New iPad debuting next year?

LOS ANGELES — Rumors are running rampant that Apple will release a next-generation iPad in February, likely called the iPad 3. But tech analysts still expect massive sales of Apple Inc.’s iPad 2 tablet this holiday season.

Toni Sacconaghi of Bernstein Research is estimating fourth-quarter iPad sales of 13.6 million units. Gene Munster, senior research analyst at Piper Jaffray, forecasts 13.5 million units sold in the October-December quarter, an 84 percent increase over the same period a year earlier.

In a recent analyst note, Munster said Apple products were popular wish-list items for teens in the firm’s biannual survey of young people. The iPad was the second-most-requested Apple product, after the iPhone.

The analyst also noted that teens of average income seemed to be drawn more toward the iPad, while upper-income teens preferred a Mac product.

“In short, it appears that the iPad is appealing to more price-sensitive buyers, while the Mac has retained a premium appeal,” Munster said.

Buzz over a new iPad grew last week when a Citi analyst said Apple was preparing for a February release and that the new device will be similar to the iPad 2. But it will also include Apple’s high-resolution retina display technology found on the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S, which will double the tablet’s screen resolution, said analyst Richard Gardner, who predicted fourth-quarter iPad sales would total 12 million to 13 million units.

Gardner reportedly said “several sources” told him that Apple could launch the next version iPad as early as February, which would put its debut ahead of the first two generations of Apple’s tablet. The first iPad hit stores in April 2010, and the iPad 2 was released last March.

The analyst also said that “there do not appear to be any significant technical hurdles remaining” to prevent the launch of a high-resolution iPad, which contradicts previous reports that fitting such a dense screen into an Apple tablet was one of the reasons the iPad 2 maintained the 1024-by-768-pixel resolution of the first iPad.

Apple does not comment on pending products.

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