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2011: The Year Of Two iPads?

The next-generation iPad, dubbed “iPad 2” so far, is likely to be released between March and April. According to recent speculation, it will include a faster processor, more RAM, a thinner and lighter design and a front-facing camera for FaceTime. At this point, with even the Wall Street Journal weighing in to confirm the iPad 2 existence and release in the next few months, it seems pretty much obvious that we’ll see an iPad 2 within 10 weeks from today.

Still, two posts published by Daring Fireball’s John Gruber today open up to a new possibility: that Apple will release two new iPads in 2011, with a second one – let’s call it iPad 3 – due for a September release.

Summer feels like a long time away. If my theory is right, they’re not only going to be months behind the iPad 2, but if they slip until late summer, they might bump up against the release of the iPad 3.

Thus, my gut feeling is that Apple will move the iPad to a September release schedule, alongside the iPods. But they wouldn’t want to wait over a year and a half from the announcement of the original iPad to announce the second one — not with these stakes, and not with so many serious competitors trying their best to catch up.

So, here’s my guess at Apple’s iPad plans for 2011:

- An iPad 2, fairly soon. Say, a March announcement, shipping in the first week of April. Faster, more RAM, maybe more storage, thinner and lighter, a front-facing camera.Running iOS 4.3.
- iOS 5, announced at a developer event in March, shipping in June.
- iPad 3, shipping in September, announced at the annual iPod event. Running iOS 5.1, same as the next-generation iPod Touch.

And then there’s TechCrunch, that is reporting a “very good source” hinted at a “big surprise” from Apple this fall.

A few days ago, we heard from a very good source that Apple was assembling the pieces for a “big fall surprise”. While intriguing, that could obviously mean anything. But the “surprise” part clearly means it’s something beyond the regular iPod/iTunes (and perhaps MacBook Air) refreshes that Apple does in the fall. Still, that leaves a lot of room for guesses. An actual Apple television? A touchscreen iMac? Who knows.

Well, until today. We’ve now heard that this “fall surprise” is related to this would-be iPad 3. We don’t have any more concrete information beyond that. But, as of right now, the plan is apparently to release one iteration of the iPad in the next few weeks. And then blow the doors open with another new version in the fall.

The question is: why would Apple do that? Right now, we have Gruber’s “gut feeling” and TechCrunch’s speculation that Apple is working on a second iPad release during this year. What would be the reasons for Apple to push two different iPads, with the iPad 3 likely way better than the iPad 2 thanks to a 2048x1536 Retina Display, within 6 months from each other? There could be a few reasons. First, as Gruber suggests, Apple may be willing to shift the iPad release cycle to September, which is better than April because people wouldn’t spend the holiday season thinking “I’ll just wait 4 months to get an iPad”. This brings me to the second point: Apple wants to stay ahead of the tech specs game, and by releasing the iPad 3 in September 2011 they could easily pull out a Retina Display with an insanely faster processor and more RAM because of the (alleged) huge investment they made in touchscreen technology. The strategy would be: release iPad 2 in Spring and make it “the 3GS to the original iPad” with more RAM, FaceTime and slightly faster processor. Release iPad 3 this fall to a) shift the update cycle b) blow competitors out of the water feature-wise and c) catch the holiday season hype.

But then again, from a consumer perspective that doesn’t make much sense. Mainly because people really got used to Apple’s 1-year update cycle, and many would be disappointed to see a new iPad a few months after they got their hands on the iPad 2. On the other hand though, there would be loyal Apple geeks impatient to be able to get a supercharged iPad 3 in September and, well, wait another year for a refresh.

This is an interesting theory, and I can see Apple betting on 2 releases during the same year if they are really willing to move the iPad to September, rather than waiting six months more to release the iPad 2. But I can’t stop thinking that it doesn’t make much sense for now, as these are just rumors. What do you think?

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