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6 March 2012

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.

By Alex Hern

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.

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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.