Verizon will sell and support a new version of the iPad that can directly connect to the carrier's 3G data network, according to a report by Bloomberg.
Late Tuesday, the publication's Web site cited comments by Verizon Chief Financial Officer Francis Shammo during an interview that day at the unveiling of an Apple iPhone able to use Verizon's voice and data networks.
Verizon has sold the iPad -- both the Wi-Fi and 3G models -- since late October 2010. To support the 3G-capable version, Verizon has bundled a credit card-sized MiFi device with the tablet that lets users create a short-range Wi-Fi hotspot. Data plans for the MiFi start at $15 a month.
Currently, only AT&T supports the 3G hardware built into the more expensive iPad models.
Although Shammo did not share a timeline with Bloomberg, one Wall Street analyst said the most likely launch of a 3G iPad for Verizon's CDMA-based data network would be when Apple refreshes the tablet this spring.
"I don't have any specific insight on timing, but from a logistical standpoint, it would make sense for the iPad 2 to support both AT&T and Verizon in the U.S.," said Brian Marshall of Gleacher & Co. "If I'm accurate on the April timeframe [for the debut of the iPad 2], that makes the most sense."
Previously, Marshall and other analysts have said that Apple will launch new iPads annually , as it does with the iPhone, putting the expected debut of what most are calling the iPad 2 in early April, a year after the original's on-sale date.
According to Marshall, the iPad 2 will closely resemble the current tablet, but will include a pair of cameras to allow users to run FaceTime, Apple's video calling software that launched last summer with the iPhone 4.
A 3G-capable iPad for Verizon would boost Apple's sales, said Marshall, because the early trend of customers picking the less-expensive Wi-Fi models has shifted to where over 50 per cent of sales are now of the 3G tablet.
"Verizon will help iPad sales, especially from a business user's standpoint," argued Marshall. "iPad buyers are increasingly migrating to more mobility, and picking the 3G."
Marshall's current iPad sales estimate for 2011 is 25 million units, a number he called conservative. "A more realistic number is 30 to 35 million," he said.
iPad sales will slump this quarter, Marshall continued, citing the slowness of the season and the "Osborne effect," a term that describes falling sales of a soon-to-be-replaced model.
The phrase came into play in the 1980s, when Adam Osborne announced a new, much-improved version of his transportable computer, the Osborne-1, long before the replacement was ready. Sales of the Osborne-1 slowed as the news spread, and the company demise was inaccurately attributed to the gaffe.
If Apple keeps to its usual pace for mobile product announcements, it will unwrap the new iPad several weeks before the tablet is available to buyers.
Earlier today, Kevin Rose, the founder of Digg, seemed to confirm that when he said his sources pegged the iPad 2 announcement for Feb. 1 , just over three weeks from today and approximately two months before the expected on-sale date.
Rose, whose predictions on Apple are often on target, told subscribers to his Foundation newsletter that, "If you're thinking of buying an iPad, hold off for now."
Verizon did not reply to a request for confirmation of Shammo's comments to Bloomberg.
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