Apple Stock Hits $500 With New iPads Said to Be Coming

PHOTO: An iPad 1 and an iPad 2 are shown.
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The iPad 3 -- if Apple actually decides to call it that -- is likely to be released in early March, according to analysts who follow the company. It's not a wholesale redesign, but its new, higher-resolution screen, they say, will make your mouth (and your eyes) water.

Apple can do no wrong in investors' eyes. Its stock reached $500 per share today for the first time ever. Apple sold for less than $90 in early 2009, with Steve Jobs ailing and the stock market at its recessionary lows.

And according to one analyst, there may be something bigger coming, too -- like, perhaps, a smaller iPad. Something bigger than the iPhone, but handier than the iPad 2.

"It makes sense," said Ezra Gottheil, who watches Apple for Technology Business Research, Inc., outside Boston. "What they're seeing is a large number of smaller, cheaper tablets, and they want to be in on that market."

Mind you, this is not coming from Apple, which is famously skilled at keeping new products secret until it is ready to unveil them. They have not commented on any of the myriad predictions of an iPad update next month, and they're not about to respond to any talk about an iPad Mini. Which doesn't exist. And isn't planned. At least officially.

But while Apple dominates the tablet business with the 9.7-inch iPad 2, Samsung and Lenovo have apparently done well with smaller tablets, ones with screens that measure in the 7-inch range.

And then there's Amazon: "The Kindle Fire has set the world on fire," said Gottheil.

Though Amazon has not released sales figures, Strategy Analytics, a market research firm near Boston, said the iPad's share of the tablet market fell to 58 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011, from 68 percent a year earlier.

Amazon's Fire, which has a 7-inch screen, is a different type of device than the iPad. With less computing power, it is often used as an e-reader -- largely for books that Amazon sells. But it costs far less than the iPad 2, starting at $199, compared to $499 for the base-model iPad.

"The 7-inch form factor is quite a useful thing," said Gottheil. "It's more portable, and we're getting to a point where people will own more than one tablet and take the more portable one with them."

It might also be appealing to young people. Apple last month launched an initiative to create interactive iPad lessons in place of old-fashioned school textbooks -- and if Apple's new screen looks good on a 10-inch device, it may look even more vivid on a smaller one.

So when might you see an iPad Mini (or whatever it's called)? Later in the year, said Gottheil. Apple, he pointed out, has gotten into an "unfortunate time cycle" of announcing new iPads early in the year, which may deflate holiday sales. Who wants an iPad 2 in December if they know the iPad 3 is coming any minute now?

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