The iPad 3 isn't expected to break cover until 2012, but there has been a steady flow of rumours about its likely specs and features. A better display is expected to be included, as is a lighter carbon-fibre body, a beefier A6 processor and better cameras. More features are all well and good, but these are logical steps forward rather than a revolution.
What if Apple was to make an iPad 3 with fewer features though? Strip out the email, place restrictions on Web browsing and the App Store, and bury the Settings so deep the average user wouldn't even find them by accident? A dreadful idea, yes? But I'm talking about that average user being a child.
Apps for kids are huge, why not an iPad?
I'd love Apple to make an iPad 3 for kids, and here's why. When the first iPad was announced, several friends told me they'd never let their children within a country mile of the device. Hand over a £429 tablet to a jam-fingered dribbly toddler with a tendency to fling things at the wall? Yeah, right. This device was going to be adults-only. Except that's not how it's turned out.
The market for kids' apps is booming on iPad, as well as on iPhone and iPod touch. There are tens of thousands of animated picture books, games, educational apps, talking animals, ABC flash cards and digital toys available on the App Store, with plenty of willing buyers. The idea of handing your tablet over to your child seems eminently reasonable nowadays, and not just when you're at the end of your tether on a car journey or stuck inside on a rainy day.
Apps like Toca Robot Lab, Nursery Rhymes with StoryTime, Charles Peattie's Animal ABC, Paint My Wings, sundry Dr Seuss book-apps, Mindshapes' Jack In The Beanstalk, Nighty Night and Nosy Crow's The Three Little Pigs and Cinderella have captivated my two children, giving us many hours of fun as a family. Okay, and some spectacular tantrums when the iPad gets turned off, admittedly.
Five reasons why they need their own iPad
So, kids are using iPads and iPad 2s already, jammy fingers and all. Why should Apple make a special version of the iPad 3 just for them? Reason one: I've found my children merrily swiping their way through my email inbox, tapping gleefully whenever a little red button pops up (ie 'delete').
Reason two: that thing where all your app icons wobble while waiting to be deleted with a tap, which is quite easy to trigger? That.
Reason three: the Settings screen is a bit too accessible. Reason four: my photo library is now stuffed with around 674 PhotoBooth shots of my 4-year-old staring into the screen with a look of concentration on his face. If a picture tells a thousand words, he's leaving the equivalent of War & Peace on the iPad most nights. Reason five...
Well, you get the picture. Sharing your iPad with children is still a worry. Kid iPad could solve that by getting rid of the unneeded features like email, providing more controls for Web browsing and YouTube to make them child-friendly, and maybe even adding in new features focused on how kids might want to use the device (one-tap sharing of photos and scribbles with parents and grandparents, for example).
Apple could work on the device components to bring the price down, although the design wouldn't need to change -- even if the idea of Jony Ive wandering round Toys R Us eyeballing Fisher Price telephones for inspiration is irresistible. Pretty much every parent I know would be interested in the device, especially if Apple marketed it alongside the grown-up iPad 3.
Is it going to happen?
You can probably guess the answer to that. Apple's laser focus on a handful of products is what's making it billions of dollars right now, rather than bimbling about with offshoot devices aimed at niche audiences. If children are in Apple's thoughts device-wise, it's more likely to be as a key reason for parents to upgrade to the iPad 3 from an original iPad or iPad 2, so they can pass the older device on.
What's more realistic would be for Apple to act on this trend with its iOS software, though. Include a few more parental options such as the ability to lock down the Settings, browser and ability to delete anything from the device, for example. Perhaps even bring the idea of profiles to the iPad, recognising that while some families have one each, many still share a single device between two, three or four people -- including children. Making this simple and intuitive is the challenge, but that's Apple's bread and butter.
Make App Store child-friendly
More pressing is this: the App Store needs a Kids category. Currently, apps for children are spread between Games, Entertainment, Books and Lifestyle on Apple's store, with no unified chart to see what's currently popular. It's something the company is clearly aware of, since it has an Apps For Kids featured selection bringing some good apps together, but expanding this to a full App Store category would be a great move for parents and developers alike.
Expect to see a bunch of tablets aimed at children launch in the next year or so, all looking to capitalise on parents' desire to get their kids using new technology (or just to keep them quiet with a game for 10 minutes while you're having a peaceful cup of tea). LeapFrog already has its Explorer tablet, and there will be more to come running Android, hopefully with some or all of the features on my wishlist.
Their Achilles Heels may be apps. What iPad has right now is a big collection of creative, innovative and fun apps for kids, with two or three more new ones of note coming out every day. Anything Apple can do to bolster its tablet's appeal to children and their parents will pay off in the future: those children will be buying smart phones and tablets in a few years' time, after all. Even if they're not still buying Peppa Pig games to play on them.