Updated @ 1:30pm: It’s confirmed: The iPad 3 will have a 9.7-inch 2048×1536 264 PPI display. The extra pixels will be pushed by the A5X processor, which will have a quad-core GPU (up from dual-core).
Updated @ 1:40pm: The iPad 3 is the same price as the iPad 2, too, but slightly thicker and probably slightly heavier.
In a few moments, Apple CEO Tim Cook will take to the stage in San Francisco and announce the iPad 3, or iPad 2S, or iPad HD. Little is known about the iPad 2′s successor — we can only speculate about its processor, RAM, and cellular radios — except for the fact that it will have a Retina display. Cook, like Jobs before him, will try to convince us that it changes everything — and you know what? It will.
If we put aside potential issues such as price and weight — yes, there’s almost zero chance of a Retina display iPad being sold at the same price as the iPad 2; Moore’s law just isn’t there yet — and simply look at the benefits and new use cases for a Retina iPad, you will quickly see what I mean. For a start, get your head around this: The iPad HD will have a 9.7-inch 2048×1536 (264 pixels per inch) display. To put this into perspective, the nearest competitors, size-wise, are 15-inch 1920×1080 laptop displays, which have a PPI of just 146. You can find desktop monitors in the 20-inch range that sport resolutions of 2560×1600, but that’s still “only” 150 PPI. In short, the iPad HD will be visually stunning, and for supply reasons — 2048×1536 at 9.7 inches is still right on the edge of what’s feasibly producible with modern processes — no other device of a similar size will be able to match it.
What can you do with that kind of resolution in a tablet, though? How does the Retina iPad actually change everything?
At its most basic, a higher PPI means smoother, more readable text. Assuming you don’t have a problem with looking at emissive (backlit) screens for long periods, the iPad HD will be a fantastic device for reading books, magazines, and websites.
When it comes to creative work of any kind — be it programming, editing photos, or designing a website — more pixels is better. I think everyone, including Apple, has been surprised by unusual uses of the iPad, from Lang Lang performing an encore of Flight of the Bumble Bee to magic tricks. Just last week, Adobe announced Photoshop Touch for the iPad, and Avid Studio is surprisingly powerful. With a Retina display, the iPad would supercharge all of these applications — and originate a bunch more, I’m sure.
Assuming the iPad HD has the guts — and the rumors do point towards a faster A5X or A6 chip making a debut today — then 2048×1536 will make for a gorgeous gaming platform that will attract gamers and developers alike. With Apple dangling more and more of its limbs in the gaming and home entertainment pool, a high-res iPad would make the perfect peripheral — and a terrifying match-up for Nintendo’s Wii U, which, like Apple’s solution, will also consist of a box connected to the TV and a tablet controller.
At 1024×768, the iPad 2 struggles to display any content over 480p; at 2048×1536, you’ll be able to watch delicious 1080p video with space to spare! This does rely on Apple securing access to HD content — but it will need that for the Apple iTV, too.
It ain’t all fun and games
A Retina display won’t be without its issues, though. For a start, just like with the iPhone 4, app developers will have to create all-new assets — and creating icons and textures that look good at 264 PPI won’t be cheap or easy. Then there are the aforementioned technical issues: Unless Apple has somehow reinvented backlight, LCD, or lithium-ion battery tech, there’s no way the iPad HD will be comparable to the iPad 2 in terms of weight, cost, or longevity.
Updated @ 1:50pm: It seems I have to eat my hat. Apple has just released an iPad 3 with a Retina display at the same price point as the iPad 2. It is slightly fatter, however.
Now read our post about how Apple managed to squeeze all of that new tech into the iPad 3