updated 03:44 pm EDT, Thu April 4, 2013
Best Buy, Walmart clearing out iPads, iPad mini
Two recent sales on full-size and smaller iPad models by major US retailers may be laying the groundwork for a new model to emerge soon, Fortune's Philip Elmer-DeWitt believes. As of today, both the latest fourth-gen iPad and the iPad mini are only 163 days old, just shy of six months. However, on Wednesday both Walmart and Best Buy offered "clearance sale" type specials, taking as much as 30 percent off the retail price of the few remaining third-generation iPads but also offering deals on the current iPad mini -- leading to speculation that a revision is on the way.
Some leading Apple-oriented bloggers -- including the well-connected John Gruber and developer/publisher Marco Arment -- seem to believe the full-size (9.7-inch) iPad may get a hardware bump as early as this month. Their speculation centers around alleged shortages of the full-size model, possibly leading to a restyling the larger tablet to look more like the iPad mini, which features a thinner, lighter anodized metal shell and narrower bezel. The iPad mini has proven a popular choice and Apple may wish to revitalize full-size iPad sales with a new look and potentially other hardware improvements, such as a faster processor.
If released in April or May, a restyled full-size iPad would likely be only incrementally different from its predecessor spec-wise, but would be very unlikely to ship with the still-in-progress iOS 7 which is alleged to be the debut of Sir Jonathan Ive's software design makeover. The sales on iPad mini may also portend an updated model, possibly similar to the current one with the addition of a Retina display and corresponding bump in graphics processing.
A more left-field option -- should Apple make any announcements of new hardware at all this spring -- is the possibility of a new Mac Pro model, long awaited by fans of the pro-level workstations. Apple CEO Tim Cook promised a new model sometime this year in response to a query from a long-suffering Mac Pro user who bemoaned the lack of substantial upgrades nearly a year ago. Currently, the Mac Pro remains the last Mac model still in production that lacks USB 3.0 or a Thunderbolt connector.
As it is not a consumer-oriented item, a new Mac Pro would be likely to debut sooner rather than later in the year, and Apple would likely want to space such a premiere well away from any iPhone or iPad announcements. Many believe Apple will announce a new Mac Pro at the WWDC conference, which is likely to happen June 10-14 (though confirmed dates have not yet been announced). On the other hand, sneak peeks (or possibly formal announcements) of iOS 7 and OS X 10.9 may also be on the menu for the conference, prompting Apple to bring the revised Mac Pro out earlier.
If Apple were to bring out an iPad or iPad mini revision before the six-month mark, the public and pundits would likely believe that Apple plans on putting the product on a six-month revision cycle, placing undue pressure on the company to one-up their own products in a market where the iPad line is still the only significant player. Though Google's Nexus 7 and Amazon's Kindle Fire lines have made a small dent in the tablet market, end-user surveys show clearly that the iPad still has a huge majority in marketshare, with Microsoft's surface thus far failing to find an audience.