It's that time of the year again. Apple (AAPL) is sending out media invitations for an event that will take place next Wednesday.
"We have something you really have to see. And touch."
Don't let the "touch" trick you into thinking that this will be merely an update to the iPod touch media player. Everybody's been expecting Apple's third generation of the iPad to hit the market in March, and that's exactly what the market will get.
If that's not enough proof that the new iPad is coming, the graphic accompanying the invitation is clearly an iPad-sized device.
Let's go over the five burning questions that may very well be doing somersaults in your mind.
1. Will I Be Able to Buy an iPad 3 on March 7?
Don't camp out at an Apple Store on Tuesday night, expecting a shiny new tablet to be on the shelves Wednesday. The announcement doesn't mean that there will be immediate local availability, though sources tell Apple watcher 9to5Mac that "near-immediate availability" is expected.
At the very least, folks will probably be able to order right away -- even if the new iPad itself may not ship for another week or two.
You will still want to pre-order early if you want one. Apple iPhones and iPads are still hard to come by on their launch dates, and folks who wait too long often face weeks of delays.
2. What Will the New Features Be?
Apple's lips are sealed until next week, but it's an evolutionary given that the new iPad will have even sharper graphics and a meatier processor. There's also plenty of chatter indicating that the more expensive 3G model will get bumped up to the speedier 4G LTE platform.
Some Apple watchers were disappointed that the iPhone 4S -- instead of the highly anticipated iPhone 5 -- didn't make the leap to 4G. Unfortunately, the infrastructure just wasn't there last year. AT&T (T) and Verizon (VZ) have been aggressively building out 4G connectivity, so it should be available in select metropolitan markets for the new iPad.
Apple also generally provides a "one more thing" surprise or two that catches even the most knowledgeable outsiders off guard, so next Wednesday promises to be very interesting.
3. Why Is Apple So Secretive?
If you were Apple -- with shelves of unsold iPad 2 tablets -- would you begin promoting the iPad 3 sooner rather than later? The last thing Apple wants is to pre-announce its specs, freezing sales of the current model.
Remember the brouhaha that erupted two years ago when someone found an iPhone 4 prototype in a bar? Apple prefers to be the one that controls the message and the timing of the message. The class act of Cupertino is the one that wants to wow fans at the roll-out events like the one it's staging in California next week.
4. Is Apple Really Calling It the iPad 3?
There's actually a pretty fair chance that it will not follow in the numerical naming footsteps of the iPad 2. The last thing that Apple wants to become is predictable.
Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster believes that the new tablet may be called "iPad HD." (Give it time. The name will grow on you.)
There's at least one good reason for Apple not to call this the iPad 3, especially if it comes with 4G LTE connectivity: Apple already has a hard time explaining to consumers that the iPhone 4 and the iPhone 4S are not 4G. The model number is merely a coincidence. How confusing will it be if the iPad 3 is 4G while the iPhone 4S is 3G? Going with iPad HD -- or any other name -- would help keep Apple's marketing team a lot.
5. How Much Will It Cost?
There's little reason to expect Apple to stray from the $499 entry-level point that has served it well through the tablet's first two generations.
Apple is unlikely to bump prices higher. Amazon.com (AMZN) and now Barnes & Noble (BKS) have hit the market with smaller and less powerful tablets at the more compelling $199 price point since the last iPad hit the market.
What Apple is likely to do is announce that it will continue to sell the iPad 2 -- at least the cheapest model that this week sells for $499 -- but drop its price by $100 or so. In other words, if you're in the market for an iPad 2, do yourself a favor and wait a few days.
Apple always finds a way to reward the patient.
Longtime Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz does not own shares in any of the stocks in this article. The Motley Fool owns shares of Amazon.com and Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Apple and Amazon.com. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a bull call spread position in Apple.