The Apple iPad 2 Reviewby Brian Klug, Anand Lal Shimpi & Vivek Gowri on March 19, 2011 8:01 PM EST
Industrial Design & The Future
The original iPad was a device followed by so much hype and anticipation that inevitably, upon launch, it became one of the most polarizing products to launch in the last few years. It also became a huge hit, infusing life into the previously flatlining tablet market, and that's where the iPad 2 comes in.
The industrial design changes are very much in line with what we saw with the 4th generation Apple handhelds. The design language used for the iPhone 3G/3G-S and iPod touch 2G/3G was based on accelerating curvature continuity (known as G3 continuity in industrial design terminology), in contrast to the tangentially continuous design (G1 continuity) found on the original iPhone. What this meant, basically, is that the first iPhone had a relatively flat design, whereas the 3G/3G-S had a gently crowned back that aimed to fit the contour of one's hand.
The original iPad foretold the future of Apple's design language, using a similarly curved back but dumping the blended G3 curvature on the sides for hard edges that met the front face in a perpendicular manner. The iPhone 4 went a step further, with a flat back in addition to the sides. The front profile kept the same rounded corners that every other Apple device has, but the top and side cross-sections end up being rectangles, with all four faces meeting perpendicularly. I'm thinking Apple chose to do this to accomplish two things: being able to use glass for both the front and back faces, as well as to give the iPhone line some separation from the iPod and iPad lines.
The fourth generation iPod touch reaffirmed the notion that Apple was moving back to flatter, more rectangular designs. The use of aluminum instead of glass meant that there wasn't a need for a completely flat back; the predominantly flat back of the iPod tapers to meet the front face at the edges using a short continuous curve.
After seeing the newest iPod touch, I guessed that the second generation iPad would carry rather similar lines. I definitely didn't expect the iPad 2 to be so thin, but overall, it was pretty much in line with what I was expecting.
Another significant aspect to the industrial design changes is the addition of a white-bezeled iPad. The back of both black and white models are the usual anodized aluminum, though the texture of the anodizing on the iPad 2 (as well as the latest MacBook Pros) seems to be a different, smoother one than on previous aluminum Apple devices. Apple seemed to have moved to black bezels on almost all of its products, other than the vaporware-esque white iPhone 4, but between the iPad 2 shipping in white and a promised spring release for the white iPhone 4, it shows that Apple is trending back towards white devices.
The interesting question to ask here is how much we can read into Apple's future designs given the iPad 2, and unfortunately, that isn't a whole lot. It's always difficult to tell with Apple, but it wouldn't surprise me if the iPhone 5 ended up using a very similar design to the iPhone 4. Since the antenna problem is mostly solved (see the antenna diversity on the Verizon iPhone 4), Apple probably doesn't need to do a whole lot to the design for the next generation iPhone. Other than the signal attenuation issues, the iPhone 4 was an amazing piece of hardware, one that Apple spent a lot of money developing. It doesn't make sense for them to turn around and dump it on another ground-up redesign, especially when the 4 is still very competitive from a hardware standpoint. And at this point, I doubt they would focus so much on releasing the white iPhone in spring if they weren't planning on using a very similar chassis for the iPhone 5 that should launch in June.
Given past history, if the iPhone doesn't get a redesign, neither will the iPod touch. Both of the generation 5 handhelds will probably get some form of the A5 SoC, potentially underclocked like the A4 in the iPhone 4. What is more difficult to predict is the 3rd generation iPad. Since we don't really have an established cadence for the iPad, it's hard to say anything about the iPad 3 without reading too much into the iPad 2 launch. I'd say its safe to assume there will be a 6th generation Apple SoC (presumably named the A6), and if I was a betting man, my money would be on at least some form of redesign or at least an ID refresh, but again, with Apple, you really never know.