While Apple only recently caught up with demand for the iPad, and the tablet is virtually guaranteed to be one of the most coveted gifts of 2010, the pieces appear to be falling into place to start shipping the next generation iPad. Sources indicate that Foxconn -- the Chinese manufacturer responsible for producing the device -- will start shipping the new iPad by the end of February.
Rumors have swirled -- almost since the launch of the original iPad -- that we can expect dual cameras and FaceTime chat capabilities in the next version. There are also reports that the iPad 2 (which is not an official name for the next generation Apple tablet) might have a motion-sensing gyroscope a' la iPhone 4, that the iPad will be both thinner and lighter than the current model, and that the iPad 2 will sport more processing power -- possibly a dual-core Cortex, a Retina display, and more memory. There is even speculation that the new iPad will forego the standard Apple 30-pin connector common across the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch, and come equipped instead with a standard mini-USB port.
Rival tablets have reason to be concerned. A spring launch of the next generation iPad is almost certain to generate significant excitement and impact sales of competing tablets. The Samsung Galaxy Tab has been selling admirably -- hitting one million units within two months of availability, but the Apple iPad sold more than four million units during the fiscal fourth quarter, and will probably spike higher for the holidays.
Rumors such as this can sometimes have a dampening effect on demand for the current generation device. In fact, when reports like this emerge, the conspiracy theory skeptic in me questions whether Apple competitors "leaked" the story in an attempt to drive down holiday sales of the Apple tablet.
Of course, the flip side of that conspiracy theory is the fact that April will be one year from the initial launch of the iPad and Apple is fond of annual product development cycles. So, it doesn't take any Pulitzer prize winning investigative journalism, or a Nostradamus to predict that a new iPad will be available sometime in spring of 2011.
The big question for people to consider, though, is what to do with that information. How does knowing a new iPad is likely to be available within a couple months affect the decision over whether to purchase one now?
For business use, a lighter, thinner, more powerful iPad with an improved display and the ability to participate in video conferencing are all compelling reasons to consider holding off. For users content with the features and capabilities of the current iPad, there could be some bargains and discounts to be found as Apple and other retailers look to clear inventory in preparation for the next generation model.