This week, tech analysts and bloggers were sent invitations featuring a splash of pastels and a vaguely cryptic caption in Helvetica Neue. That can only mean one thing: Apple
) is gearing up for another event.
Taking place next Tuesday in San Francisco, the news event is expected to put Apple's iPad line center stage with upgrades that hopefully add some distinction to its standard and mini models in an overcrowded tablet market.
Like in the smartphone arena before it, Android
) tablets have overtaken iOS devices in terms of market share, although the iPad and iPad mini remain the most popular models today. With Microsoft
) Surface tablets unlikely to pose a threat and Amazon
) looking for new ways to make inroads with Kindle, Apple still has to keep adding bells and whistles so as not to be completely buried by less expensive options. (Microsoft owns and publishes Top Stocks, an MSN Money site.)
But heading into next week, what can consumers expect to see from Cupertino this time around?
Almost certainly, the iPad and iPad mini will see a boost in processing speed. Judging from previous events, the standard iPad will most likely receive a revamped version of the A7 chip currently found in the iPhone 5S. The iPad mini, however, might skip a generation and replace last year's sorely outdated A5 chip -- which powered the iPad 2 and fifth-generation iPod touch -- with the same A7 chip found in the iPhone 5S. The reason for that is a much-welcomed display upgrade.
The iPad mini is expected to join its iPhone and larger iPad brethren and sport a high-resolution Retina Display packed into its 7.9 inches, giving it a greater pixel density than the larger iPad. But with great resolution comes greater power, so analysts suspect the iPad mini will be slightly thicker to make room for a larger battery.
But the fifth-generation iPad is expected to undergo a more substantial redesign. Using smart technology to detect when a user is actually interacting with the screen rather than just holding it, Apple will be able to narrow the bezel on either side of the screen when held in portrait mode. Reflecting the evidence seen in leaks this year, the size and weight of the new iPad will be reduced while retaining its current screen size.
Folks who enjoy awkwardly taking photos with a giant tablet won't be left out in the cold either: The 5-megapixel camera found in the current iPad is likely to see an upgrade to an 8-megapixel sensor. And consumers might soon be able to buy their iPad in gray, white, or silver; the flashy gold color is still up in the air.
Also unclear is whether the new generation of iPads will sport the Touch ID button that made headlines when the iPhone 5S was introduced. Considering Apple just debuted the technology in its smartphone line, it may want to hold off on diving into the fingerprint-sensing waters for its tablets just yet.
And what about that caption on the invitation itself? Cupertino claims it "still [has] a lot to cover." Many in the tech world are taking the hint literally and suspect that could mean a new magnetic iPad cover with a possible keyboard option. However, no one is sure if they would retain the look of existing iPad keyboard accessories or be remodeled to resemble the snapping keyboard of the ill-fated Microsoft Surface. But taking the caption to the limits of plausibility, perhaps the most farfetched and yet entirely possible rumor is that Apple will release a 12-inch MacBook with a touchscreen and detachable keyboard "cover," rendering it an "iPad convertible" of sorts.
Apple's tablets won't be the only products getting upgrades. Back in June when Apple touted the redesign to iOS 7, the company granted a peek at the new Dyson-inspired Mac Pro desktop computer. The company hinted at a fall release, so it's entirely possible we'll see if the device can do more than just suck up dust bunnies or grind coffee at next week's event.
And speaking of curious choices, the terribly named OS X 10.9 Mavericks will likely have a demonstration and potentially see a consumer upgrade for $19.99 -- the same price as last year's 10.8 Mountain Lion -- on the same day.
Other than that, some analysts suspect Apple might show off some speedier MacBook Pros, which are certainly due for an upgrade. And while an HDTV or iWatch aren't likely to make an appearance, there's a chance a revamped Apple TV could be given a cameo; it may even try to steal the spotlight from the well-received Chromecast and the new Roku boxes unveiled earlier this year.
Although the event doesn't garner nearly as much press as Apple's iPhone debuts, next week will certainly pique the interest of those who want another glossy screen around the house.
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