Apple Inc.'s market capitalization soared to the historic high of $500-billion (U.S.) on Tuesday as the global technology industry buzzed over an invitation to an event on March 7 in San Francisco. Apple is expected to unveil the next generation of its wildly successful iPad at the event.
The online rumour mill was bustling Tuesday as industry watchers tried to predict the specifications and features of what many are already calling the iPad 3 – even though the "iPhone 5" eventually appeared as a revamped iPhone 4S last October.
The invitation, with a picture of a finger pressing an iPad screen, reads, "We have something you really have to see. And touch."
Apple, now the world's most valuable company, altered the publishing and music industries with its sleek hardware and online stores. Since its visionary chief executive officer and co-founder Steve Jobs died last year, some have questioned Apple's ability to continue its remarkable success. But as the company's sales and profit continue to shatter records under new CEO Tim Cook's leadership, the question appears to be not whether Apple can continue to succeed, but when and in what shape its next breakthrough will arrive – and which industry it will target.
The iPad is almost solely responsible for rejuvenating a tablet industry dominated by clunky digital assistants, and prompted rivals to launch competing touch-screen tablets. Apple's offering remains dominant, however, with the company selling more than 15 million iPads in the first fiscal quarter of 2012 alone.
RBC Dominion Securities analyst Mike Abramsky, who raised his target on Apple to $600 from $525 after the company's phenomenal last quarter, said the event in San Francisco is "most likely" being held to announce a new iPad. Mr. Abramsky wrote that the company's latest results "offer an early vote of confidence for CEO Tim Cook and team, and the strong guidance shows continued momentum from product cycles and expanding markets," such as Asia, especially China.
On Tuesday, investors pushed Apple's stock to $535.41 as rumours swirled about the upcoming event at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, where Apple held its previous major iPad announcements, Industry watchers are expecting incremental improvements – a faster processer, a better graphics card, a screen optimized for watching video and perhaps the ability to function on faster 4G LTE wireless networks.
Many have also speculated about Apple making a push into the TV business, perhaps utilizing the voice-command features of the personal digital assistant known as Siri on the iPhone 4S, but some don't expect such an announcement this early.
"Most of these [iPad improvements]in my mind will basically be a setup for later-in-the-year announcements," said Kaan Yigit of Toronto-based Solutions Research Group. "I think their video service offering may require more negotiations with content and rights, and until that comes together, I don't see that announcement. Plus the fact that the major action right now is on tablets and smartphones, with double-digit, factory-busting growth, they'd be fools to be distracted with TV this spring."