Next iPad Rumor Roundup: The Good, the Plausible and the Just Plain Silly

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We’re two days and counting from Apple’s big March 7 media event, during which the company is expected to unveil its newest tablet. If you’re just tuning in, here’s a rundown of what we think we know, as well as what we think’s just silly.

It’ll be called an “iPad 3.” We take for granted that Apple’s announced nothing, and that they’ve yet to say word one linking their iPad family to the number three. Everyone’s assuming the next iPad will be an Apple three-quel because the iPad 2 launched a year ago, and the original iPad slightly less than a year before that. But if all Apple’s done here is bump up the iPad’s resolution, drop in a slightly better camera and add high-speed cellular data support, some may balk at the number change, arguing that it ought to instead follow the iPhone 4S’s lead with a letter tag. But Apple surely knows incremental branding lacks sex appeal, and worlds are at stake with Android-based tablets tearing up the charts, so whatever it’s called — perhaps just “iPad HD”? — it’s all but certain it won’t have the number two in the name.

This is actually what Apple’s showing on March 7. Apple boasts it has something we “really have to see … and touch.” It does so with those words overlaying a shot of a finger touching an iPad-like screen. So either the company’s rolling out a new iPad on Wednesday, March 7, or Cupertino’s about to pull the greatest head fake in tech history.

(MORE: Your Mission: Predict What Apple’s Announcing at Its iPad Event)

I was blind at XGA, but at QXGA I can see! The earliest and most consistent rumor, Apple’s next iPad is said to employ a 9.7-inch high-definition display that leaps from the iPad 2’s 1024 x 768 pixels to 2048 x 1536 pixels. If true, that means it won’t be a true “retina” display, i.e. 300 ppi (pixels per inch), a pixel density at which the human eye can no longer discern differences. On a 9.7-inch screen at 2048 x 1536, you’re talking around 264 ppi, though still a dramatic jump from the iPad 2’s paltry 146 ppi.

It’ll be significantly more expensive. MacRumors launched this bit of silliness: The gossip-angled tech site posted an alleged price sheet suggesting the next iPad would start at $579 (the iPad 2 goes for $499) and climb in price from there. Okay, anything’s possible, but the price sheet popped on a Chinese social network and could have come from anyone with a spreadsheet program and mischief in mind. That, and raising the price of a tablet already arguably overpriced would be tempting fate (not that Apple hasn’t tempted and shown up naysayers before).

Hello, higher megapixel camera! The iPad 2’s front/rear cameras are pretty awful by contemporary standards, each less than 1 megapixel. They’re acceptable for grainy video chatting or casual picture goofing but that’s it. Apple’s next iPad could bump the device’s rear camera to a respectable 8 megapixels, same as the iPhone 4S. Will it happen? Put it this way: How would you feel if the “cutting-edge” tablet you just dropped a bundle for had a camera less impressive than a bunch of less expensive phones that have been around for years?

Faster iPad, faster! A higher resolution display would benefit greatly from more powerful processors. The iPad 2 already has the high-end Apple A5 processor found in Apple’s iPhone 4S, and rumors point to graphics processor updates as well as a tweaked version of the A5, dubbed A5X (still dual-core, but with supplemental benefits). A more recent rumor is that Cupertino’s working on a quad-core next-gen A6 chip (based on information gleaned from iOS 5.1 developer preview code) and that such a chip might find its way into the next iPad.

“Of course you don’t look fat in that protective sleeve…” Rumor has it the next model may be just shy of a millimeter thicker. The iPad and iPad 2 are relatively lightweight — slender devices by any measure — so if it turns out the next iPad puts on a few ounces (as rumored) would you care?

4G/LTE data support at last. Kind of a no-brainer, right? The iPad 2 supports 3G, all the newest phones support 4G, there’s plenty of demand for higher-speed data streaming (if you live in an area that supports it), so why not?

“Hello there, my name is Siri…” Another no-brainer. The only reason Apple’s voice recognition app wouldn’t put in an appearance on the next iPad is if Cupertino wants to keep Siri an iPhone-exclusive app, and there’s little reason to believe that’s the case.

More memory, expansion slots, and tons more local storage. All of this stuff is just guesswork, of course. A jump from 512MB to 1GB sounds plausible if Apple wants to enable higher-end gaming, but anything you’re hearing about slots for expansion cards is probably just nonsense, and local storage expanding to 128GB (much less 256GB) is always possible but pushing it.

Meet the iPad-whatever’s new 7.85-inch little brother. Or sister. Tech-gender preferences notwithstanding, rumor site DigiTimes says prototypes of an iPad with a smaller 7.85-inch screen made their way to Apple last week. An iPad-mini? Don’t expect it until the third quarter, claims the rumor site.

MORE: Join Us on March 7th for Live Coverage of Apple’s iPad Event