Three Questions Ahead of Today’s Apple Event

The huge business story of the day is Apple’s event, universally expected to be the unveiling of a new iPad. I don’t think there’s a ton of point in speculating before the announcement since presumably they’ll just tell us what’s happening. But here are the three big questions I’ll be looking for this afternoon:

Will it be called the iPad 3 or the iPad HD? The overwhelming conventional wisdom was in favor of iPad 3 until quite recently, but since then many indications that we’re talking about an iPad HD. If it were me, I’d stick with the numbers. You follow up the iPad 3 with the iPad 4. Do you follow up the iPad HD with the iPad HD 2? Seems terrible. But Apple often disappoints me with its naming conventions—why iMac?

What happens to the iPad 2? In many ways this is the more interesting business story. The iPad is already the market leader to such an extent that simply coming out with a better one doesn’t change the landscape. But if Apple’s supply chain allows them to ramp up production of a new high-end product while continuing to sell the iPad 2 in volume as a cheaper option, that shakes up the landscap.

Will reviewers underestimate the value of incremental change? The iPhone 4S was roundly panned on its release, since it was “only” an iPhone 4 box with a faster chip and a better camera and upgraded software. And yet it turned out that a better version of an already successful product was a recipe for … a huge sales success! Writers will be disappointed by the non-newsworthiness of a new product that looks just like the old product and does the same stuff as the old product, but does it all a bit better and faster with a sharper screen and for the exact same amount of money but in the real world that can be a recipe for sales success. In particular, we’re seeing evidence that the iPad is starting to eat away at some elements of the laptop market and basic hardware upgrades can facilitate that.

One market Apple has not exactly dominated is the electronic book retailing sector, but note that you can buy a lovely iBooks edition of The Rent Is Too Damn High to read on your iPad or iPhone.