The next iPads: where do we go from here?

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The latest iPads have been with us for a week now. Well – the idea of them at least, as we still wait for sales to begin, and tablets to ship. Ultimately, both the new iPad Air and the new Retina display iPad mini (which – sorry, Apple – I’m absolutely going to keep calling the iPad mini 2) will soon be in the hands of shoppers. The arrival of both should be great for Apple, and really help the company bump those tablet sales figures (a less-than-stellar mark on an otherwise solid quarterly earnings statement) up a little.

Sure, the guys here at Pocketnow will be spending a lot of time with each of these babies, and giving you our reviews in the weeks to come; that’s what we’re here for. But for as much as we’re looking forward to putting them through their paces, I can’t help but find myself already looking out to what’s next. After all, that’s my beat – I spend a large chunk of my day looking at rumors and leaks, so I can’t help but feel a certain attraction towards the “next one over the horizon” device, rather than the one that’s already launched and is presently known to us.

So, forgive me for being so excessively premature, but I want to start talking about Apple’s next-gen tablets. I’m curious what sort of design changes we might see in next year’s iPad mini 3 and iPad Air 2?… iPad Sky?… heck, the sixth-gen iPad.

ipad-mini-2-line

Coming next year: the iPad mini bulk pack. Buy three, get one free.

I’m pretty sure I’ve already referred to this year’s iPads as incremental updates, but that belies the importance of the changes. Sure, all the big stuff was predictable: the iPad mini 2 took the high-res screen from the full-size iPads before it, as the iPad Air took the slimmed-down look of the first iPad mini. While both changes make a lot of sense in the larger iPad scheme of things, they’re still both pretty major upgrades that deserve more attention – just contrast the sort of “oh, that’s nice. ‘Bout time” reactions the iPad mini 2’s display is getting, compared to the “OH MAH GAWD I CAN’T SEE NO PIXELS” hysterics when the iPad 4 made its own resolution jump.

But now the new iPad families are all pretty caught up. Where does that leave next year? Another SoC bump? Maybe new storage options? And a warm glass of milk to go with all these other super-boring predictions and help you drift off to sleep? Enough with that noise. Let’s take a look at where Apple could find itself headed in tablet design if it wants to keep the world’s interest.

You’re Using the Wrong Screen

ipad-air-renderI can appreciate Apple’s hesitance in breaking from its tradition of iPad models having screens with 4:3 aspect ratios, but this needs to be said: that’s the incorrect aspect for tablets.

“But Stephen, I’m USED to it, and anyway, it’s not WRONG, it’s just Apple’s design choice.”

Bull. The tablet market’s not in its infancy, still adjusting to new form factors or media types. We know perfectly well what’s out there, and everyone realizes that widescreen is correct way to display things. This isn’t an issue that strongly affects web pages, or books, or apps: those are all pliable, and can adjust (within reason) to fit the display shape of your choice. The sticking point is video, and you just can’t change the shape without ruining it. Widescreen absolutely dominates the media we consume, and Apple can’t ignore this truth forever.

I’ve been waiting for iPads to go widescreen since last year’s iPhone 5, and I’d love to believe that next year could be the one where Apple finally gets its act together.

What If I Want to Use My Tablet for 11 Hours?

You know what’s awesome? Tablets with long battery lives. You know what’s even better? Tablets with ridiculously long battery lives, the kinds that make you wonder if you’re not actually using a once-a-month-charge Kindle.

ipad-mini-2-officialApple’s been doing some great stuff with the design of this year’s iPads, especially when it comes to slimming them down. Now, I know we’re not supposed to encourage the thinner=better race to nowhere, but I always like to look at it from a different angle: thinner hardware means that there’s the potential to cram even more stuff into previous-gen designs.

The ten hours of battery life the new iPad Air is claimed to enjoy sounds great, but what if Apple kept the old “fat” iPad 4, and used that extra 2 millimeters of wiggle room to squeeze in an extra-large battery?

You know, maybe Apple could even pull this off and keep the new, slim, iPad Air look; what about all those advancements in battery tech we hear of now and then (like that silicon anode business that never made it into the now-canceled Ubuntu Edge)? Apple’s got the R&D budget to make something like that happen, and the crazy economies of scale it sees from cranking-out many tens of millions of the exact same design have got to help make even advanced battery tech more affordable than less massive companies might be able to pull off.

Don’t Forget About the Obvious Stuff

I know I said that Apple got most of its inter-iPad catch-up business out of the way with this year’s models, but there’s still progress to be made. We need to see if anything comes of that Touch ID scanner on Apple’s tablets, for one. I’m guessing that the rumors failed to play out mainly due to availability issues, because I think that device security is a huge deal for tablets – arguably more so than phones – and it would behoove Apple to implement fingerprint scanners on the iPads as soon as possible.

We’re also probably looking at a new SoC; since Apple already hit that 64-bit nail on the head, what’s next? I’d love to see it move beyond the 28nm process it used on the A7 and really go for something finer. There’s nothing wrong with 28nm, but let’s push the limit here and see if that won’t also help boost battery life.

Honestly, this early on, I’m mostly spit-balling. Call it a wish list, or pie-in-the-sky feature set – odds are, we won’t see any massive design changes, but who knows? We’ve got months and months (and months and months) of upcoming leaks and rumors to wade through before next year’s iPad models even start really taking shape. Between now and then, we’re going to have plenty of other chances to guess at what Apple’s cooking up. For now, chime-in with your own prognostications down in the comments.

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About The Author
Stephen Schenck
Stephen has been writing about electronics since 2008, which only serves to frustrate him that he waited so long to combine his love of gadgets and his degree in writing. In his spare time, he collects console and arcade game hardware, is a motorcycle enthusiast, and enjoys trapping blue crabs. Stephen's first mobile device was a 624 MHz Dell Axim X30, which he's convinced is still a viable platform. Stephen longs for a market where phones are sold independently of service, and bandwidth is cheap and plentiful; he's not holding his breath. In the meantime, he devours smartphone news and tries to sort out the juicy bitsRead more about Stephen Schenck!