Apple is a cyclical creature, like bears, unicorns and ladyfolk. iPods in September; iPhones in June; and likely, iPads in April. April is not so far away! So, unsurprisingly, we're starting to hear what the next iPad looks like.
While one generation of devices does not a trend make—three's a trend, in journo-land—Apple is less mystical and more economical than most internet denizens would suspect. The A4 chip that first showed up in the iPad also made its way into the iPhone 4, iPod touch and re-designed Apple TV. It too, is not all that mysteriousical: It's a custom system-on-a-chip built around ARM's Cortex A8 processor that's clocked at 1GHz with a PowerVR SGX 535 graphics chip (also found in the iPhone 3GS). It's not crazy that the next generation of Apple's system on a chip, which Engadget has pegged as the A5, will follow the same pattern, as their sources indicate: It'll show up in the next iPad, followed by the iPhone 5 (and its iPod touch equivalent, though this goes without saying), and a new Apple TV.
What's in this next-gen Apple chip? Well, quite logically (and according to sources), the heart of the A5 (or whatever it's called) is the next-generation ARM chip. The multi-core ARM Cortex A9 (PDF), already seen in dual-core configurations up to 1.5GHz. A 1GHz dual-core A9 is also the heart of Nvidia's Tegra 2, which is powering like a bajillion Android 3.0 tablets and steroidal smartphones (Motorola's Xoom, Atrix 4G and Droid Bionic), and the TI OMAP 4430, powering the BlackBerry PlayBook. Oh, and Samsung's next CPUs—codenamed Orion—which we can expect to be heart of the next wave of Galaxy phones, tablets and toasters. (Image: Apple's A4, from Chipworks/iFixit)
The BlackBerry PlayBook is not a bad place to start thinking about the kind of performance we'll see in the next iPad. It can simultaneously play back 1080p video and run Quake III. Without choking. The TI OMAP 4430 inside not only uses a dual-core 1GHz A9 processor, but a PowerVR SGX540 graphics core. According to AppleInsider's sources, and driver bundles found in iOS 4.3, the A5 will include a PowerVR SGX543 graphics chip—quite possibly a dual-core version, resulting in 4x the graphics power of the current iPad and iPhone 4's chips. If the PlayBook can do what it does, imagine what a more powerful, dual-core graphics chip can do. 1080p video is just a start.
It'd be useful, for instance, powering a higher-res iPad display. A double resolution iPad display—2048x1536—with four times the pixels, to be exact. We were skeptical at first, but MacRumors has found double-res assets buried inside of iBooks 1.1 and 1.2, labeled much the same way double-res assets are labeled for the iPhone 4's 960x640 retina display, which has twice the resolution of the previous 480x320 iPhone display. (Arn also points out, via Twitter, that people were similarly skeptical of the iPhone 4's high-res display.)
Why exactly double the resolution? As MacRumors points out, it's simpler for developers (and for pixel-doubling apps that aren't re-compiled with the new resolution). But more importantly at 260dpi, the new iPad's screen could still possibly still be considered a retina display. A "retina display" is just Apple's marketing term for a screen where you can't distinguish individual pixels. For a screen that you hold 12 inches away from your eye, it's a little over 300dpi, like the iPhone 4's 326dpi display. Using the same math done by Phil Plait for Discover to uncover whether or not the iPhone 4 has a true retina display, you'd find that, holding an iPad 18-24 inches away, 260dpi would satisfy the requirements of a retina display.
Bonus: It would take a lot of RAM to push that many pixels, meaning Apple wouldn't be able to skimp on the RAM this time around, as it did in the first iPad.
Update: It's worth noting (sadly), that John Gruber is throwing "cold water on the iPad 2 retina display hype." His track record is too good to ignore. (Again, sadly.)
Other bits and pieces
The major reason we don't think you should buy an iPhone 4 on Verizon next month is because the iPhone 5 will probably be just 4 months away, and we generally don't think you should buy anything past the halfway point in its life-cycle. If you know Apple, you know they're going to release the next iPhone for both AT&T and Verizon simultaneously, and you know they're going to release in late June/early July, as they always have, barring some catastrophe. Adding to that, Engadget pegs the next iPhone using a single Qualcomm baseband chip that supports CDMA, GSM and UMTS—meaning it'll be one model for both carriers. And we could see this chip first inside of the next iPad 3G. (It's an interesting pattern possibly forming in Apple's yearly cycle: The iPad debuts most of the technology for the rest of the year.)
It's not crazy, for a number of reasons, to expect the iPhone 5 to be completely redesigned either. The next iPad is supposedly sporting a more conservative overhaul (same size, but thinner and sleeker, natch), with two exceptions: an SD card slot and dual cameras. (FaceTime was always a given, though.)
And, for all of the performance improvements we're going to see, Apple's never been one to let battery life suffer in the service of speed. (Hence, no 3G on the original iPhone, and no LTE for at least another generation on the iPhone.) So expect battery life to the same, if not better.
The basic sketch of the next iPad is all I really wanted in the original: It'll have a much better screen, be wickedly faster and have FaceTime. And the next iPhone, well, as always, it'll have just enough new stuff to make the iPhone 4 feel dated and clumsy.