Will the next iPads get the iPhone 5S' best hardware features?

Now that we know what's inside Apple's "flagship" iPhone 5S, it's time to ponder which upgrades will make it into the new iPads, due to arrive soon.

David Carnoy Executive Editor / Reviews
Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Nook e-books and audiobooks.
Expertise Mobile accessories and portable audio, including headphones, earbuds and speakers Credentials
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David Carnoy
4 min read
Purported pics of Apple's iPad 5, iPad Mini 2, which Sonny Dickson posted recently on his site. Sonny Dickson

By now the drill is familiar. Apple rolls out the next iPhone. It has a few hardware upgrades that make it better, faster, and more feature rich. And then we wait and see what hardware features make it into the next iPads, which Apple should unveil in October if you believe all the rumors and leaks (yes, more unverified photos surfaced this week on Sonny Dickson's site).

Of course, the new iPads will get new hardware upgrades of their own. The larger iPad, sometimes referred to as the iPad 5, should be equipped with a new version of its Retina Display that helps trim down the overall size of the device. And the iPad Mini 2 is on tap to get upgraded with its own high-resolution Retina Display (or so we think).

But the big question is whether those cutting-edge chips and camera enhancements Apple is touting in the iPhone 5S will trickle up to the new iPads.

Here's a quick look at some of those hardware features and my thoughts on which iPad will get what. To be absolutely clear: I have no inside information; this is all just an educated guess:

  • 64-bit A7 chip: The current iPad, which shipped in October 2012, runs on the A6X chip. You'd figure its successor, which will likely start at the same $499 price point, would be a good candidate for Apple's latest and greatest CPU. At least one analyst is expecting an even better CPU -- the A7X -- to land in both the full-size iPad and the new Mini. I disagree. I have a feeling the Mini 2 (or Mini Retina, as some people call it) will get stuck with last year's CPU. That would be a bummer, since the 64-bit A7 series promises to be great for gaming. It would also add some serious future-proofing to your tablet; don't be surprised if the best apps and games are 64-bit only 18 months from now.
  • Fingerprint sensor: Right now, this feature is more of a novelty than a practicality, because it's limited to Apple apps only (unlocking the phone and iTunes purchases). But if and when third-party apps get access to it, it could mean the end of passwords and keycodes. That said, I think it'll be the same pattern as above: my money's on the iPad 5 getting the sensor, but not the new iPad Mini.
  • M7 chip: Inside the 5S is a new M7 chip that's designed to be paired with next-generation fitness-tracking apps. It appears your phone will also double as a Nike FuelBand. At first glance, it doesn't make much sense to have those features in an iPad -- you're not going to be jogging with it. But Apple is also hinting at the M7 being "contextually aware," with the ability to switch into, say, hands-free mode when it detects that you're driving. So maybe they'll toss it in one or both of the iPads after all.
  • Better camera: Apple has steadily improved the front and back cameras in its iPads, but they're still a step behind the iPhone 5's cameras and an even bigger step behind those of the iPhone 5S, which adds slow-mo video and improved image processing, among other niceties. You'd think the back camera -- the one you take pictures with -- wouldn't be such a big deal in an iPad, but we've all seen plenty of shameless people confidently holding up their iPads at events, snapping pictures or shooting video. Perhaps Apple's noticed this and will embrace the iPad photography trend by giving it a camera on par with the one on the iPhone 5. (You'd think it would give the Mini the better camera because it's smaller, but again, I think the iPad 5 stands to get the better upgrades).
  • Battery life: I'd like to be able to say something about battery life improving, but Apple's engineers are always faced with the challenge of trimming devices down while making them faster and more powerful, which usually turns into a wash for battery life (the iPhone 5S appears to have gotten a slight bump in battery life from the iPhone 5). With the iPad 5 rumored to be about 25 percent lighter and smaller than the current iPad 4, I suspect battery-life ratings will remain about the same. Same goes for the iPad Mini Retina, which would do well to keep the same battery-life numbers in shifting to a higher-resolution display. (Many forget that the Retina iPad was actually a bit chunkier than its low-res predecessor.)

If you're noticing a trend in my predictions, you're correct. I'm figuring the new iPad Mini will be the equivalent of the iPhone 5C in the iPad pecking order, with the iPad 5 getting "flagship" status. That would be a bummer, but Apple has a way of segmenting its products so you end up having to choose between performance and design. In fact, Apple's hardly alone; the "mini" versions of the of Galaxy S4 and HTC One don't just have smaller screens than their full-size siblings, they also have reduced specs across the board.

In any case, it doesn't seem like we'll have long to wait. After seeing plenty of shots of their alleged casings, we should know pretty soon what's inside the new iPads and after the rather uneventful introduction of the new iPhones, maybe we'll get a surprise or two.

Let's hope so anyway.