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What features could end up in Apple s iPad 3?

That Apple intends to introduce a successor to its bestselling tablet is a dead certainty. The bigger questions are when the device will hit the market, and what new hardware and software the company will pack into its slim frame.

If Apple follows the same release cadence of the previous two iPad editions, the next iPad will make its debut early in 2012. According to Taiwanese publication DigiTimes, itself quoting unnamed sources in the supply chain, the first units will arrive within the next three to four months.

But Apple’s plans for the actual devices remain more opaque. Here are a few possibilities:   

Siri: Apple’s digital assistant is a prime selling point of the new iPhone 4S, and rumors have circulated for some time that Apple plans to build it into a television set scheduled for launch either in late 2012 or early 2013. If Apple’s truly focused on making Siri a big part of its ecosystem, it stands to reason that the technology will find its way to the iPad sooner rather than later.

Retina Display: Various Apple-centric sources, including the blog 9to5Mac, have compiled rumors over the past few months indicating that Apple is planning on some sort of higher resolution display for the next iPad, possibly of the same quality as the Retina Display currently available in later-model iPhones.

Improved Camera: The iPhone 4S features an 8-megapixel camera, which could also find its way into the iPad 3.

More Powerful Processor: The iPad 2 comes equipped with a 1GHz dual-core A5 processor. If Apple’s going to debut a more powerful chip, the iPad 3 (possibly with its higher resolution screen) would be the time to do it.

Same Screen: During an October 2010 earnings call, Apple CEO Steve Jobs famously derided 7-inch tablets as intrinsically inferior to the 9.7-inch iPad. Now that he s passed on, Apple executives could certainly reverse course and begin producing smaller screen iPads, perhaps with an eye toward competing more directly with the 7-inch Kindle Fire. Before his passing, though, Jobs almost certainly produced a roadmap for his company’s next few years of operation. In light of that, it seems unlikely that a smaller screen iPad he would have abhorred will make an appearance less than 12 months after his death.

That being said, the engineering hurdles of a more powerful iPad 3 might force Apple to deviate from its usual strategy of making each successive device in a line thinner and lighter: the iPad 3 might weigh a little more, and come with a few extra millimeters worth of thickness.

In any case, given Apple s usual cloak of secrecy, it s unlikely that all of the next iPad s new features will leak before the company s inevitable unveiling.

To read the original eWeek article, click here: Apple’s iPad 3 Could Feature Siri, Retina Display, New Processor