Update: Well, that was unexpected. It wasn't the iPad 3 after all! Read our new Apple iPad preview here for all the price, availability and specs info, as well as our hands-on impressions and photos. The original iPad 3 rumour article follows.
Not since Moses ambled down a mountain brandishing 10 commandments has a tablet generated as much excitement as Apple's iPad. After two years of living in the 'post-PC era' -- and with competitors scrambling to keep up -- Apple's CEO Tim Cook is fighting to keep the iPad's third incarnation in his magic hat before the big reveal next year.
Despite Apple's inherently secretive nature, the iPad 3 rumour mill has been grinding since before the second version was even released last spring. But with so many tidbits flying about, it can be difficult to know who or what to believe.
With a 7 March announcement fast approaching, we put our best digital detectives on the case to help you distinguish leaked secrets from pure tabloid fantasy. Watch the video then check out our detailed breakdown below.
iPad 3 launch date
Apple will unveil the iPad 3 on 7 March at its usual venue, the Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco. Based on previous release schedules, UK buyers are highly likely to be queuing in front of Apple stores well before April rolls around.
Are we safe to assume it will be called iPad 3? Nope. Apple has never given the iPhone a full version number for more than two releases in a row, probably because it will run out of attractive single-digit numbers before the decade is out.
By that logic, it would be called the iPad 2S, though some observers think iPad HD fits the bill. No one knows for sure, so until Apple reveals all, we're sticking with iPad 3.
We've heard the iPad 2 will remain on sale at a lower price, which would help Apple counter the growing popularity of cheaper tablets like the Kindle Fire, without committing to a smaller tablet just to shove the price down.
iPad 3 retina display
The iPhone 4S display has a pixel density so high the human eye can't discern individual pixels at a normal viewing distance. This means bootylicious curved edges and kern-perfect text. It's now been confirmed for the new iPad too, at 2,048x1,536 pixels, after being leaked to a rumour site ahead of launch.
By our calculations, the iPad 3 display will end up with a 264 dots per inch (dpi) display, which is technically less impressive than the iPhone 4S's 326dpi. This may not be a critical drop in resolution by comparison because you'll probably hold the iPad 3 a little further from your face. But it's a shame not to see the same crisp standards across the full iOS range. Still, your old apps should scale up to fit the new screen without a hitch while developers prepare their updates in HD.
iPad 3 A6 processor
Apple is busy testing its quad-core successor to the A5 processor, which currently sits cosily in your iPad 2 and iPhone 4S. But after some early issues with its original supplier in Taiwan, Apple has once again had to turn to its rival Samsung to make the new chip. If Apple had a Facebook page, its relationship status would say, "It's complicated".
No-one is quite sure whether it will be called an A6 or A5X, but the name is really irrelevant because it promises to be quite a beast. There's been plenty of evidence it will be quad-core, though The Verge thinks it might remain a dual-core chip.
It doesn't matter either way -- the new processor will be a monster. Expect rip-roaring speeds and better power efficiency so it doesn't drink all of your battery juice in one swig.
iPad and Apple TV
A new set-top Apple TV is expected to launch alongside the iPad 3, and we think this means more AirPlay-style integration in the living room.
Today, the Apple TV only allows 720p resolution, which is way behind the times. With Apple revving up the iPad with a retina display, you can bet it will push the prettier 1080p format out to your TV over AirPlay too.
But why stop there? This is pure gut instinct, but we're hoping for a vastly improved version of iOS for the current Apple TV, where the iPad (or even iPhone) acts as a futuristic remote control.
It's hard to say how Apple will implement this, but ramping up AirPlay to display every app you own seems like a winning solution.
For example, channels could appear as individual apps, which could open the door for people at home to start their own channels, just like the app store let anyone with a Mac become a game developer. It could spark yet another revolution for Apple to chalk up on its game-changing CV.
The future of mobile broadband is nearly here, and reliable sources say Apple will finally offer a 4G iPad. Even if it's really called LTE, and not 'proper' 4G. They're both much faster than 3G, so we won't quibble.
There's just one big problem. The UK doesn't have a 4G network, and the party-poopers at Ofcom say we won't have one until 2015. Thankfully, the European Parliament just ruled that EU countries (including ours) will have to free up those dusty old radio frequencies for 4G use by 2013.
In summary, the new iPad will allow for super-fast mobile broadband in certain countries, but will still run at reasonable 3G speeds over here.
Siri on iPad 3?
Siri, the sassy voice-activated personal assistant that features on the iPhone 4S, is likely to make its tablet debut on the iPad 3.
You will probably need a network-enabled model if you want it to arrange your affairs while out and about, as it needs to send your demands over the airwaves to Apple for processing. But the prospect of deeper integration on an iPad is tantalising. You might have to wait for iOS 6 before Siri gets a fancy set of full-screen features, but any Siri integration is sure to be the icing on a perfectly formed 10-inch cake.
Thinner battery, thicker design?
According to website BGR, Apple has secured a stash of thinner batteries that hold a longer charge than older models, despite a 20-30 per cent increase in cost. Let's hope Apple makes those savings elsewhere so we don't see a price hike.
Slimmer batteries usually means thinner designs, but the new retina display is expected to take up all the extra space. In fact, Mac Rumors managed to wrangle a bona-fide iPad enclosure from a source and found it to be 0.81mm thicker than the iPad 2. Not an offensive increase, but still a shocker for an Apple product.
What about the cameras? The iPad might be an unwieldy snapper when you compare it to the iPhone 4S, but there's a fair chance the new model will sport the same camera as its pocket-sized brother. Even better, the front-facing camera could see a resolution upgrade, given that FaceTime chats will now take place on an HD display. A rumour did emerge about an 8-megapixel arriving, but we're skeptical.
iPad 3D display?
Hollywood insiders were so sure the next iPad will support 3D that they were said to be "running around like blue-arsed flies" trying to gear up plenty of 3D content for the next iPad launch.
Apple does have some interesting patents for a special kind of glasses-free 3D, but we think the retina display will be more than enough to pull lustful buyers in this time around. Real-time 3D processing takes some serious grunt so we doubt we'll see a 3D upgrade until the next-generation hardware of the iPad 4, if ever.
iPad 3 predictions
We think it's fair to assume the iPad 3 will arrive in spring with a beaming 2,048x1,536-pixel retina display and a feisty A6 quad-core processor. Pin-sharp cameras should deliver FaceTime chats in glorious HD, and a supercharged battery should keep it all running till the wee hours.
Throw a chattering Siri into the mix, and you've got a serious piece of portable kit that will give rival Android tablet makers nightmares. It's just a shame our mobile networks won't fully support the super-fast network model, but our trusty old 3G infrastructure should keep mobile users going in the meanwhile.