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iPad 3 may be further helium for Apple's stock

The next version of the popular iPad is expected to be unveiled Wednesday, and analysts think it could help propel the company's shares ro new heights.

The rumors are flying over what the next-generation iPad to be introduced Wednesday will be. It may be faster, smaller, cheaper, and it might include HD.

Whatever happens with Apple when it lifts the curtain on the iPad 3, industry watchers don’t expect the excitement of previous model debuts, but they do expect more profit thrills for the company, now the most valuable in America.

“I don’t think people are going to be totally blown away,” said Andy Hargreaves, senior analyst for investment banking firm Pacific Crest Securities, about the new iPad’s unveiling. What investors will be totally blown away by, however, will be the continued earnings growth to follow the debut and the huge potential for the iPad market going forward, he said, adding, “We are still early in the growth opportunities for the iPad.”

It’s hard to believe the iPad and the tablet market in general are still fledgling given the 55 million iPads sold as of December and about 5.5 million Amazon Kindle Fires sold in the first three months of their debut, according to Forrester Research. But a report by Forrester on the U.S. tablet market points to bigger things ahead:

“Tablets have gained unstoppable momentum. Forrester forecasts that tablets will reach 112.5 million US consumers — one-third of the US adult population — by 2016.”

Such forecasts have many industry watchers projecting that Apple’s stock, now trading over $500 a share, could continue its march upward. The company stock was trading at $350 a share the week before the iPad 2 was introduced to the world. The iPad is now Apple's No. 2 revenue-generating product, bringing in $6.8 billion in sales during the fourth quarter, behind the iPhone, which brought in about $10 billion in sales. 

“I can easily predict that iPad and iPhone will drive Apple’s stock price north of $600 per share by January 2013,” said Daniel Ladik, associate professor of marketing at Stillman School of Business, Seton Hall University.

He pointed to the iPad’s potential in the textbook market. “Apple already has the top three textbook publishers on board,” he explained. “If they all convert over to the iPads, what’s going to stop them?”

Analysts stopped short of predicting the stock could hit $1,000 a share. “That’s not going to happen, no. But anything is possible,” Hargreaves quipped.

One area iPad still has yet to tap fully is companies purchasing the tablets for employees. At this point, Hargreaves said, this market is not a material driver for unit volume for the company. “The vast majority will come from people buying them and bringing them to work,” he noted.

But business use presents a lot of potential, according to another Forrester study titled: “Apple Infiltrates the Enterprise And Reshapes the Markets For Personal Devices At Work,” which found that “Globally, one in five information workers uses an Apple product for work,” and the iPad represents 9 percent of the total.

Today, the report stated, “27 percent of companies support the iPad, and another 31 percent report plans to support or interest in supporting the iPad, not to mention the additional 23 percent that report employee interest despite a lack of IT interest.”

The iPads have been a savior for technicians at Siemens, the energy giant, who service 300-foot wind turbines. The employees used to carry around large binders that included manuals and checklists, but now the information is all on the iPad.

"Currently, about 350 technicians have the device already; within five years, that’s expected to grow to about 5,000," said Tim Holt, CEO of Service Renewables at Siemens Energy Inc. "They have been completely rolled out to wind technicians in the US and have started implementation in the UK. The rest of Europe will be onboarded later this year, and we anticipate having 1,000 plus by year-end."


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