What We Think We Know About the iPad 3

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At some point with every upcoming Apple product, the wacky rumors–like two new iPads in different sizes debuting at Macworld Expo–start to tail off. They give way to convincing-sounding reports from news sources which, although they may fall short of 100% accuracy, generally know what they’re talking about. When that happens, you know that the gadget in question will show up shortly.

We’ve reached that moment with the iPad 3. Apple has been known to confound even the most well-informed reporters–sometimes by successfully keeping cool features secret until it unveils a new product onstage somewhere, and sometimes by failing to make an improvement that everyone was convinced was a given. But it’s now possible to cobble together a portrait of the next iPad that feels utterly plausible.

Let’s try to do just that:

The release date. Last week, John Paczkowski of All Things D said that the iPad 3 would be announced the first week of March at an event in San Francisco. Then on Monday, iMore’s Rene Ritchie narrowed the date down to March 7th–and Jim Dalrymple of The Loop, the most rock-solid source of Apple scuttlebutt, seconded it.

The ship date. Within a week or two of the launch event, presumably.

The screen. Everyone’s been assuming for months that it’ll have an ultra-high-res “Retina” display with 2048-by-1536 pixels, or four times the count of all iPads to date. If it doesn’t, it’ll be startling.

The data connection. The Wall Street Journal‘s Spencer Ante and Jessica Vascellaro report that the iPad 3 will offer LTE 4G on AT&T and Verizon. No word on whether Sprint or T-Mobile will offer the tablet, but neither carrier currently has LTE, so I’ll be surprised if they get the iPad.

The processor. iMore’s Ritchie and many others say that the iPad 3 will have a zippy quad-core processor, but The Verge’s Joshua Topolsky says he hears that the tablet, like the iPad 2, will sport a dual-core chip. (He also says the iPad 3 will be 1mm chunkier than the current model.) We’ll see.

The cameras. Higher-resolution on both the front and rear cameras would be good, but I haven’t seen any compelling evidence that Apple will bump up the pixels.

Siri. I don’t see why Apple wouldn’t add it to the iPad 3, since the tablet will surely have the requisite processing power, and it would be a major incentive for owners of earlier iPads to upgrade.

The name. iPad 3, I guess, although “iPad Pro” was bandied about last year.

What else? Lots of folks are assuming that Apple will continue to sell the iPad 2 at a cut-rate price–something like $399–as it does with the iPhone 4 and iPhone 3GS. It sounds plausible, but no source I trust has reported it as fact. (Sorry, DigiTimes doesn’t count.)

I could go on, but the more I try to flesh things out, the more likely I’ll get things wrong. Bottom line: I expect Apple to announce something like the above tablet during the first week of March, and I expect it to start at $499, the same opening price as the iPad 2.

Your predictions are welcome–and if you don’t expect any major surprises with the iPad 3, it’s not too early to start fantasizing about the iPad 4.

(MORE: Report: Apple Expected to Unveil iPad 3 in Early March)