Apple iPad 3 set for March debut?

By Jonny Evans

Be warned, we've witnessed similar constellations of Apple [AAPL] claims in the past, but following last week's predictions of a March launch for the iPad 3 comes fresh claims of ... a March launch for the iPad 3. Be sure to grab the salt...

[ABOVE: An iPad thrown into lava. Bit of a waste, or fitting revenge? Not for the faint-hearted.]

Beware the Ides...

Citing its shadowy sources Digitimes claims the next-gen iPads will be available in the next three or four months. "Makers in the supply chain have started delivering parts and components for the new tablets to OEM contractors," the claim chimes. The new model's are set to enter production on Foxconn's production lines in February, the report claims, citing the Chinese language, Commercial Times.

Production targets for the current model are strong: 14-15 million units in Q4 falling to just up to five million in the first quarter of 2012, the report explains.

"Production of the new iPads is expected to reach 9.5-9.8 million units in the first quarter of 2012, estimated sources in the supply chain. Sales of iPad products totaled 25.06 million in the first three quarters of 2011 and are likely to reach 40 million units for all of 2011," the report adds.

I'd caution these estimates hint at a slow down in growth. I don't believe that's a tablet market, or Apple-specific problem, simply a reflection of the depth of the economic malaise all players are expecting in all markets. Analysts have recently reduced iPad sales forecasts for the current quarter to in the region of 13 million.

Sterne Agee analyst, Shaw Wu, even sounds pessimistic as to the fate of the tablet markers, according to IBD: "Maybe the tablet market is not as big as people had thought. Remember all the talk about how tablets are going to take over PCs? I'm not in that camp. A lot of people were. Maybe not anymore."

These look more credible now

These March claims are gaining a lot of currency:

  • A Thursday claim by Citi analyst, Richard Gardner, who cites "several sources" who claimed Apple will launch its next-gen tablet in February/March. This is expected to boast a Retina Display, and will go toe-to-toe with offerings from other vendors.
  • A previous Macotakara report also claimed the March launch date.
  • An October filing from reputable tech news site, All Things D also predicted launch in that time-frame.

What can we expect from the next-gen iPad?

-- As previously predicted it's likely the slightly thicker device will boast a high-res screen based on new technology from Sharp. That additional thickness should also include an A6 chip and -- perhaps -- a larger capacity battery.

-- There's a possibility of LTE support (assuming LTE coverage doesn't end up becoming horribly fragmented internationally.)  Nikkei Business recently "confirmed" such LTE support.

Should Apple in introduce its new iPad so soon after Christmas? Arguably it must launch the device at some point, so in a sense it makes little difference.

iPad love

Also a recent Maritz study found that tablet customers are buying multiple tablets, upgrading quickly. This suggests a healthy second user market for older models as new lines reach the shops.

From the study (as reported by Forbes):

  • 22% of consumers prefer tablets that cost under $250.
  • 21% of consumers only want iPads.
  • 44% of consumers are researching their options before purchasing.
Will you be buying an iPad 3? Let us know in comments below.

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