The story appears in blogs and even legit news websites every few weeks: Citing "a person familiar with" Apple's secret plans, the breathless prose predicts what the next iPad has in store or foretells for the umpteenth time that there'll be an iPhone for the Verizon Wireless network. Never mind that most of these predictions don't come true or are based on obvious extrapolation -- websites keep publishing them as if they were fact. Bloomberg News, for example, has been predicting an imminent Verizon iPhone for several years, and one day will probably be correct.
Apple runs a very tight ship, so it's extremely rare that any real information slips out before Apple is ready to release it. That's usually the day CEO Steve Jobs takes to the stage, but sometimes Apple does leak information ahead of time, such as to distract from a competitor's announcement -- so how should you parse the rumors?
Handicapping the rumored iPad upgrades
Based on Apple's history -- I've followed the company closely since 1991 -- here's my take on what's plausible and what's not for the latest iPad 2 rumors. We'll know for sure when Apple tells us, either right after the Consumer Electronics Show in January (the first anniversary of the original iPad announcement) or around April (the first anniversary of the first iPad's release).
Front-facing camera. This is a "duh" prediction. Every other Apple mobile device and computer now sports a camera for use by the Wi-Fi-based FaceTime videoconferencing technology introduced in the iPhone 4. Of course the iPad 2 will get it. Don't be surprised if it gets a rear-facing camera as well, like the iPhone 4 and latest iPod Touch, though it'll be interesting to see what this does to all those iPad cases and portfolios.
Faster processor. Another "duh" prediction -- Apple regularly increases the computing capability of each generation, so no doubt there'll be a faster A4 chip on tap. We'll probaby see an option for 128GB of solid-state storage as well, with the 16GB models disappearing.
Retina display. The iPhone 4 and fourth-generation iPod Touch sport an amazingly high-resolution screen, with four times as many pixels as a standard screen. Its resolution is so high that it looks like a continuous-tone photograph to the human eye (thus the "retina" name), appearing to be a natural image. The rumors say the iPad 2 will get this technology as well.
I'm not so sure. That would give the iPad 2 a screen resolution of 4,096 by 3,072 pixels -- or 12.5 million pixels. That's a helluva number of pixels for the video processor to handle and way more than any current computer can manage. I'm skeptical that this is not just naïve, wishful thinking. If Apple can pull it off for the iPad, though, the retina display technology should show up in the next generation of MacBooks (likely to debut this spring) as well.