See, it wasn't so hard to guess after all: Apple's new iPad – not "iPad 2" or "iPad HD," just "new iPad" — is the same size and shape as its predecessor, with a higher-resolution screen, better cameras and a faster processor.
(I was, however, wrong in predicting this model would add Siri and more memory.)
The major selling point of the new iPad, announced this morning and shipping March 16, is its "Retina Display." That touchscreen displays 2,048 by 1,536 pixels — four times the iPad 2's 1,024 by 768. On the other side, a 5-megapixel camera matches the iPhone 4S's capabilities (while the front camera has the same .3 MP resolution as the iPad 2). It's faster on the inside, with a speedier A5X processor and quad-core graphics chip, and on the go: Its mobile-data version now supports 4G LTE wireless, not just 3G.
And Apple says its battery life — 10 hours on Wi-Fi, 9 hours on 4G — matches the iPad 2's. Pricing hasn't changed either: $499 for a 16-gigabyte model, $599 for a 32 GB version and $699 for a 64 GB unit. Add another $130 for LTE support in either an AT&T or a Verizon model.
(The 16 GB iPad 2 now goes for $100 less, which doesn't make life any easier for Android tablets.)
LTE, meet data caps. All of the no-contract plans offered for the new iPad impose usage limits: AT&T's $30 plan allows 3 GB, while at Verizon $30 buys you 2 GB. You can pay for more, up to 10 GB for $80 at Verizon, but with LTE, you will approach those caps much faster. And with a 9.7-in. Retina Display, you'll also approach them faster than you would on a phone.
A lot more battery, a little more weight. Apple avoided the traditional sacrifice of battery life for LTE support by devoting even more of the new iPad's innards to its battery. Where the iPad 2 includes a 25 watt-hour battery, the new one has a 42.5 watt-hour unit, and is fractionally thicker (.37 in., up from .35) and heavier (1.44 lbs., versus 1.33 lbs., with mobile-data support adding less than an ounce).
In other words: Tip your cap to Apple's engineers.
Bigger apps. Retina Display-compatible apps may need more storage space, possibly twice as much, although Apple's iBooks actually shrank after being revised to support the new iPad. The entry-level iPad's 16 GB may fill up quickly; why Apple didn't up that to 32 GB is a mystery, considering how cheap flash memory has gotten. Users of the current model, meanwhile, may have to delete apps to make room for these heftier updates.
App fragmentation. A few iPad apps require the iPad 2's faster processor, but the new iPad constitutes a much bigger break with the old. If you own an iPad today, get used to seeing more programs listed as not running on your tablet. If you buy the new one, meanwhile, you'll probably wind up cursing at least one big-name vendor that takes inexplicably long to ship a Retina Display update to its software.
A mismatch for photography? Between the higher-resolution camera and screen and the new iPad version of iPhoto, Apple is pitching the next iPad as a photographer's companion. But taking pictures with a device as wide as a daguerreotype seems ridiculous. And with only Apple's proprietary dock connector on the iPad, there's no easy way to copy photos from a "real" camera. My prediction: Apple's $29 Camera Connection Kit will become one of the most popular new-iPad accessories.