The iPad is shown after it was unveiled at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. Apple Inc. is expected to unveil the second generation of its wildly successful media tablet March 2. - AP

Apple to unveil new iPad

LOS ANGELES — 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 Ltd., 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."

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.

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