It never takes long for the rumor mill to start up for the next iPad, with rumors already swirling about a release date as early as October and a release of a 7-inch iPad Mini along with an iPad 4. But what can we really expect with the iPad 4?
For one, it won't be released this year.
The rumor will pop up over and over as the year rolls along, but you only need to look at Apple's history to know that the iPad 4 is destined for a 2013 release. Apple tends to upgrade products once per year. The iPhone gets a new version each year, the iMac gets a new version each year, the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air get a new version each year, etc. And there is a good reason why Apple sticks to this schedule: consumer loyalty. If an iPad 4 is released in October, millions of customers who gobbled up the iPad 3 would feel cheated by a new iPad being released just 7 months after the previous one.
But the release date is only one of many expectations that can be set too high for the upcoming iPad. Apple is known for innovation, but it is unrealistic to expect each new release to unveil a major new feature. The iPad is not a do-it-all device, so rather than expecting some innovating new piece of technology to be added, we should expect Apple to simply improve on the existing product.
This means we'll see a faster, sleeker device armed with a quad-core processor and an upgraded graphics processor. Now that the iPad is equipped with a Retina Display, we won't see an increase to the resolution, but we will see improvements to the technology that produces the display. This will result in more efficient power usage, which will allow for a smaller battery that can last longer than the current version. (We might even see an iPad that is 3 millimeters slimmer!)
But what's under the hood is only one of many improvements we'll see. Rather than merge devices like the iPad and MacBook together, Apple will focus on allowing their devices to work better together. This means more file syncing and sharing between the MacBook, iPad and iPhone and more iCloud features. We may even see an increase in storage capacity, though the introduction of more iCloud features will put less pressure on high storage.
Apple does like to provide new features when they make sense, so we might see something like near-field communications arrive with the next iPhone and iPad. This would allow for digital payments without getting your wallet out.
As for the iPad Mini, it's definitely in the "we'll see" category. While Steve Jobs may have dissed the idea of a 7-inch tablet, we have to remember he wasn't an advocate for the app store either. An iPad Mini could solve Apple's problem of delivering a lower cost iOS solution to educational institutions while keeping the Amazon Kindle Fire in check. But Apple won't rush to the market with the product, so I wouldn't be surprised if an iPad Mini doesn't make the cut this year.