Apple looks set to unveil its next-generation iPad tomorrow, and so with the iPad HD (or iPad 3 depending on who you believe) promising to be an altogether different beast, TabTimes looks at how it could affect the tablet market going forward.
Higher resolution screens going forward
There’s two factors here; for starters, Apple is about to set the tablet ‘bar’ very high, certainly in terms of display spec. By equipping the iPad HD with a 9.7-inch 2048 x 1536 resolution touchscreen display, it will force competitors like Samsung to play catch-up. The disparity between conventional 1024 x 768 tablet displays and the new resolution also means that Apple rivals won’t be able to sit on poorer displays for too long for fear of losing potential customers to the more glamorous, sharper iPad HD.
The second issue, and it’s a key one, is that this push to higher resolution screens is going to be big business for LCD panel manufacturers, especially those which are not getting much change out of the TV business at present. The smaller panel business is more lucrative at present, and this should fuel further tablet display innovation in the years to come.
Also, as we're not totally sure what Apple will show just yet, it's worth noting the possible implications if Apple does indeed launch a smaller, 7-inch iPad. Although forecast for a launch later in the year, a 7-inch iPad would really invigorate that smaller tablet market, certainly when it comes down to consuming content. Amazon's Kindle Fire could be under a threat of sorts (Amazon does have a slightly different business model, which would help its cause), and it would be interesting to see what impact it would have on a nascent 'phablet' (5-inches or so) market. Either way, a 7-inch iPad would make a market showdown with Amazon and – potentially – Google all the more interesting.
HD cameras all round
Tablet cameras to-date have been nothing short of appalling. There’s either been no camera at all (thanks, iPad 1), or what has been there has been pretty ordinary, and that's putting it kindly. After all, a basic 2MP camera is handy for a generic shot of a tourist attraction – but that's about it.
The new iPad should change all that. With a 5MP or 8MP CMOS camera sensor from Samsung or Sony expected to be bolted on, the iPad will be much more useful for snapping photos when you’re out and about. The high-definition screen will also make it more favourable for photographers to edit photos.
In truth, Apple isn’t exactly leading this drive (there are other tablet makers with decent cameras), and smartphones are already the mobile of choice for hi-res images on the go. But, as with the hi-res display, the fact that Apple’s doing it on tablets is likely to push other makers to do the same.
The tablet stylus: Cool again?
Yes, it’s by no means guaranteed that the iPad HD will have a stylus or that – if this is the case – the once useless stylus will become cool again. But, it just might do, especially if the device is based on the battery-powered, heated tip design being touted by numerous journalists.
The technology would enable far greater precision, and could become a viable alternative to your fingers for inputting text entry on a tablet touchscreen display, especially for those enterprise workers.
Bigger names in the bargain tablet space, smaller names to fade away
Apple already dominates the tablet market in the consumer and enterprise areas, but the next-generation iPad could see the Cupertino firm blow away those rivals marketing Android-based tablets at a similar price point.
It says a lot that Amazon got some traction by pitching its Kindle Fire at budget consumers, and even Samsung, a company which has persisted with $399-499 Galaxy Tabs for a good 18 months now, appears to be recognizing another opportunity at lower price points with the $249 Galaxy Tab 2.
This isn’t saying that Apple’s rivals will vacate the building at the higher price points – it’s just more likely that they’ll pay more attention to a lower-end market place, which will give them more of a chance for both shipments and revenue.
There is a flip side to this, however. Yes, the new iPad will make the lower-end tablet market more competitive, and there will be bigger players in this space. The downside (if you can call it that) is that smaller players like Idolian, Coby or even a company like Archos, which has a stronger following, are likely to struggle for sales, and could fade from view.
Voice control: The way of the future web searches, and app control
Siri is a fantastic tool for the iPhone 4S, although it’s fair to say there’s still some room for improvement. That said, if Apple does bring the voice-assisted technology to the iPad, HD it would be a massive message from Apple that voice control is here to stay across both mobile devices.
We’ve already heard of Amazon acquiring Yap, Siri rival, while we know other providers, like Artificial Solutions, are desperately seeking to get their solution onto smartphones and tablets in the market place.
More options for developers, but some issues to tackle too
A new, higher-resolution iPad with a punchier processor should offer developers more tools in which to create more attractive and useful tablet applications.
Bill Burgar, creator and developer at Meeting Gold, says that developers should be able to improve apps with more detailed imagery (via the higher-resolution camera), and higher intensity in terms of performance.
Burgar also reckons that that Siri will ‘open up’ numerous opportunities for iPad app control, but warns developers to ensure their apps work on older generation iPads, or risk suffering from unresponsive apps. “In summary, it (iPad 3/HD) opens up an opportunity to write more sophisticated apps that can start to compete better with desktop machines”.
Mark Stetler, CEO of AppMuse, a developer of both iPhone and iPad apps, believes the new iPad will be more 'evolution than revolution', and believes that the actual advantages for developers will be minimal, with the possible exception for those in the gaming community. "What you will get is the new buzz around the new product, and that will create demand for app products."
Stetler believes that developers 'would love to see' USB connectivity and a stylus on the new iPad, and said that the latter would offer a big developer opportunity in the education space, where traditional writing skills are still being taught in the classroom.
With NFC, tablets could become digital catalogues for buying goods
Near-field communications (NFC) is on its way into the mobile sphere, but adoption is taking some time. We’ve heard statements that it’s coming to smartphones and tablets, but so far only Samsung and Google have committed to the technology with the Nexus smartphone, which has an embedded NFC chip.
The technology is backed by the likes of Google and Isis, while PayPal and VISA supporting their own initiatives, so NFC is not exactly short of high-profile backers.
But Apple could push the accelerator down if it embeds an NFC chip – for both payments and any other type of close device-to-device communication – in the next iPad, and force rival tablet makers to follow suit.
Could iPad HD drive future touchscreen innovation?
Apple caused a bit of a stir earlier this week with its invite to the press event tomorrow, with the embedded image showing a finger touching an iPad. The image included the caption; "We have something you really have to see. And touch."
Clearly, the 'see' part may refer to the new high-resolution display, but the mention of 'touch' is interesting, and could yet be that one piece of news that the press haven't been able to speculate on as of yet. There is a belief that the iPad HD may be including haptic feedback, a form of tactile touchscreen feedback to the end-user, using either vibrations or force feedback. Apple is believed to have filed around 40 patents for haptic-based technology.
Once again, Apple is hardly an innovator in this area; haptic feedback is already being used for digital signage, both for digital wayfinding and for gambling in casinos, while even in the tablet space Pantech contracted Immersion, haptic technology specialists, for the technology to feature on its Element tablet, which debuted at CES. However, as with some of the other categories listed above, the fact that Apple is 'doing it' acts as another spur to rival tablet manufacturers, and simply pushes the market onto future innovation.