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Five questions about iPad HD

The rumors are flying about a new iPad HD that features an ultrahigh-resolution display. Is it really coming this year?

Screen play: Talk of an iPad 2 with a higher-resolution display continues to make the rounds. Apple

If you haven't heard already, there's this rumor going around about a so-called higher-end iPad HD with a 9.7-inch 2,048x1,536-pixel resolution display that's coming this fall and will be geared toward "pro" users. The site This Is My Next started the rumor, citing an anonymous source, and then Taiwan's DigiTimes mentioned something recently about Apple launching an iPad 3 this fall, and the rumor mill belched again.

Fine. Rumors are rumors and everybody loves a little Apple titillation. But let's sit down and hash this one out a bit. Here are five questions to kick the discussion off.

Why would Apple introduce another 9.7-inch iPad so soon?
It doesn't make much sense and would most likely anger a lot of folks who already bought an iPad 2. Sales of larger Android tablets have been pretty tepid and they don't pose much of a threat to Apple's domination of the tablet market this year. (You can argue you all you want about iOS vs. Android, but at this juncture Apple appears to be not only technologically ahead in the tablet race, but also leading on price.)

If anything, Apple could come out with a smaller iPad Mini (or larger iPod Touch) to take on the 7-inch tablets like the Samsung Galaxy Tab and Barnes & Noble Nook Color, which has fared very well in the marketplace. Amazon's expected to soon release it's own 7-inch Android tablet (rumor has it that Samsung will provide many of the parts), so the possibility of a smaller iPad with a Retina--or near Retina--Display can't be ignored even if Steve Jobs says Apple won't do it.

It's also worth noting that the name iPad HD just doesn't make a whole lot of sense. I could see Apple going with "iPad Pro," but in the near future (maybe as soon as the iPad 3 in March) the "standard" iPad will have a display with "HD" resolution and lots of pixel density, so the HD part of the name will soon become superfluous.

Is the screen technology available for production?
Maybe. LG, the company behind a lot of Apple's displays, is said to be prepping an "ultra" high-resolution 9.7-inch display that offers "1.5 to 2 times the resolution of typical LCD panels." Samsung also has a more power-efficient 10.1-inch wide-screen 2,560x1,600-pixel resolution display at 300 pixels per inch in the works (it's at 300 ppi that Apple says the human retina is unable to distinguish between individual pixels). It's unclear how much such a display would add to the cost of producing an iPad, but it would probably be significant (iSuppli says the screen in the current iPad 2 costs around $127).

What kind of chip would be required to drive such a high-resolution display?
Well, a lot of folks are saying that Apple's A5 chip, which powers the iPad 2 along with the integrated PowerVR SGX 543MP2 GPU, wouldn't cut it for 2,048x1,536 pixels, which is actually 4x the resolution of the current display. That may or may not be true, but Apple would certainly have to deal with battery-life challenges. As it stands, my iPad 2's battery life is noticeably shorter than my original iPad's (I don't care what Apple's official battery life numbers say; there is a difference).

So, while both chips and displays are becoming more energy efficient each year, I strongly doubt Apple has an A6 chip ready to roll for this fall. Rumor has it that the A6 will be quad-core, but that it won't work with future iPhones because of heat issues.

What good is an ultrahigh-resolution display?
Well, where such a display would come in handy is when looking at very high-resolution images and documents that require a degree of precise viewing. Yes, when reading e-books, letters will appear sharper, too. And when it comes to gaming, higher-resolution graphics would certainly bring a greater degree of realism to certain types of games. But the question is: at what cost? Apple won't put out an iPad that can't equal the battery life of the previous version.

How reliable are anonymous sources when it comes to Apple?
Well, if the past is an indication, not at all. Here's what Joshua Topolosky, the former editor in chief of Engadget who started the rumor on, had to say prior to the launch of the iPad 2:

From what we've been told, the thinner, sleeker tablet [iPad 2] will sport a new screen technology that is akin to (though not the same as) the iPhone 4's Retina Display and will be "super high resolution" (unlike reports to the contrary). The device will remain at 10 inches but will now feature both front and rear cameras (not a huge surprise), and...there's an SD slot. That's right--our sources say with near certainty that the device will have a dedicated SD slot built in (with no traditional USB slot).

An Apple iOS device with an SD card slot? Maybe on planet Android, but not here on planet Earth.

So, what do you guys think? Is the iPad HD or iPad 3 coming this fall? Or will Apple release a larger iPod Touch to take on the smaller tablets?