Apple iPad Event Readying for Kickoff, With Big Expectations

Apple's big San Francisco event will likely see the debut of the iPad 2, as a new report indicates the company is prepping to ship 40 million iPads in 2011.

Apple has high hopes for its iPad franchise in 2011: According to a March 2 DigiTimes report, the company is planning total shipments of 40 million iPads this year.

Citing unnamed sources within Apple's supply chain, the publication also predicted that "Apple internally plans to take deliveries of 6 to 6.5 million iPads, including the iPad 2." Apple is widely expected to unveil the next-generation iPad at a San Francisco event March 2.

Since its April 2010 debut, the iPad has sold more than 15 million units. Pundits widely expect the next version to include at least one camera, and possibly a combination of front- and rear-facing ones. In addition, most seem to feel the iPad 2 will feature a lighter and slimmer body, along with an upgraded processor.

Despite having a largely unimpeded run of the consumer tablet space in 2010, Apple also faces markedly ramped-up competition this year from a number of rivals, including Samsung, Dell and Motorola. The latter is seeking to build momentum for its recently released Xoom tablet, loaded with tablet-optimized Android 3.0 and an Nvidia Tegra 2 dual-core processor. Those advances in competitors' technology and reach, in turn, pressure Apple to produce a new iPad that maintains the company's competitive lead.

"This event is not to be taken lightly, as the iPad is an important growth driver for Apple, and the company enjoys a first-mover advantage," Brian White, an analyst with Ticonderoga Securities, wrote in a March 1 research note. "Assuming a new iPad is unveiled at this [March 2] event, we believe Apple must make a convincing case for why the iPad 2 is better than the plethora of competitors coming to market."

Despite those pressures, White also said that Apple's application ecosystem and strong brand recognition will allow the company to "outpace" its rivals in the near term.

The DigiTimes report also suggested that Apple will begin emphasizing the next iPad at the expense of the original model. "The sources pointed out that there were about 1 to 1.5 million units worth of iPad inventory in the channel in January," it read, "and since Apple only ordered about 1.8 to 2 million iPads in January, it indicates that Apple is already set to phase out the first-generation iPad and let iPad 2 take its place."

Apple's iPad event is set to kick off at 10 a.m. PST/1 p.m. EST March 2.