Tech Industry

What the new iPad tells us about the next iPhone

The new iPad has a more vibrant display, LTE, and a better graphics processor. Just what does the addition of these features mean for the next iPhone?

We know what the new iPad, but what will the next iPhone deliver?
Josh Lowensohn/CNET

Apple's newest iPad has arrived right on schedule. It may not be the huge leap forward that some Apple fans were hoping for, but it delivers some modest updates, particularly in display resolution and connectivity. And as CNET's Donald Bell said in his First Take of the device, even these "housekeeping" improvements show that Apple can raise the tablet stakes again.

If we slice through the changes, what can they tell us about the next generation of the iPhone? Apple barely mentioned its smartphone during yesterday's media event, but the question of what the iPhone 5 (or whatever Apple chooses to call it) will bring has been on my mind ever since the marginally improved iPhone 4S went on sale in October. When the new handset finally lands this summer (or later in the year), I suspect that it will offer some substantial upgrades. And now we have a couple of clues as to what may come.

The new iPad's QXGA display now has a resolution of 2,048x1,536 pixels. That's an important change given that it exceeds any current tablet or laptop on the market. Indeed, Donald warns that you may start muttering "My precious" once you get the new iPad in your hands.

Sure, the new resolution is substantially higher than the current Retina Display on the iPhone 4 and 4S (960x640 pixels), but that's largely to be expected given the iPad's larger screen size (9.7 inches versus 3.5 inches). Yet, if Apple does what it should and increases the display size in the iPhone 5, I'd look for the resolution to improve, as well. It likely won't be a big jump, and I wager that Apple will stick with the Retina Display concept, but a change would be in order. Apple, after all, continues to bank its mobile devices partly on display resolution, so there's no reason to expect that it's going to stand still.

Some people may gripe that the new iPad sports the same design as its predecessors, but that's fine with me. And outside of adding the aforementioned larger display, I'd say the same about the iPhone. We've heard a lot of rumors about a thinner iPhone or handset with a tapered profile, but I'm not aching for either. A thinner iPhone is a possibility, I guess, but Apple will trim it down only if it can still fit a long-lasting battery (see below).

By all accounts, the presence of LTE in the new iPad foretells real 4G in the next iPhone. That will mean, of course, significantly faster data speeds beyond what current iPhones offer (and that includes the HSPA+ network on AT&T's "4G" iPhone 4S). Though it's not surprising that Apple is late to the LTE party--typically, the company waits to implement a new technology until it can offer the user experience it really wants--but given the flood of LTE handsets over the last few months it is lagging quite behind its rivals. So in other words, it's overdue.

A big question, though, is whether all carriers will get an LTE iPhone. Verizon Wireless and AT&T will have it for sure, but Sprint is uncertain at this point. The carrier is moving to LTE, but it may not be ready in time. And given that Sprint is not getting a new LTE iPad, all signs don't point to yes.

More battery life
Apple made a pretty bold promise when it said that the new iPads will deliver 9 hours of battery life on 4G. As any LTE smartphone owner can tell you, the faster data networks don't do wonders for battery life. The Motorola Razr Maxx, however, changed that equation so Apple will have to keep up. Hopefully, the LTE iPad is a sign of long LTE battery life to come.

The new iPad's processor remains dual-core, but Apple upgraded it to an A5X and ramped up the graphics processor to quad-core. The iPhone 4S already has a dual-core CPU so I don't expect a big change there. Yes, we just saw a slew of new quad-core phones at Mobile World Congress, but for the reason stated above (Apple wanting the "right" experience before adding a new technology), I don't see a quad-core chip ending up in the iPhone 5. On the other hand, better graphics are a possibility, so that may follow.

As with any Apple device, we'll have to wait until the actual unveiling to see what wonders the next iPhone will hold. But after this week's news, we we can tell that the company is heading for a faster, longer, and more vibrant iPhone future.