Breaking down the rumors of Apple's big week

    The Apple rumor mill has been abuzz with speculation about imminent new MacBook Pros and iPads. On Wednesday, the tech world received various confirmations of both new products coming within the next week.

    Judging from leaked photos and documents, Apple will debut new MacBook Pros on Thursday in retail stores and online.

    Apple itself has hinted at the unveiling of the iPad 2 on March 2, as it invited prominent technology publications and newspapers to an exclusive event in San Francisco with a telling picture of the iPad homescreen peeking from behind a picture of the date of the event.

    Here’s what we can and cannot expect from these new products:

    MacBook Pro

    The Definite

    New Intel technologies — The latest laptops from Apple may see the implementation of new chip technology from Intel, the legendary processor manufacturer, as noted by MacRumors’ leaked photos of the laptop and spec sheets. These MacBook Pros will use Intel’s Sandy Bridge technology, which Intel claims will improve speeds by 200 percent.

    According to the leaked photos and documents, Apple will include a socket for Intel’s new peripheral connection technology, originally called Light Peak, though Apple renamed it Thunderbolt for promotional purposes. Light Peak/Thunderbolt seeks to replace USB, Firewire, DisplayPort and other connections with one ubiquitous cable and a blisteringly fast connection speed — 10 gigabits per second.

    The leaked pictures show that on the laptop, the socket will replace the current Mini DisplayPort socket, still allowing for FireWire and USB. As Apple’s laptops will be the first to feature this new technology, external hard drives and other peripherals that could use Light Peak/Thunderbolt have not yet been developed.

    The Probable

    An improved webcam — A close examination of the leaked specs sheet shows a conspicuously worded line: “Built-in FaceTime HD Camera.” While no definite specifications on the webcam are available, the inclusion of HD suggests that the new laptop may feature a webcam capable of shooting video for high-definition streaming. Though Apple promotes their FaceTime software, the capabilities of this webcam would port over to Skype and other popular video chat software.

    Of course, this may just be hyperbole from Apple, as consumers love the HD acronym.

    The Possible

    Solid-state drives — While the leaked specs sheet does not confirm this, rumors have been circulating all week regarding the inclusion of solid-state drives. Solid-state drives replace traditional hard drives for storage, using microchips and memory instead of spinning disks and movable heads. The result is a faster, more durable hard drive, but the quality comes at a high price. Thus, while the base level MacBook Pro does not include the solid-state drive, the use of such drives could still exist in the online-only higher-end models.

    A report from BGR speculates that the laptops would include a small 8 GB-16 GB drive that solely contains the operating system. This would make the already sleek operating system run even quicker, an increase in performance that may be necessary when Apple launches the next iteration of OS X this summer. Others have speculated that buyers could replace the entire hard drive with a solid-state drive.

    The Impossible

    An Air-like redesign — Although Steve Jobs called the impossibly thin MacBook Air “the next generation of MacBooks” back in October, the new MacBook Pro will not look very different from its thicker predecessor aside from the noted Light Peak socket on the side.

    BGR also claimed that the new laptop would sport a larger trackpad, but the leaked photos debunked this, at least in the 13” model. The larger models could still conceivably have larger trackpads, but this would be strangely incongruous for a company known to put aesthetic design first.

    The iPad 2

    The Definite

    Cameras! — Given the development of iOS to include FaceTime and the rise of apps like Hipstamatic and Instagram, the exclusion of a camera on the original iPad seemed a glaringly naïve omission by Apple. The new iPad will certainly sport a rear and a front camera, just like the iPod Touch and the iPhone 4, as Apple wants to continue pushing their video chat and photo editing software. Developers using the iOS 4.3 beta have discovered files that place FaceTime, Camera and other apps into the iPad homescreen.

    The Probable

    Three Versions — With the iPhone now available on Verizon and AT&T, it makes sense for Apple to allow the iPad to exist on both networks as well. Currently, the iPad is sold in WiFi and 3G models, with the 3G models working on AT&T’s GSM network. The iPad 2 will likely also sell in a CDMA version so that it can work on Verizon’s 3G network if you would prefer that — and as a Northwestern student, why wouldn’t you? This would create three versions — WiFi only, WiFi + GSM and WiFi + CDMA.

    If Apple really wants to make a splash, they will incorporate GSM and CDMA into the same model so that users can roam on both networks.

    The Possible

    SD Cards or mini-USB — Apple has never included slots for peripherals other than the USB charging cable and headphones on its mobile devices, but as the iPad continues to become a fully-featured mobile computer for its users, will Apple allow extra storage on external peripherals?

    No one has managed to completely confirm or deny this rumor. It seems odd for Apple to introduce these ports to an iPad, as the quality of the peripheral could vary extremely. If anything, Apple will wait for Light Peak/Thunderbolt to become a more widely accepted technology before allowing peripheral devices to connect to the iPad.

    The SD Card slot seems more likely than the mini-USB, as that would simply allow users to insert a memory card much like a digital camera. Then, users could pull files off the card — music, movies, photos, etc. — for more storage than the iPad currently allows.

    The Impossible

    Retina Display — Perhaps the most touted feature of the iPhone 4 was the “resolutionary” Retina Display, which quadrupled the number of pixels squeezed into the iPhone 4’s 3.5 inch display. Early iPad 2 rumors claimed that the iPad 2 would follow in this fashion, bringing the pixel count 2048 x 1536.

    First of all, 17” MacBook Pro screens can’t even handle 2048 x 1536. That is an absurd amount of pixels for a 17” screen, let alone the iPad’s 10” screen. Display technology is not yet ready for that level of resolution, which would go beyond 1080p. Apple may improve the display with better reaction to sunlight, better brightness levels, and better contrast, but do not expect to see an increase in pixel count.


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