Reporting from Los Angeles and San Francisco — Apple Inc. will probably unveil a new iPad that could keep its name carved firmly at the top of the tablet computer market.
The company is holding an event next week in San Francisco at which it is widely expected to show off a lighter and sleeker iPad that could maintain its massive lead in the multibillion-dollar tablet industry it pioneered.
The media invitation for the possible iPad 2 rollout was sent as Apple shareholders met at the company's Cupertino, Calif., headquarters amid calls for the company to disclose a succession plan in the wake of Chief Executive Steve Jobs' recent medical leave. Jobs was not present, missing only his second shareholder meeting in a decade.
Apple shareholders rejected the proposal for the company to disclose its plans for Jobs' replacement. Investors are wrestling with the uncertainty stemming from Jobs' sudden announcement last month that he would take his second medical leave in two years.
Apple said it already engages in succession planning but that requiring disclosure would divulge confidential information and potentially harm the company's ability to recruit and retain executives.
The shareholder meeting came a week before the March 2 event at which Apple is expected to launch the next version of its iPad
Since it launched the first iPad last April, Apple has sold more than 15 million units, and analysts expect the company to sell 30 million this year — or about two-thirds of all tablets projected to be sold globally.
"Right now, Apple is the tablet market," said Andy Hargreaves, an analyst at Pacific Crest Securities, who noted that the company will have little serious competition until rival products emerge this year from BlackBerry-maker Research in Motion, Hewlett Packard Co., and Motorola Inc. Released in November, Samsung Electronic Co.'s Galaxy Tab has seen tepid sales and been "a fringe competitor at best," Hargreaves said.
When Apple releases new iterations of its products, the company often sells them at the same price as their predecessors. If Apple sticks to its playbook, the price for the new iPad will probably remain close to the current $499 for a Wi-Fi version and up to $829 for one with a 3G cellular connection.
And although the new model will probably be faster and more elegant, analysts believe Apple has hit some technical obstacles that will limit eye-popping new bells and whistles on the iPad 2.
"I don't think they'll break any new ground in terms of hardware features," said Ashok Kumar, an analyst at Rodman & Renshaw. "But then again, you never know with Apple — they can always pull a rabbit out of a hat."
Last summer, when its iPhone sales had flattened amid increased competition from Google-powered Android phones, observers wondered whether Apple had lost its edge in the smart phone market. But after the release of its souped-up iPhone 4 in July, sales of the device skyrocketed and Apple tightened its grip on the profitable market once again.
Early news and blog reports indicate that the iPad 2 will have a few notable improvements — but may not pull off the quantum leap that its cousin, the iPhone, managed last year.
• Screen: The resolution of the iPad 2's screen may not be much improved. While Apple managed to double the resolution of the iPhone's 3.5-inch screen last summer, analysts believe that digital display technology may be lagging and that a 10-inch version of the iPhone's screen would be too expensive and consume too much battery power to make it viable for the iPad.
Cameras: The new iPad will almost certainly have a camera that faces the user and allows for live video chatting using Apple's FaceTime software and other video chatting applications. Less certain is whether the device will have a second, high-resolution camera in the back that would allow users to take videos and photos. Rival tablets such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab already have front and rear cameras.
Weight: Among the complaints about the iPad has been that it is a bit heavy, making it tiring to hold for long periods while reading or surfing the Web. But Apple has tended to reduce the weight and thickness of its laptops and mobile devices each year, and the same will probably be true for the new iPad.
Apple's other advantage in the tablet world has been the number and diversity of its applications. The company has said there are upward of 60,000 software programs and utilities designed for the iPad, including apps that allow users to stream movies; read books, magazines and newspapers; play video games; and create music and illustrations. The company frequently highlights new applications at its launch events.
At the shareholder meeting Wednesday, Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook declined to comment when asked by an investor about the expected release of the next iPad. "The March 2 event might give you some clues," he said.
Also at the meeting, shareholders approved a proposal by the California Public Employees' Retirement System that called for a majority vote before unopposed candidates could be elected to the board of directors. Currently the company does not require a majority. All seven Apple board members, including Jobs, were reelected Wednesday.