The Third Law of Rumors says that the less you know, the more you can say. And the iOSphere this week swelled with iPad rumors that relied heavily on what people don't know.
Photos of the purported new iPad-mini-like iPad 5 front bezel were the basis of confident speculation about design cues and size. And one unconfirmed prediction that Apple's manufacturers would throw the switch on production runs starting in July or August was the basis of confident speculation about announcement dates.
An apparently brief, one-time cut in some iPad retail prices triggered a tidal wave of confident assurances that the cuts were being made to clear inventory and the Next iPad was sure to be announced really, really soon.
And finally, short-term memory loss let one Website recycle as new a six-week-old rumor that Apple will release the iPad 5 in April.
You read it here second.
"Back in February, we commissioned CiccareseDesign to create renderings of the fifth-generation iPad based on circulating rumors and leaks, and today's front bezel photos are indeed consistent with those renderings."
~ Eric Slivka, MacRumors, explaining that there's some kind of relationship between earlier fan art based on iPad 5 rumors and new unverified photos, from a "Chinese mole," purporting to be of the iPad 5's front casing, because they are indeed consistent.
iPad 5 front bezel revealed and it looks like the iPad mini ... only, you know, bigger
The French tech site NowhereElse published two photos that show, according to its anonymous "Chinese mole" (in French, "taupes Chinoise"), the redesigned bezel of a white iPad 5.
9to5Mac was one of many tech sites that picked up the posting, providing a link to the Google Translated version of the original French webpage.
"Today we bring you probably the first concrete evidence that the production of the iPad 5 is actually launched! ... A picture that was sent to us by one of our moles Chinese may indeed be the first evidence the imminent release of the next iPad."
9to5Mac's Seth Weintraub seems persuaded that the French photos reinforce those received by Weintraub in January, purporting to show the back casing of the iPad 5, a casing nearly as thin as the iPad mini.
"We've had pretty strong inclinations since January that the next generation of iPad would take design queues [cues?] from the iPad mini," Weintraub says in his post. "Today Nowhereelse.fr publishes two images of what could be the bezel of the new full-sized iPad 5. Note that the side edges are narrower than current models which could facilitate a smaller device with the same screensize."
But Apple's announced approach is to make products better, not different. So it's not clear how an overall smaller iPad, with the same 9.7-inch screen, would be better, unless the smaller size led to lighter weight. But Apple increased the size of iPhone 5, to 4.87 inches long vs. 4.5 inches long for iPhone 4S and still significantly reduced its weight, to 3.95 ounces vs. 4.9 ounces for the 4S, and its thickness, to 0.30 inches vs. 0.38 inches for the older model.
Making the Next iPad thinner and lighter could be Apple's main priorities, not the overall size or making the side bezels narrower. There may be other reasons for keeping the overall size of iPad 5 the same. If Apple can free up internal space by other means, as it did by creating the new, smaller Lightning dock connector, then keeping the overall size the same would give more room for something like a larger battery.
There also may be plusses for the "human-machine interface" by sticking with a wider bezel at the side, even though as Weintraub notes "Apple has improved iOS so that accidental screen actions on the sides of iPads don't register as actions/gestures which facilitate these narrower bezels."
But probably the last word on this assessment should belong to MacRumors' Eric Slivka. "Back in February, we commissioned CiccareseDesign to create renderings of the fifth-generation iPad based on circulating rumors and leaks, and today's front bezel photos are indeed consistent with those renderings."
We're not quite sure if he's saying that the Ciccarese illustrations validate the rumors or that rumors validate the illustrations. But something is getting validated, for sure.
iPad 5 production to start in July-August ... and you know that means
With almost haiku-like brevity, a post at the indefatigable Digitimes claims that "Volume production of the fifth-generation 9.7-inch iPad will kick off in July-August 2013, according to sources with Taiwan-based supply chain makers."
But maybe not. "Yield rates for key components, especially touch panels, will be a major concern for smooth production," Digitimes darkly warns. According to the sources the iPad 5 display will be from LG Display and Sharp; the touch panel assembly from TPK; and the ITO (indium tin oxide) thin film will be from Nitto Denko and Teijin.
ITO is used in transparent conductive coatings for liquid crystal displays, for three key reasons: high electrical conductivity, high optical transparency, and the ease in depositing it as a thin film, according to the Wikipedia entry.
The Digitimes claims are both familiar and replete with the surface plausibility that unfailingly gives them more credibility than they deserve. It all hinges on how well-informed the anonymous sources are, and they're always beyond evaluation.
Failing that, it all hinges on how credulous the iOSphere is. Sites like iDigitalTimes are pretty credulous. The "report" of the production timing "presumably [is] setting up a launch during late September or early October," iDT calculates. "Presumably" is the kind of word one uses when you have absolutely no idea what's actually involved in manufacturing a sophisticated mass product and in filling and managing a global inventory in anticipation of sales but you still want to sound like you do.
The real reason a late September or early October date sounds convincing is because it's about 12 months after the announcement of iPad mini and the fourth-generation full-size iPad.
iPad 5 is nigh because retailers are slashing, chopping, chain-sawing current iPad prices
On April 4, TechnoBuffalo noted "iPad Prices Get Slashed By Major Retailers, New Version On The Way?"
"Whenever tech companies are about to release an updated version of a technology, prices on previous models usually get cut," posted TB's Adriana Lee. "That makes sense. There's no better way to make room for the new than to clear the shelves of the old. And that's why the industry keeps a sharp eye out for changes in retail, to see if there's a broad pattern of price-slashing surrounding particular gadgets."
That makes sense, too.
"Given that, the iPad price-cutting moves just made by major retailers suggest that we may be on the verge of a new iPad and/or iPad mini," she announced. "...Best Buy pulled the trigger on clearance sales yesterday, as did Wal-Mart and MacMall. The retail outlets are racing to dump their supply of 3rd-gen iPads and iPad minis, with steep cuts of about 30 percent across the board."
The change in pricing was widely noted, and most generally drew the same conclusion. Philip Elmer-Dewitt, at CNN's Apple 2.0 blog, posted that "On Wednesday [April 4], Wal-Mart, Best Buy and MacMall initiated clearance sales, reducing their 3rd-generation iPad and current iPad mini prices roughly 30% across the board -- a pretty good sign that Apple is about to replace the old models with new ones."
"Could Apple be moving toward a 6-month product release schedule?" he wondered, which a lot of people have been wondering since last October when the fourth-generation iPad was released seven months after the iPad with Retina Display.
DeWitt and others posted a capture of Best Buy's web page showing the new pricing: iPad Retina Display, 16GB, at $315, a 30% drop from the previous $450.
The only problem with the analysis is that one week later the prices have almost all reverted back to their customary levels.
The TechnoBuffalo post provided Best Buys' computing clearance page. But when you click on the link, that page, at least on Wednesday, April 10, doesn't show any iPads. In fact, it doesn't even list "Apple" as one of the manufacturers. And if you go to the main website's iPad page you see iPads and iPad mini with prices unchanged: iPad mini from $329, iPad 2 from $399, and iPad with Retina Display, from $499. Ditto with MacMall's iPad page. On the homepage, MacMall was showing an iPad mini from $329, as a "blowout deal."
These are the same prices found on Apple's website.
Walmart's iPad listing does show a different price, but only for the iPad mini, which is now priced at $299, down from $329. But iPad 2 and iPad Retina are unchanged at $399 and $499 respectively. Walmart does offer a refurbished 16GB iPad 2 at $349.
AppleInsider's price guide shows Walmart, and Target, as being sold out of some but not all iPad mini models; the remaining models start from the standard $329. For the other full-size iPad models, the price guide shows the iPad products available from MacMall with current discounts ranging from $29 to $49 on some but not all models.
To paraphrase TechnoBuffalo's Adriana Lee, that does not make sense. Or at least not quite as much sense as everyone seems to think.
Lee and others deduce from a general principle - price cuts are used to clear inventory before a new product is introduced - that in this specific case - of temporary cuts in the prices of some iPad models - Apple will shortly introduce the Next iPad. But not all price cuts are about clearing inventory.
And without some historical data, showing how iPad retail prices have changed through each model cycle, it's impossible to know that this case is an instance of that principle. Even if this (apparently) one-time discount is being offered to clear out inventory, we don't know how long that process will go on for Apple and its retailers - it doesn't necessarily show that a new product is coming in a few weeks or even a few months.
Somewhere, right now, a blogger is writing a post about how the price cuts and inventory clearance confirm, conform, reinforce, lend credence to all the other rumors, and vice versa, that Apple, sure enough, will announce a New iPad.
In fact, Daniel Perez, at Ubergizmo has already written it: "It looks like the rumors of a new iPad being announced this month are starting to become stronger as not only did a number of well-connected sources say Apple has an event planned for the end of April, but we're also seeing a number of retailers slash prices of their iPads."
iPad 5 will be released in April
One of the ways in which New Media rumorism differs from Lame Stream journalism is that its attention span is even shorter.
"iPad 5 Rumored To Arrive in April: New Release Date Specs And Features Detailed Here [REPORT]" was the April 9 headline at iDesignTimes.
In light of the previous rumor, this "new" rumor would mean that the Next iPad is being released before it's being manufactured.
The anonymous post revealed that "iMore[.com] shares today that the iPad 5 could arrive in less than a month. Citing an "April-ish" release date, iMore believes the iPad 5 will precede the next iteration of the iPhone - iPhone 5S, slated for an early summer release. Of course with this news we also know it is likely the iPad Mini 2 could come right in line with big brother devices iPad 5."
Wow. That's a lot. Helpfully, iDesignTimes provides a link to the iMore post, by its editor in chief, Rene Ritchie.
The only problem is that Ritchie published that post at 1:20 a.m., Tuesday, March 5...nearly six weeks ago.
The Rollup made note on March 6 of Ritchie's post, which cited "sources familiar with the plans" for the "April-ish" announcement prediction. There's still plenty of time left in April for Ritchie to be proved right. And, of course, for iDesignTimes to keep creating "new" rumors by recycling older ones.
And for everyone else to tout dates between now and Dec. 31. Eventually, someone will be right.
John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.