Kyle Wiens of iFixit, a Web site that provides free repair manuals and advice forums, has been a reliable prognosticator of everything Apple. With the next iPad expected to come out in March, Wiens recently gazed into his crystal ball.
On the eve of other major Apple unveilings, Wiens rightly predicted that the iPhone 4S would not run on 4G networks because the 4G chipsets were woefully power-inefficient. He predicted that the iPad 2 would have more RAM and a dual-core chip, but not higher resolution.
The team at iFixit also broke the story that Apple was using tamper-resistant Pentalobular screws to stymie do-it-yourselfers from making repairs and swapping in new batteries. In response, iFixit fashioned a Pentalobular screw driver.
iFixit has endeared itself to the Apple user community; Wiens is now a regular speaker at the renamed Macworld | iWorld conference held annually in January at the San Francisco Moscone center. What about Apple? It's not a big surprise when Wiens says, "We just don't hear from them."
CIO.com sat down with Wiens last month at the conference to get his predictions on what the next iPad will look like, what challenges are in store for the iPad this year, and what the next area of Apple innovation might be.
The iPad 3 is on deck. What are your predictions?
Wiens: I anticipate the iPad 3 will have basically the same form factor but with double the screen resolution. A Retina display, or four times the pixels, would be the goal. Although I haven't run the numbers, it all depends on how far you hold it from your face. It'll be very close to the Retina display. There might also be a high-resolution camera.
To go with this, Apple will have to up the graphics processor. Right now it's a dual-core, gigahertz-ish processor, but I think there are a lot of improvements down the pike for graphics performance on iPads. (In its iPhone 4S teardown, iFixit found that the A5 dual-core processor with 512 MB RAM fell short of 1 GB.)
Have you seen Infinity Blade 2 on the iPhone? It's gorgeous. The graphics are just awesome. You can't really see pixels or flaws. But on the iPad, there's notably lower resolution. That's because the iPhone and iPad use the same graphics processor (while screen sizes are different). Apple needs to up their game on the iPad.
What about performance improvements?
Wiens: My guess is that improvements will be incremental, not insane—unless Apple decides to go to a quad-core. Will the next iPad have an A6 with a quad-core? I haven't seen enough data to know. I would expect Apple to go to a quad-core within two years, but I don't know if it'll happen this year.
Sounds like the next iPad will be a very incremental upgrade.
Wiens: I wouldn't be surprised if Apple calls it the iPad 2 HD, instead of the iPad 3. I think Apple needs to be more aggressive on price than on features. This means maintaining the $500 price point.
iFixit is on the frontlines of iPad repair. Should Apple make the iPad more durable?
Wiens: The big trend this year is that we know iBooks has come out and Apple will sell millions to K-12 education. You're replacing very durable, heavy textbooks with things made of glass. I'm very concerned about students with glass textbooks. This is going to be a problem, and I don't know that schools are anticipating it.
Some schools have rolled out the Macbook, a really rugged, reliable computer. But it's still a laptop, and students break them all the time. Schools have learned to fix them. They've become pretty good at it. Now schools will need to figure out a way to be good at fixing iPads. Or they'll be shelling out a lot of money for service.
Do you think Apple will come out with a ruggedized iPad for students?
Wiens: The first iPhone was not repairable at all. We figured out a way inside. People are still replacing batteries in them. Original iPhones are still functional because you can replace the battery. When Apple went to the iPhone 3G, they went with a much more repairable design.
I hope Apple sees the issues with the iPad 2 and finds a way to make it easier for schools to get in and work on it, at the very least to replace the glass and battery.
(iFixit's teardown of the iPad 2 revealed that the front glass panel was glued in place, unlike the original iPad whose glass panel was held by tabs. "It's nearly impossible to open the iPad 2 without shattering the glass," says Miroslav Djuric, director of technical communication at iFixit.)
Aside from the iPad, what moves do you expect to see from Apple this year?
Wiens: I wouldn't be surprised if Apple released Siri for the iPhone 4. As far as I know, everyone who has hacked the iPhone 4 and enabled Siri hasn't had any issues with it.
My gut tells me the real reason Apple didn't release Siri for the iPhone 4 is because they were afraid their data centers wouldn't be able to keep up. Siri is down a lot. I think Apple knew they were going to sell a lot of iPhone 4S units and have scaling issues.
Apple doesn't have a good track record with cloud-based computing. They're learning and getting a lot better at it. They built that big data center in North Carolina. They're building another data center right next to it. And rumor has it they're going to build a big data center in Oregon.
The iPad tends to follow the iPhone; just about everyone expects the next iPad to have Siri. If the iPhone is where innovation happens, how will Apple move the ball forward?
Wiens: In the bigger picture, Apple is full of visionaries, such as Jony Ive. I hear Apple is snapping up developers to work on augmented reality technologies. I can't imagine in 10 years we'll still be carrying around phones in our pocket. We'll have something else, maybe something embedded in our glasses.
I want augmented reality to happen faster, but I think we're still three or four years out. I'm just saying that this technology is going to be the post-Jobs era at Apple, and the question is what company is going to be the first to nail augmented reality.
Will a competitor beat Apple to the punch?
Wiens: What I think is outrageous is, if I were a shareholder of RIM or Samsung, I would ask is it really this hard to build innovation? I'm just shocked at how incompetent some of these companies are.
Look at Samsung, which just released its Galaxy pad and some new phones at CES, and they're running Android 2.3 on them. Samsung has been telling its customers who bought the Galaxy S that they'll be able to upgrade to Android 4. And then they just announced that they're going to leave Galaxy S customers stuck on 2.3.
Why would I buy a phone from Samsung when they completely screwed their customers by not allowing them to upgrade? Right now, the only way would be to buy the Google Nexus phones. Google is making sure that the Galaxy Nexus S is going to be upgradeable.
I don't think [Apple competitors] understand how loyal it makes people when Apple continually pushes out improved functionality to their existing customers.