Is 3D mapping coming to the iPad 3?

I’m very much looking forward to Apple’s announcement for the iPad 3 on Wednesday (Thursday morning early Australian eastern time). I have a suspicion this will be the biggest upgrade of the iPad yet. Apple tends to have a major release cycle of iPhones every two years with a minor spec update every alternate year. I think this was the case with the iPad 2, it received a speed bump, a slimmer and lighter case and cameras – certainly a worthy incremental upgrade to one of their iOS devices. So based on Apple’s pattern of behaviour(s), I think the iPad 3 will be their first major overhaul of the iPad. So I am adding my 3 cents 🙂 to the mass of speculation out there.

Read on to find out my reasons for why I think Apple will up the specs on the next iPad.

3D Mapping: features drive the specification

After reading a lot of speculation about the iPad 3 I was dismayed to read that many commentators have forgotten about a mapping software company Apple bought a few years years ago called Placebase. They backed up this purchase in August last year with the acquisition of a 3D mapping outfit called C3 Technologies that was spun out of the Swiss military.

You can see an amazingly visceral demonstration of this 3D tech here. I was gob-smacked to see the progress that this company has made toward automating 3D data mapping of surfaces and buildings using airplanes. None of the data is hand modelled, all the 3D and textures are taken in realtime and then reduced down for display on an iPad.

I think that if Apple is nearing commercialisation of this technology in this release of the iPad then I suspect that it will have a number of features needed to display mapping data of this size. More of everything would need to be shoehorned into the iPad 3 to support functionality like this. Here are the contenders…

Apple’s fast graphics and processor for displaying 3D maps

I think that Apple could add a quad core processor to the iPad, this type of application requires a fast processor and I think Apple would want to create a smooth and fluid user experience. This would possibly require a quad core processor and faster graphics processing – possibly the rumoured A5X processor. I wonder however if it could do what it needs to do with a dual core chip and much faster graphics processing – hence the incremental A5 update.

Extreme Tech goes into a bit more detail about the possible forthcoming processor here.

I want a quad core processor. But my gut says it’s an incremental update to the A5… Extreme Tech supports my thinking that it’s a dual core chip with a much beefier graphics processor to keep up with my next point…

The rumoured iPad 3 retina display

The guys at Ars Technica have noticed a bunch of visitors with 1,536 x 2,048-pixel displays on iOS 6.0 devices – this is a strong indication that Apple is at least testing a 2x “retina” version of the iPad screen. While it would be wonderful to see a screen of this size released on this version of the iPad, it just doesn’t seem to quite fit the iOS release cycle to me. iOS 6 probably won’t arrive until July – October with the iPhone 5. We can either hope to see the iPad retina display added now and supported by iOS 5.1 or wait a whole year for the next iPad. On the other hand, what is stopping Apple from releasing iOS 6.0 on the iPad 3 first? Stranger things have happened.

My hope is that it is a retina display, and realistically with 5.1 support. But in the back of my head I’m just not sure if it will be ready, even though a prototype case has been caught in the wild by M.I.C Gadget and MacRumors pulled out a doozy by sourcing a retina prototype display.

My point is that Ars Technica would have iOS 5.1 devices showing at 1,536 x 2,048 resolution, not just version 6.0 if we expect Apple to release the retina display in this release cycle. I hope we aren’t setting ourselves up for another iPhone 5 disappointment. There was enough miss-information circling about what was to become the iPhone 4S that I wonder if this will be released as the iPhone 2S?

High speed data with LTE

This is one thing that I am almost certain about. The iPad will be released with an LTE radio. The time is right for LTE and I don’t believe Apple can miss it in this release cycle. Extreme Tech don’t think LTE is mature enough, but I don’t buy it. I think this is a big reason for the slightly thicker case, more battery life would be required. I also believe that if 3D maps are released in this cycle then an LTE modem would be necessary to stream all that 3D data. Imagine what will happen in this Post PC era? Average Joe renter only requiring LTE data on their iPad at home and eschewing their wired connection for the simplicity of LTE? While not every segment of the market would go for this, I think it has its place.


I don’t think it would surprise anyone if Apple releases the same complex of cameras in the iPad 3 as is currently in the 4S. This seems a natural progression to me, and a great match for Facetime over LTE.


I know I have been vacillating a bit here on features. But the crux of my forecast is that if Apple releases a retina display and a new 3D mapping platform then we will see a big spec bump, maybe a quad core processor in the form of an A6 processor with improved battery life and larger batteries thanks to the thicker case, throw in LTE and Apple with still own tablets for the foreseeable future. My feeling is that this will happen next year.

On the other hand, if 3D mapping isn’t ready and the retina display is due for the next cycle, then we may only see a more incremental iPad update with a “A5X” processor that has good energy saving features for LTE and better cameras. This also doesn’t negate the possibility of a retina display as well, but my concerns about the release cycle of iOS 6.0 not withstanding, I think this whole argument hinges on whether Apple has retina support ready in 5.1. If this is a more muted announcement for the iPad in terms of specifications, then Apple may have another major “feature” in the wings as well, it was definitely Siri on the iPhone 4S, if it weren’t for Siri’s soothing voice, there would have been rioting on the streets when the 4S was announced and the iPhone 5 no-where in sight.

As I have speculated, I think it’s a 3D mapping platform, but there may be something else (another Siri) up their sleeve to wow us all with. Maybe they have taken 3D mapping even further… integrated it into something social with augmented reality, if there’s anyone can get AR right it’s Apple.

Like I said before “stranger things have happened”, the iPad could bump up the 6.0 sooner than we think. These prototypes floating around tend to throw of speculators scent like the 4S did. Maybe the iPad 3 will get the A6 and the iPhone 5 the A5X – who knows?

I know who does, the guys at Apple are working around the clock to see this release out the door. And know one thing, we will be surprised and we might be disappointed, but I can’t wait to see what Tim Cook and his team have to show us on Thursday morning!