Apple is expected to reveal a new iPad model today, with a sharper screen and perhaps an option for faster wireless broadband.
Apple has kept the features of the new device secret. No matter what they are, analysts expect the new iPad to be a success, riding on the popularity of the previous models, as well as demand from consumers who have been waiting for the new model.
The iPad 2 was a big step up from the original iPad, since Apple included a camera and reduced the thickness and the weight of the device. But there isn't that much Apple can do to jazz up the iPad 3. Company watchers expect the new device to have the same basic size and weight as last year's model.
Nearly a year ago, the iPad 2 went on sale nine days after it was revealed. Similar timing is expected this year.
Sarah Rotman Epps, an analyst for Forrester Research, said hardware features aren't that important to tablet buyers.
"It's about the services - what you can do with the device," she said.
Apple's competitors have slowly come to realise this, but only after bringing out dozens of tablets with whiz-bang features like 3D cameras.
The competitor that's done the best is Amazon.com. Its Kindle Fire tablet is cheaper than the iPad, but what sets it apart is that it's tied into Amazon's book, movie and music stores, making it an easy route to entertainment, just like the iPad.
Still the Kindle Fire has a long way to go. Epps estimates that Amazon sold 5.5 million Kindle Fires in the fourth quarter of last year. Meanwhile, Apple sold 15.4 million iPads, and has sold 55.3 million in total.
According to Canaccord Genuity, 63 per cent of the tablets shipped last year were iPads. The only competitors with more than 5 per cent market share were Amazon and Samsung Electronics.
The iPad launch comes as Apple reached a rare milestone: last week, it was worth more than US$500 billion. Only six other US companies have been worth that much. One big unknown is whether Apple will keep the iPad 2 in production at a lower price, like it kept the iPhone 3GS after the launch of the iPhone 4. Another big unknown is whether Apple will reveal its rumoured foray into making TV sets.
Some of the rumoured new features include:
* A sharper screen, similar to the Retina display on the iPhone 4 and 4s.
* Some speculate that Apple will call the model the iPad HD, for "high definition" rather than iPad 3.
* Could include Siri, the voice-activated "assistant" found on the iPhone 4S.
* Faster wireless capabilities.