Bars. Other perks are said to include group training sessions and a priority tech support line. This is in contrast to Apple's existing ProCare service, which runs $99, covers up to three machines, and is aimed at individuals.
Apple reportedly briefed its retail store employees on its plans to introduce the service this past weekend.
Any we missed, or ones you think have no chance at panning out? Let us know in the comments.