The next generation of Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL ) trendsetting iPad tablet may be coming sooner than you think.
Taiwan's DigiTimes is reporting that component makers in that country have been told that the new iPad model could ship its first 400,000 to 600,000 units as early as late February.
If it's true, you certainly won't hear Apple confirming the report. It's just bad business to pre-announce the impending obsolescence of a hot-selling product. Apple is selling more than a million iPads a month, and that figure is bound to spike given this month's boost from holiday sales.
The last thing Apple wants is for Timmy to scratch an iPad off his list because he knows that a better version may be just two months away.
Then again, we probably should have seen this coming. Apple has accustomed fans to annual updates, and we're closing in on the early April anniversary of the original Wi-Fi-based iPad's debut.
Will the new iPad offer a digital camera for snapshots and FaceTime video chatting? Will Apple offer a card slot for easier incorporation of photos, videos, and productivity files? Will it come with a halo-wearing Steve Jobs bobblehead doll? There's certainly plenty of room to grow over the years.
A refreshed iPad may be just what Apple needs to hold back the competition. Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM ) will be introducing its tablet at a sub-$500 price point early next year. Samsung's Galaxy Tab cleared an impressive 600,000 units in its first month on the market, and has gone on to sell a million units in just two months. Based on Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG ) Android platform, the Galaxy's success has come despite packing a much smaller screen than the iPad. Barnes & Noble's (NYSE: BKS ) new NOOKcolor, at a price point that is half the entry-level iPad, features a colorful touchscreen that makes it more tablet than e-reader. Dell's (Nasdaq: DELL ) Inspiron Duo -- a laptop with a rotating screen to create a chunky tablet -- has its flaws, but it, too, may be eating into potential iPad holiday sales as the Swiss army knife in this niche.
In other words, the next few months are about to get pretty competitive. Apple's early lead is huge. It remains the tablet to top. However, if it is in fact rushing out iPad 2 before the original blows out its first birthday candle, it's a good indicator that Apple sees something in the competitive landscape that it wants to snuff out before it hurts.
If Timmy still wants the iPad, cave in. They're awesome. However, don't be surprised if you're kicking yourself when a better model comes out in two months with what will likely be a similar price point.
What do you think of Apple's iPad? Do you own one or will you be getting one for the holidays? Share your thoughts in the comments box below.