Bloomberg News just escalated the speculation on the release date and specs of the iPad 3. According to the news outlet, the tablet will be released in March, be powered by a faster processor, have greater resolution, and incorporate Long Term Evolution (LTE) wireless technology.
A quad-core CPU -- as opposed to the dual-core A5 found in iPad 2 -- puts it well ahead of competitors like Kindle, Acer and ASUS tablets which are running single-core or dual-core processors.
Though the first two iPads have more than an adequate display for books and movies, one source told Bloomberg the pixels on the iPad 3 "are small enough to make the images look like printed material." Another said, "There are more pixels on its screen than some high-definition televisions." The description sounds equivalent to what jobs called the "Retina display" on the iPhone.
Apple's manufacturing partners, including Foxconn Technologies, are reporting they will ramp up production and be at full volume by February.
If the iPad does drop in March, the timing works well with Apple's education event tomorrow at the Guggenheim Museum in New York where Apple is expected to unveil a new digital platform for delivering textbooks. A faster iPad which has the look of printed material is the perfect companion to a service that promises to "digitally destroy" textbooks.
Jobs spoke of his vision to transform the textbook industry by paying writers to create texts that could optimize the power of the iPad. An iPad 3 with a quad-core, high-definition display and a natural book feel could handle any kind of multimedia textbook writers could throw at it.
Though Thursday's event won't have a hardware announcement, it could go a long way toward building a market for the next generation of iPad. Already a back-to-school staple, students would at least feel compelled to upgrade from the original.
And that might be another market Apple has yet to tap: the repeat customer. None of my colleagues upgraded their original iPad to the iPad 2. But the original is starting to look its age with its single camera and slower processor causing that annoying checkerboard background. With a bit of time between the first and third generation, iPad owners may be ready to jump.
The iPad 3 will also incorporate Long Term Evolution (LTE), a faster wireless broadband technology designed to support roaming internet access. Apple feels safe with putting this service on the iPad instead of the iPhone (for now) because the service by its nature is a battery hog. The 11-hour iPad battery can better tolerate the power drain. The payoff is a faster Internet connection that will better leverage the iCloud. If the connection is fast enough it will give users the feel of local storage.
The tablet is expected to be a few millimeters thicker than the iPad 2. Maybe this is to add just a bit more battery or -- as I've heard -- is due to the new display. The thicker tablet will start the shrinking cycle over again without actually gaining any ground. This could be part of a pattern defying expectations that it should continue to shrink.
Finally, it may also include Siri, the personal voice assistant that was introduced with the iPhone 4S.
Apple has continued to dominate a market that it essentially invented. Though Apple's share of the tablet market is shrinking, the market itself continues to grow. According to market research firm IHS iSuppli, Amazon sold 3.9 million Kindle Fire tablets causing to jump from nowhere to number 2 behind Apple in tablet sales. In Q4 Apple sold 18.6 million units.
Japanese blog Macotakara is also reporting that Apple is planning an event in early February to introduce the iPad 3 -- and possibly iOS 5.1 -- for a March launch.