Most of the rumors we hear lately revolve around the upcoming release of the iPad 2. Now it seems that Apple may have a plan in the works to accelerate the iPad release schedule starting with a third generation tablet this fall. A pre-holiday release for the iPad 3 would align the device with the current iPod touch annual refresh.
Speculation and inside information from multiple sources including TechCrunch and Daring Fireball point to Apple's release schedule changing to insure competitors to the iPad don't have any time to gain a foothold in the market. The Wall Street Journal has confirmed the iPad 2 is already in production at Foxconn, although an announcement of the updated hardware has yet to arrive.
It's possible that Apple is waiting until the upcoming launch of the Motorola Xoom to announce the iPad 2. This would effectively steal away media attention from this new product and bring the spotlight squarely back to Apple. The Xoom is a 10-inch tablet running Android 3.0 Honeycomb that is expected to launch in late February. Unfortunately for the Xoom, pricing has come in significantly higher than the iPad at $799.
Apple sold over 15 million iPads in 2010 with an April product launch, and they want to keep the ball rolling. Assuming the iPad 2 is coming this spring, the device will incorporate several hardware improvements including a thinner profile, lighter weight, and front-facing camera for FaceTime connectivity. Apple's next generation processor and an improved graphics capability are expected, along with a possible HDMI port.
Consumers will have a tough time deciding whether or not to wait for the iPad 3 if the rumors are true. Those who purchase a third-generation Apple tablet before Christmas can expect a a higher resolution screen and may even be treated to a carbon fiber body to reduce weight. If Apple does indeed move the iPad 3 release date to the fall, this one-two punch could make 2011 another banner iPad sales year.