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.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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