Apple finally made it official yesterday: The third-generation iPad will be unveiled at an event in San Francisco on March 7. (Score one for The Loop’s Jim Dalrymple, who departed from the conventional wisdom and predicted an announcement on Wednesday, not the traditional Tuesday.)
I’m not going to indulge in guessing about the details of the announcement. Others will supply plenty of that. Within minutes of the invitations going out, tech blogs were buzzing about the significance of what might or might not be a higher-resolution iPad display. But even without knowing the details of the new iPad–which I will call the iPad 3 even though Apple may not–it’s possible to assess some of its impact on the industry.
The tablet market. Simply put, the new iPad should insure Apple’s continued dominance of the market, with Amazon and Barnes & Noble, with their ebook-oriented specialty tablets remaining the only other players enjoying any success. Samsung and the other Android tablet makers were unable to make any real gains on the iPad during the year and half that the iPad has been standing pat. Now Apple is leaping ahead while the competition is still struggling to catch up to where the competition was. Apple may make things even worse by keeping the iPad 2 in the product mix as a lower-cost alternative. The wild card in the mix is the forthcoming tablets running Microsoft Windows 8. Even with the release of a consumer preview of Windows 8 hours away (as I write this), there are still more questions than answers about the tablet version.
The Android model. New software features of the iPad 3 that are not dependent on new hardware will be available on old iPads, and, where applicable, iPhones, on the day of launch. This makes the Android approach, where software updates are at the discretion of OEMs and carriers, look worse than ever. This week, manufacturers announced new Android tablets and phones running old versions of the operating system, with upgrades to the current Ice Cream Sandwich version promised for the vague future. All too often in the past, those updates have never materialized. Google’s inability to manage the Android upgrade process is the platform’s greatest failure and a key reason why its numerical dominance has failed to turn into true industry leadership.
The personal cloud. Recent Apple announcement, particularly the iPhone 4s and Mountain Lion, have been characterized by an ever-deeper integration of devices with iCloud. So far, this has been mostly a win-win for Apple and its customers. Consumers gain convenient services, while Apple ties them ever more tightly into its ecosystem.
Carriers. Carriers who have built out LTE networks–Verizon wireless and AT&T in the U.S.–need traffic and an LTE iPad, assuming the new version is so equipped, will certainly be able to provide it. The key question is pricing. The current 3G plans, $50 a month for 5 GB (Verizon has a 100 GB offering for $80) are too expensive, but carriers aren’t anxious to encourage extra 3G traffic on crowded networks, but LTE is another story. Apple struck a groundbreaking deal for no-contract service for the original iPad. It will be interesting to see if similar creativity accompanies the iPad 3 announcement.