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Here's Apple Inc.'s Next Big iPad Innovation

Image source: Apple.

Bloomberg, citing "people familiar with the matter," recently revealed one of the major enhancements that Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) plans to deliver with its next-generation iPad devices.

"The new iPad hardware will include a faster display technology that allows for smoother zooming, panning, and scrolling," Bloomberg reports.

Although this doesn't appear to tell us much, it's pretty clear what Apple is planning to introduce here: a display with a faster refresh rate.

Breaking the 60Hz barrier

A typical display updates, or "refreshes," itself many times in a given second. The displays on most personal computers, smartphones, and tablets refresh 60 times per second, or 60 Hertz. However, on high-end computer displays, particularly those targeted at gaming applications, that refresh rate can be much higher, reaching 144Hz or even higher.

The greater the refresh rate, the smoother virtually everything gets. It's one of those features that one doesn't realize is missing until one experiences a higher refresh rate display -- then it becomes quite difficult to go back to displays with slower refresh rates.

Bloomberg didn't indicate what refresh rate Apple's next-generation iPad displays will run at, but my guess is that it will be 120Hz, or double the speed of current iPad displays.

First to iPad, then to iPhone?

It makes sense that Apple will debut this technology with the 2017 iPad first. A display with a faster refresh rate is likely to be more difficult to build than one with a slower refresh rate, meaning that costs could be relatively high and supply might not be all that great.

This is certainly a feature that I would expect to come to the iPhone at some point. Keep in mind, however, that Apple relies on the iPhone for the majority of its revenue and gross profit dollars, meaning that Apple can't introduce the feature until it can be implemented at a reasonable cost structure.

Also note that the iPad is a much lower volume device than the iPhone, so building enough panels to meet iPad demand is probably much easier than building enough panels to meet iPhone demand. 

That means it could be a while before Apple can bring a faster refresh rate to the iPhone. I wouldn't expect it until the 2018 iPhone at the earliest, and it wouldn't be a shocker if iPhone customers have to wait until the 2019 iPhone model to get a zippier display.

An interesting divergence between iPhone and iPad

One of the problems that Apple has faced with its iPad product lineup is that, to some extent, they have been cannibalized by large-screen iPhones. To combat this trend, Apple seems to be working to make products into compelling complementary devices. 

I have to hand it to Apple: Rather than scaling back its efforts on the iPad and going all in on the iPhone, the company appears to be going full-steam ahead with both the iPhone and iPad. Other hardware makers seem to have shifted focus away from their tablet lineups and toward their large-screen smartphone offerings as tablet sales have fizzled.

Over the long term, Apple's tenacity could pay off. Even if the tablet market itself doesn't even return to huge growth rates, Apple may be poised to capture additional share at the high end of the market as other companies simply give up.

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Ashraf Eassa has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple. The Motley Fool has the following options: long January 2018 $90 calls on Apple and short January 2018 $95 calls on Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.