What we know about the iPad 3

It's easy to predict what the iPad 3 will be, just as it is to predict the reaction to its launch.

Even Apple, probably the most notoriously secretive company in the world, hasn't been able to keep everyone in the dark about what they are launching today.

We know they'll be announcing the iPad 3. We can also make an extremely educated guess as to what the update will entail - definitely a speed bump, probably a retina display similar to the iPhone 4's, maybe even a curveball inclusion of LTE networking technology (or "4G", as it will be known).

We know it'll sell quickly, and in huge numbers; as of last month, 55 million iPads had been sold, a number which took the iPhone three years to reach, and which the Mac didn't hit for over two decades. Taking the operating system, iOS, as a whole - including iPhones, iPod touches and iPads in the count - more were sold in 2011 (156 million) than all Macs ever sold (122 million).

And we know it will be slammed as a disappointing launch, with blame perhaps placed at the feet of Tim Worstall, the company's new CEO, for not living up to his predecessor Steve Jobs. Unless that unlikely 4G networking is included - and maybe even if it is - it will fail to live up to the analyst's expectations. It will be similar to - maybe even visually indistinguishable from - the iPad 2, and be condemned for that.

Fundamentally, people have failed to comprehend the transition between the Apple of, roughly, 2001 to 2007, when it had its remarkable string of sucessess beginning with the iPod and ending with the iPhone, and the Apple of 2007 to the present, when it has steadily built up the iPhone, introduced the iPad, and grown its business to become the largest company in the world.

The former Apple shocked at nearly every product launch. That first launch of the iPod, a bizarre product to come from a B-list computer manufacturer; the iPod Nano, a total overhaul of their previously biggest selling iPod, the mini, just 18 months after it had launched; the various Shuffles, each radically different from what came before; and eventually the iPhone itself, so revolutionary that RIM, makers of the Blackberry, thought it was literally impossible.

But the latter Apple, the post-iPhone company, takes a different track. Introduce one product, and iterate, iterate, iterate. Revolutionary product announcements are a thing of the past. As Apple blogger John Gruber writes, they roll:

As in, they start with a few tightly packed snowballs and then roll them in more snow to pick up mass until they’ve got a snowman. That’s how Apple builds its platforms. It’s a slow and steady process of continuous iterative improvement—so slow, in fact, that the process is easy to overlook if you’re observing it in real time. Only in hindsight is it obvious just how remarkable Apple’s platform development process is.

The iPad 2 is an incremental update to the iPad. The iPad 3 will be an incremental update to the iPad 2. But compare whatever is annouced tomorrow to the original product - or even more damningly, to the rest of the tablet market, such as it exists - and it is clear that, however they do it, the Apple of today is just as ground-breaking as they've been at every other point in the past decade.

Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks at the event introducing the iPhone 4S Credit: Getty

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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In the 1980s, I went to a rally where Labour Party speakers shared the stage with men in balaclavas

The links between the Labour left and Irish republicanism are worth investigating.

A spat between Jeremy Corbyn’s henchfolk and Conor McGinn, the MP for St Helens North, caught my ear the other evening. McGinn was a guest on BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour, and he obligingly revisited the brouhaha for the listeners at home. Apparently, following an interview in May, in which McGinn called for Corbyn to “reach out beyond his comfort zone”, he was first threatened obliquely with the sack, then asked for a retraction (which he refused to give) and finally learned – from someone in the whips’ office – that his party leader was considering phoning up McGinn’s father to whip the errant whipper-in into line. On the programme, McGinn said: “The modus operandi that he [Corbyn] and the people around him were trying to do [sic], involving my family, was to isolate and ostracise me from them and from the community I am very proud to come from – which is an Irish nationalist community in south Armagh.”

Needless to say, the Labour leader’s office has continued to deny any such thing, but while we may nurture some suspicions about his behaviour, McGinn was also indulging in a little airbrushing when he described south Armagh as an “Irish ­nationalist community”. In the most recent elections, Newry and Armagh returned three Sinn Fein members to the Northern Ireland Assembly (as against one Social Democratic and Labour Party member) and one Sinn Fein MP to Westminster. When I last looked, Sinn Fein was still a republican, rather than a nationalist, party – something that McGinn should only be too well aware of, as the paternal hand that was putatively to have been lain on him belongs to Pat McGinn, the former Sinn Fein mayor of Newry and Armagh.

According to the Irish News, a “close friend” of the McGinns poured this cold water on the mini-conflagration: “Anybody who knows the McGinn family knows that Pat is very proud of Conor and that they remain very close.” The friend went on to opine: “He [Pat McGinn] found the whole notion of Corbyn phoning him totally ridiculous – as if Pat is going to criticise his son to save Jeremy Corbyn’s face. They would laugh about it were it not so sinister.”

“Sinister” does seem the mot juste. McGinn, Jr grew up in Bessbrook during the Troubles. I visited the village in the early 1990s on assignment. The skies were full of the chattering of British army Chinooks, and there were fake road signs in the hedgerows bearing pictograms of rifles and captioned: “Sniper at work”. South Armagh had been known for years as “bandit country”. There were army watchtowers standing sentinel in the dinky, green fields and checkpoints everywhere, manned by some of the thousands of the troops who had been deployed to fight what was, in effect, a low-level counter-insurgency war. Nationalist community, my foot.

What lies beneath the Corbyn-McGinn spat is the queered problematics of the ­relationship between the far left wing of the Labour Party and physical-force Irish republicanism. I also recall, during the hunger strikes of the early 1980s, going to a “Smash the H-Blocks” rally in Kilburn, north London, at which Labour Party speakers shared the stage with representatives from Sinn Fein, some of whom wore balaclavas and dark glasses to evade the telephoto lenses of the Met’s anti-terrorist squad.

The shape-shifting relationship between the “political wing” of the IRA and the men with sniper rifles in the south Armagh bocage was always of the essence of the conflict, allowing both sides a convenient fiction around which to posture publicly and privately negotiate. In choosing to appear on platforms with people who might or might not be terrorists, Labour leftists also sprinkled a little of their stardust on themselves: the “stardust” being the implication that they, too, under the right circumstances, might be capable of violence in pursuit of their political ends.

On the far right of British politics, Her Majesty’s Government and its apparatus are referred to derisively as “state”. There were various attempts in the 1970s and 1980s by far-right groupuscules to link up with the Ulster Freedom Fighters and other loyalist paramilitary organisations in their battle against “state”. All foundered on the obvious incompetence of the fascists. The situation on the far left was different. The socialist credentials of Sinn Fein/IRA were too threadbare for genuine expressions of solidarity, but there was a sort of tacit confidence-and-supply arrangement between these factions. The Labour far left provided the republicans with the confidence that, should an appropriately radical government be elected to Westminster, “state” would withdraw from Northern Ireland. What the republicans did for the mainland militants was to cloak them in their penumbra of darkness: without needing to call down on themselves the armed might of “state”, they could imply that they were willing to take it on, should the opportunity arise.

I don’t for a second believe that Corbyn was summoning up these ghosts of the insurrectionary dead when he either did or did not threaten to phone McGinn, Sr. But his supporters need to ask themselves what they’re getting into. Their leader, if he was to have remained true to the positions that he has espoused over many years, should have refused to sit as privy counsellor upon assuming his party office, and refused all the other mummery associated with the monarchical “state”. That he didn’t do so was surely a strategic decision. Such a position would make him utterly unelectable.

The snipers may not be at work in south Armagh just now – but there are rifles out there that could yet be dug up. I wouldn’t be surprised if some in Sinn Fein knew where they are, but one thing’s for certain: Corbyn hasn’t got a clue, bloody or otherwise. 

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser