Apple's iPad flipped the tablet world upside down in 2010, but thankfully the accelerometer kicked in and the image righted itself. Seriously though, the original iPad, and 2011's iPad 2, are due some credit for transforming Apple into one of the most financially successful companies of this still-young millennium. The original was virtually by itself in 2010, with no real competition in sight.
When Android tablets like the Motorola Xoom finally started shipping in 2011, the iPad 2 arrived shortly thereafter, packed to the gills with a dual-core CPU, powerful GPU, exceptional app offerings, and a solid ten hours of battery life when put to the test.
Most Android-based offerings could match the iPad 2 in one or several areas, but it took months for some legitimate competition to finally surface. And some contenders did indeed hit the market in the spring and summer, including the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the Acer Iconia Tab A500.
Extra features like USB and HDMI ports called to potential buyers, while Android 3.0 (also known as Honeycomb), came into its own after several updates.
As it stands today, the best tablet available is indeed an Android device. Unless you're already married to Apple's services and software, the Asus Transformer Prime tablet is the killer device, with its quad-core Tegra 3 internals, Android 4.0 (or Ice Cream Sandwich) operating system, fantastically bright display, and best-in-class 8 megapixel camera.
Of course, there's a pretty good chance you already own an iPad 2, and shifting from an iOS to Android is no easy task - and you can kiss your entire app collection goodbye. Odds are you're waiting on the next iPad, as the migration from one iOS device to another is - in theory - pretty painless.
So when will this Cupertino Unicorn emerge from the clouds and drop onto your laps and into your faux-hipster messenger bags? That's where the rumors, and our predictions, come into play. We'll be looking at every other aspect of this mythical-but-soon-to-be-very-real tablet, including its design and physical specs, internal hardware (CPU, GPU), optics, and display.
RAM: The iPad 3 could finally get 1 GB of RAM, as opposed to the 512 MB found in the iPad 2 and iPhone 4S. Doubling the RAM will lead to, among other things, more capable multitasking and more robust applications and games.
Storage: We toyed with the idea that Apple would offer a 128 GB iPad 3, but that seems like overkill in the storage department. The iPad 3 will come with the same storage options as the iPad 2, with 16, 32 and 64 GB configurations.
I/O and Ports: We can see Apple moving away from the tried and true 30-pin connector and 3.5mm headphone jack. While additions like an SD card slot, HDMI out or a plain old USB port would be welcome, we simply can't see it happening. Apple loves its accessories, including the Digital AV Adapter and the Camera Connection Kit.
Will the iPad 3 have a Thunderbolt port? While the standard has popped up on Apple's desktop and notebook offerings, we're not quite sure if it's ready for the iPad. While such a port could easily handle data, video and power/charging, the lack of Thunderbolt in PC's thus far keeps us skeptical.
Front-facing camera: The iPad 2's front-facing camera is a VGA (640x480) sensor, which is lacking when compared to most 2011 smartphones and tablets. We're expecting Apple to boost this video chat-friendly camera to a "FaceTime HD" model, which can capture video at 720p.
While we're confident that most of our predictions will come true, you can never be too sure with the folks at One Infinite Loop. When it comes to predicting hardware and software, no company has proved more elusive that Apple over the last several years. There's a chance that all of our predictions prove to be way off-base come next month...assuming it even launches next month).