iPad 5 rumor rollup for the week ending April 17

Case revelations, display changes, June 18, giving up on iPad mini

Starved for details, the iOSphere again turned to studying the dimension of third-party iPad 5 cases. That's right: products for a product that doesn't yet exist.

Most of the iOSphere ignored the fact that the case manufacturers seemed to be manufacturing cases for different versions of the Next iPad.

Also this week: assessing Apple's display technology options, where tweaking and improving may yield benefits without having to rush radical new technology changes; iDay is boldly declared to be June 18; and the strange new world of iPad market dynamics, wherein the iPad is so successful, no one is actually buying them.

You read it here second.

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"[T]his [iPad 5] case again suggests a slimmer and narrower iPad is in the works, which would mean that this mysterious tablet is likely to have the same screen size but thinner left and right-side bezels -- just like the iPad mini."

— Richard Lai, of Engadget, believes that iPad accessory manufacturers have been given accurate information about the Next iPad's dimensions and features.

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iPad 5 will look like iPad mini, as revealed by "new" cases

Engadget was at the Hong Kong Electronics Fair and noticed one unnamed company displaying cases for the unannounced iPad 5. And who better to know what the Next iPad will look like, eh?

This isn't the first such case sighting. As Richard Lai notes, "cases for this unreleased 'iPad 5' have also been making the rounds in China ..." According to Lai, someone at the booth claimed the case is based on a "leaked mold" of the actual Next iPad.

Whether it is or not, the case "suggests a slimmer and narrower iPad is in the works, which would mean that this mysterious tablet is likely to have the same screen size but thinner left and right-side bezels," according to Lai.

Somewhat oddly, Lai doesn't give or try to deduce any dimensions about the case or the tablet for which it's supposedly designed.

Here's one of Engadget's photos of the case. The opening for the iPad's speaker, at right, seems to be closer to the Lightning port, at center, than the current iPad arrangement, which suggests the case manufacturer expects the Next iPad's body to be smaller. Here is Apple's photo showing the same area of the current iPad.

Finally, here's the comparable Apple photo of the iPad mini. The mini sides are rounder than the full-size iPad, which has a more pronounced slope on the underside.

TechCrunch's Matt Burns isn't content with just one case. In his post, he links to a page at China's Alibaba e-commerce website, packed with "iPad 5" cases.

"It's oft been circulated that Apple releases the dimensions of upcoming devices to accessory makers months before the announcement so the device launches to a full assortment of items," Burns assures his readers. And he's right: It has been "oft circulated." It would be nice to get what used to be called a "confirmation." "These factories have likely not seen the next iPad yet. ... But they know the device's dimensions," Burns asserts.

MacRumors' Eric Slivka is even more convinced. "With both front and rear casing parts and several case designs for the fifth-generation iPad having surfaced over the past several months, we are starting to get a very good idea of how Apple is drawing on design cues from the iPad mini to design a thinner and narrower full-size iPad," he declares, before plunging into the "evidence" revealed by yet another case manufacturer, Tactus, on the company's breezily written blog

Curiously, Slivka doesn't mention one key discrepancy between the "iPad 5" revealed by Tactus and the one revealed by Engadget's anonymous vendor. The latter, as mentioned above, shows the Next iPad keeping a single speaker location to the right of the Lightning dock port. But the Tactus case shows twin speakers, one on either side of the port. 

Which sort of undermines Burns' contention that the case makers and we "know" the dimensions, since both cases can't be right. Why would Apple leak the dimensions so they can build a properly sized case that gets the speaker locations wrong?

The conventional wisdom, perfectly captured in CNET contributor's Eric Mack's blog post on the Engadget revelation, is that the "case designs popping up in Hong Kong and online add to the pile of evidence that a skinnier slate is in the works."

Mack, Lai and others are somewhat imprecise in their terms -- slimmer, skinnier, smaller -- which could refer to the iPad's thickness as well as its vertical and horizontal dimensions. Generally, people seem to mean they expect the overall size of the Next iPad's body to be smaller, while maintaining the same screen size, and for the edges to look more like the iPad mini.

This "growing pile of evidence" includes blog posts such as Mack's, which typically reference claims and rumors by third-party case makers or other accessory companies, and by anonymous sources in Apple's "Asian supply chain."

The Rollup so far hasn't seen any serious attempt to evaluate the reliability of these sources, so it's impossible to know if the pile of evidence is actually a pile of ... something else.

iPad 5 will be thinner and lighter, by redesigning display elements

Apple may be able to make the Next iPad lighter and thinner, and improve the display, by evolving its current display technologies rather than gambling on still-emerging alternatives.

That's the summary found in one of the few current examples of informed iPad 5 speculation, as CNET's Brooke Crothers posted the results of an email exchange with Paul Semenza, an analyst at NPD DisplaySearch.

Semenza says that by redesigning the light-emitting diode (LED) backlight apparatus for the iPad, Apple can reduce the size of the LED backlight and improve its efficiency. Other changes, especially shifting to a film-based touch sensor, can reduce the display's thickness.

He remains unsure at this point whether Apple will introduce a major new display technology for iPad 5. "It is not yet clear if there will be a big change to the display -- such as using IGZO," he tells CNET.

IGZO, for indium gallium zinc oxide, refers to the oxide-based thin-film transistors, unveiled by Sharp almost exactly two years ago. Many predicted that Apple would introduce it with the iPad with Retina display in the spring of 2011.

As the Rollup reported in late 2011, IGZO transistors deliver better performance than that of amorphous-silicon transistors, currently in wide use, according to the summary at Semiconductor Portal. As a result, IGZO transistors can be made smaller without sacrificing performance, a move that lets more light pass through the panel. "This advantage translates into lower power consumption and higher resolution. Sharp reported a reduction in power consumption of about 33% for a 10-inch-wide prototype panel compared to an equivalent panel with amorphous-silicon TFTs," according to Semiconductor Portal.

But by making the kinds of changes Semenza outlines, Apple may be able to improve display characteristics and make the display thinner and presumably lighter, without having to gamble now on a still-new technology that may not have achieved the kinds of manufacturing yields needed for high-volume and affordable 9.7-inch screens.

There's been speculation, in fact by Semenza's colleague Calvin Hsieh in January 2012, that Apple is moving to new display technologies. The real question is when. There's been speculation that the next full-size iPad will make use of the same glass/film dual indium tin oxide touch panel structure introduced in the iPad mini (this is usually abbreviated as GF2 or G/F2 DITO), as the Rollup has previously noted. [see "iPad 5 will have GF2 DITO OMG IMHO screen structure"]

ITO is used to make transparent conductive coatings for touch screens and other displays. DITO means the coating can be layered on both sides of single substrate, again reducing the number of layers in the display.

This speculation was repeated this week by KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, whose most recent Note to Investors was cited in a blog post at iClarified. Kuo says iPad 5 will be 15% thinner and 25% lighter than the current iPad, in part due to using the GF2 DITO technology.

He argues that a more power-efficient display and an updated processor, dubbed the A7x, will also result in a thinner battery. And not just thinner: "We therefore think that iPad 5's battery capacity will be 25-30% smaller, at 8,500-9,000mAh, than iPad 4's, and the battery's thickness will be 15-20% smaller, at 7.5-8.0mm, and the number of cells will be reduced to two from three."

The power savings would have to be substantial to warrant switching to a smaller battery without affecting battery life for the user.

iPhone 5 will be announced June 18, according to a third-party case manufacturer

The aforementioned Tactus blog post also claims that iPad 5 will be announced on June 18. 

"[T]he upcoming iPad 5 ... won't even be announced until a media event on the 18th June," the post assures readers. "The iPad 5 is set to go on sale on the 27th June, just 9 days after the big media event. Let no one ever say Tactus isn't generous, letting you know this early!"

Tactus wasn't quite so generous in its sourcing: There is no mention of a source for this claim.

That's not an obstacle for iOSphere bloggers like Mark Chubb at Phones Review. "Obviously none of this can be confirmed right now," he writes, and you can hear the "but" looming ahead, "but occasionally these leaks do come up with accurate information and so there's every chance this could be the real deal."

He doesn't explain how there's "every chance" the leak can be the real deal when leaks only "occasionally" prove accurate. The iOSphere Paradox: The less likely the leak is to be true, the more likely it is to be true.

If it is true, June is becoming a crowded month for Apple. In late March, Gizmorati's Matthew Lucas, in an "exclusive" post which the Rollup covered, declared that Apple will announce the Next iPad and also the Next iPhone on June 29 at a special media event called "Original Passion, New Ideas."

iPad mini 2 causing drop in iPad mini demand

The unannounced iPad mini 2 is so eagerly anticipated that it's causing legions of potential buyers of the existing iPad mini -- less than six months after going on sale -- to become non-buyers, according to a typically brief post at DigiTimes. 

"Upstream sources in the iPad mini supply chain expect a 20-30% decline in shipments for the device during the second quarter of 2013 due to lacking demand in the market," according to the post.

The sources claim that "Apple has also recently adjusted its reserves for the current iPad mini, which are estimated to be between 10-12 million during the quarter, down from approximately 15 million in the first quarter of the year."

The Rollup isn't sure if a 30% decline means a "collapse" in the iPad mini/7.9-inch display market, though at HotHardware.com, they think it means sales will "Fall Off a Cliff." The word "collapse" was used to describe an estimated precipitous one-month drop in OEM shipments of 9.7-inch displays (used by the full-size iPad) earlier this year. This "iPocalypse" was blamed, by some (such as Examiner.com), on the likewise estimated success of the iPad mini.

DigiTimes' sources say that LG Display "expects that combined panel shipments for the two devices will reach 3.5 million units in April 2013, down from five million units in the previous month," and to drop to 3 million units in May and June. "Apple still hopes to ship 55 million iPad minis in 2013, the sources said."

That's not gonna happen, based on these numbers. If the first three months averaged 5 million total iPad screen shipments (remember: that's for iPad and iPad mini combined), that leaves 40 million units to ship to reach the 55 million target. Even if we assume all of those are iPad mini screens, there are nine months left with at best, 3 million shipments per month, for a total of 27 million. That leaves DigiTimes' sources coming up short by about 13 million units, just for iPad mini. (Admittedly, it's complicated by the fact that an iPad mini 2 released at some point in 2013 presumably would spark a surge in sales.)

"It's not uncommon for consumer demand to drop when a product refresh is anticipated, and we have been talking about the second-generation iPad mini a lot in recent months," says Cult of Mac's Killian Bell. " Having said that, it seems surprising that Apple would be seeing such reduced demand less than six months after the iPad mini went on sale."

Just a little surprising. We probably have to conclude that Apple's entire tablet strategy is a failure. The full-size iPad sales "collapsed" because everyone wants the iPad mini; except that the iPad is so popular that people aren't buying it because they're waiting for the iPad mini 2.

People like CNET's David Carnoy, whose blog post carried the headline "Forget the iPad 5 -- I'm waiting for the iPad Mini Retina."

John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World. : @johnwcoxnww john_cox@nww.com

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