Purported photo of iPad 3 rear enclosure compared to iPad 2

Purported photo of iPad 3 rear enclosure (right) compared to iPad 2 | Photo courtesy of RepairLabs

Amongst the ranks following the path of Apple’s iPad updates it has been of reasonable certainty that the next major update to Apple’s hugely popular tablet would come in the March/April time period. With just one month to go before the iPad 3 (sometimes referred to as iPad HD) is announced the number of reliable rumours has begun to pickup and a picture of the device becoming clear and a timeframe coming into view.

Whilst I’ve been telling eager outsiders to expect an update to the iPad around March/April for some months now I have been known to explain that I believe Apple should adjust the update point of the iPad. But it would seem that this year is not when that is going to happen. Last year I published an article discussing some of the reasons why Apple had pushed the iPhone release from the regular June spot into the fall and wrongly assuming that the annual music event would be pushed aside for the iPhone. In fact the iPhone release fell in early October and sales have been nothing but stellar, I was wrong in my prediction.

It still remains odd to me that Apple would stick to a schedule of releasing a new iPad just three months after Christmas in the March/April timeframe followed by an iOS event in June (coinciding with WWDC) with that software release occurring alongside new iPhone hardware in October. This bizarre update cycle leaves new iPad owners with “old” software until the fall and puts Apple on the back-foot on the run-up to Christmas.

But for 2012 it appears that Apple is so far sticking to the release schedule it became accustomed to in 2011. This week All Things D posted a report stating that the iPad 3 will be announced at an Apple event during the first week of March (I’ll take a punt at March 7), this report has been corroborated by the rarely inaccurate Jim Dalrymple at The Loop.

Expect the iPad 3 to be available in all the key markets with a week or so of the announcement so it’ll be on the shelves before mid-March.

The iPad 2 was largely a minor update from the original iPad which first debuted in February 2010. The iPad 2 gained a new look with a considerably thinner enclosure; the inside also got an overhaul with an update to Apple’s dual-core 1GHz A5 processor, 512MB of RAM, a new front-facing camera and added a rear camera that can record up to 720p video. Most notable from the iPad 2 update in March 2011 was the graphics update, Apple touted that the new PowerVR SGX543MP2 graphics processor could produce up to nine times the graphics performance of the original iPad. All this was achieved whilst keeping the long 10 hour battery life of the original iPad.

Comparatively the incoming iPad 3 looks like it may well get a similar update but Apple certainly has a huge surprise up its sleeve.

As you’d expect and of little interest to the consumer the iPad 3 will feature an updated processor and an increase of RAM. The processor is likely to be the Apple branded A6 processor but there still remains a bit of conjecture on whether this processor will make the leap to quad-core or remain dual-core. The latest rumour from the somewhat reliable Joshua Topolsky over at The Verge states that the processor will remain dual-core, Topolsky also writes that the iPad 3 will include “a significantly more powerful GPU”.

The jury remains out on whether the iPad 3 will include an LTE cellular radio, if you ask me the limited international opportunities for such a device will put Apple off the idea for a year or so yet. Battery is unlikely to be a major barrier in the iPad unlike in the iPhone where it’ll be the defining factor.

The focus of next month’s update is all on the display. Ahead of the iPad 2 launch in 2011 some had speculated that Apple would take the same route as it did with the iPhone 4 and “double” the resolution of the display. This didn’t come to fruition and it was almost certainly down to cost and the production quality of a 2048 x 1536 display but with the iPad 3 it seems certain that we’ll see an iPad with a “retina display”.

A report in the New York Times today quotes an internal Apple employee who says that the iPad 3 will “essentially [be] the same size and shape as the iPad 2,” with an improved and “truly amazing” screen. The rumour comes right on the heels of purported photos of a 9.7-inch display manufactured by Sharp that is said to sport a resolution of 2048 x 1536.

It’s also well known that Apple has been including higher resolution graphics within iOS updates for a number of months to accommodate the move to a retina display. A number of developers have been doing the same in recent weeks and I’m sure many more will continue ahead of the iPad 3 release in March.

That is what we know about the upcoming iPad refresh. On paper it doesn’t look like anything special; Apple will undoubtedly tout the highest resolution tablet ever, incredible graphics and presumably a boost in battery life to boot.

Apple’s pricing and model makeup has been the same since the original iPad launch, with the launch of the iPad 3 I’m led to believe that this will go the way of the iPhone with Apple keeping a single model or number of iPad 2 models on sale at reduced prices. Not only will this help tackle some lower priced tablets on the market but Apple’s retina display iPad 3 may well be more expensive than the current model.