Apple’s CEO Tim Cook officially announced the successor to the iPad 2 in front of a crowd of select media at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Centre for the Arts today. “In many ways the iPad is revolutionising portable computing.  Apple has its feet firmly planted in the post PC future,” said Cook.

 

Apple's CEO Tim Cook took the reigns at the iPad event.

Reporting from the event, we’ve compiled an up-to-the-minute summary of the latest iPad’s features, along with how the official specification compared to the pre-launch predictions. Also, we’ll be getting our hands on one of the first iPads, and filing our exclusive hands-on report, which will be posted shortly.

iPad 3 or iPad HD or iPad 2S?

Surprisingly, Apple has broken with convention and named its new version ‘The new iPad’ rather than the iPad 3, iPad HD or iPad S. This new moniker leaves the iPad 2 room to sell alongside of the ‘HD’ for those who are not interested in a higher priced model with an HD screen.

‘Retina’ display

One of the iPad’s most hotly anticipated features is a major update to its screen. Met by enthusiastic applause, Apple’s Tim Cook confirmed that the iPad 3 will ship with a Apple ‘Retina’ display. While retaining the same 9.7 inch screen size as previous iPads, the new Retina display contains a technically impressive 2048 x 1536 resolution – exactly double that of the iPad2. This world-first squeezes an incredible 3.1 million pixels into a compact frame  and provides more detail than ‘full HD’ televisions, on a screen a fraction of the size. As first seen on the iPhone 4, the iPad’s 3’s Retina display has a lower 264 pixels per inch (PPI) count than the 324 of the iPhone but they’ve ensured that it is still too difficult to discern individual pixels. This means that text will look incredibly crisp and sharp, even at very small font sizes, and movies, games and photos can contain up to twice the detail as the iPad 2 and iPad 1.

The incredible new retina display - 2048 x 1536 resolution. Beautiful.

LTE (4G) Support

Instead of holding back until more of the world has LTE in place, Apple has equipped the iPad 3 with LTE support, which will drop back to 3G compatibility when required. The new iPad also supports DC-HSDPA, for further network compatibility. Also, as per previous iPads, you will be able to choose from both Wi-Fi-only and LTE + Wi-Fi models. Apple has 2 flavours of LTE – one for Verizon and one for AT&T networks. While Apple Australia has confirmed that the new iPad will be able to support ‘faster-than-3G’ cellular connections, it’s still uncertain if this will be provided via DC-HSDPA or LTE network compatibility.

Quad core processor – yes and no…

To drive the high resolutions of the Retina screen, the New iPad has quad core graphics. This means 4x the performance of the iPad 2’s graphics. However the processor itself is still ‘dual core’, and based on an improved A5 processor, called the A5X. Apple is confident that the iPad will offer very impressive performance when compared to the upcoming quad core processors in competing tables.

No more buttons?

There has been talk about Apple abandoning the single button on the iPad in favour of customizable ‘soft buttons’ built into the unit’s bezel. While other Android-based tablet manufacturers offer this ‘capacitive display’ interface, Apple has stuck with its moniker of simplicity and kept the single button design.

 

The 'new' iPad, - Gadgetguy.com.au website included...

More memory

There was hope that the new iPad would have a 128GB maximum memory option for its top model. However, the new model has the same 64GB maximum memory capacity as the iPad 2, and this is possibly due to the additional cost of the extra memory. This might put the new iPad into a higher price band that would see it complete with lower-end MacBook Airs and other ultrabooks.

Improved camera

The latest iPad now includes an uprated rear facing camera – it’s now 5 megapixels and also has a 5 element lens and a hybrid IR filter. This also includes image stabilisation for the video recording mode and 1080p support. This is a welcome improvement over the iPad 2’s existing camera, which was arguably under-specified. On the web camera  front, there appears to be the same front-facing camera as before for FaceTime, Skype and other video conferencing.

New - 5 megapixel camera, 1080p recording and image stabilisation.

Look and feel

It’s not easy to tell the new iPad from its iPad 2 brethren. They share the same design style, with curved edges, aluminium back and screen size. Also, both are available in black and white bezels, and the volume, speaker, mic and 20-pin connector are positioned in the same place. However, the new iPad is slightly thicker, measuring 9.5mm compared to the iPad 2’s 8.7mm. This extra 0.81 mm is thought to be required to house the new Retina screen and a battery capable of powering the faster processor and LTE network.

Also, with Apple including the high-speed Thunderbolt connection on its latest MacBooks and iMacs, there was a possibility that a Thunderbolt port would find its way to the iPad , possibly replacing Apple’s ubiquitous 30-pin connector. It looks, however, that Apple will stick with the 30-pin connector for now, with Thunderbolt possibly making an appearance on the next iPhone instead.

iPad Mini

There has been talk of Apple joining the 7 inch tablet game, with the likes of Samsung (Galaxy Tab 7), Kindle (Fire) and other tablet manufactures finding some success with this smaller form factor. There was no evidence of it at the event, however, so if Apple is planning a smaller tablet, today wasn’t its day.

Siri on iPad

Since it runs so well on an iPhone 4S, adding Siri to the new iPad seems like a logical move – but Apple has not included it in the new iPad.

Other software features

While there wasn’t much talk of this, the iPad now features voice dictation. This is represented by a little ‘microphone’ icon on the keyboard, which will translate your voice to text. It supports the Australian language too. No mention of a new iOS, although an update is probably in the works soon.

Improvements to gaming, iMovie, iPhoto, Garage Band and more...

There’s an update to Garage Band, iMove and iWork as well. All of them are tweaked to take advantage of the huge resolution of the new iPad. There’s even a iPad specific version of iPhoto, which has some fantastic finger-based controls for editing your photos, along with powerful image editing features. More details to follow.

Sky Gambler’s Air Supremacy – Namco. Launches later this month.

Battery life

With all the extra components, the new iPad will deliver 10 hours on a 3G network, and nine hours on a 4G network.

How much and when?

UPDATE:

Australian pricing starts at a $499 for the 16GB, Wi-Fi only model, and topping out at $759 for 64GB. For WiFi + 4G models, prices start at, $679 at the 16GB mark and $899 for the 64GB model. What’s amazing here is that pricing is up to about $100 cheaper than when the iPad 2 launched, and you get a much improved screen, 4G and a 5 megapixel camera.

Apple is still going to sell the iPad 2, and you’ll be able to pick one up starting from just $429. This is a very competitive entry point, and will get other tablet manufacturer’s attention.

Pre-orders start today and it becomes available on 16 March in US and Australia. One week later, the iPad will be available in 25 other countries. Apple is going to keep the iPad 2 as well, starting from US$399.