The Taiwanese site DigiTimes seems to be the leading source for iOS device rumors, given their propinquity to component suppliers. And their latest story is that suppliers are saying there will be two iPads this year: an iPad 3 in March and an iPad 4 in October. The model in March will be the one we're expecting, with a higher screen resolution of 1,536x2,048 pixels. And the October iPad 4 will come with a suite of robust applications (intended to compete with the expected Windows 8 tablets) as well as beefed up hardware specs. And DigiTimes continues to say that the iPad 2 will remain on the market at a lower price in order to compete with Amazon's Kindle Fire and Google's expected tablet.
DigiTimes has a spotty track record, so it's hard to know what to make of this. They did, after all, report that we'd see an iPad 3 in October of 2011, so they were wrong on that.
Regardless of the timing of the iPad 4, what about the rationale? On the one hand, it makes sense. Microsoft has designed Windows 8 so that it will run on both desktop machines and tablets. A full-featured tablet running Windows 8 is going to be a strong competitor for the iPad. And Google's tablet, with its ability to run the fairly powerful suite of Google web apps, will also be formidable competition. It makes a certain amount of sense that Apple will come out with an iPad 4 intended to go head to head with these devices.
But on the other hand, it makes no sense at all. Apple's whole approach with iOS has been simplicity and ease of use. Instead of making iOS more like the Macintosh operating system, Steve Jobs had Apple go in the opposite direction: make the latest Mac operating system, OS 10.7 (aka "Lion"), more like iOS. Do people really want a tablet computer to be a PC? Steve Jobs felt that the answer was no.
Further, if you've ever seen and held an 11-inch MacBook Air, it feels remarkably like an iPad. My question is, why would Apple make a PC-like tablet when it already has a device with a form factor close to that of the iPad that runs the full Macintosh operating system? My experience with the 11-inch MacBook Air wasn't completely positive. When I'm mobile, I want the simplicity of my iPad. When I'm working at my desktop, I want a full-featured computer with a full-featured suite of applications.
But the larger question is what direction Apple will go in? Microsoft always seems to take Windows into the realm of more features and more complexity. Apple, on the other hand, seems to be pushing in the direction of greater simplicity. Now that their Mac software has integrated a touch interface, via the Magic Trackpad, which I like a lot, it seems likely that they'll next integrate Siri.
My feeling is that computers have, in general, gotten too complicated. And all of this by way of saying that I'm doubting the DigiTimes rumor that the iPad 4 will be more robust to go head to head with a Windows 8 tablet. That just doesn't seem to be the Apple way. I'm guessing that the iPad 4 will continue to break the mold in the same way that iOS already has.
It will be interesting to see what kind of tablet Google brings out. According to AppleInsider, their device is expected in March.