At Apple's recent unveiling of the second-generation iPad, Steve Jobs said "2011 is the year of iPad 2." That sent several sites, including AppleInsider, into a flurry of backtracking on previous rumors concerning a possible iPad 3 release at the annual iPod event in September. "Jobs wouldn't have said that [2011 is the year of the iPad 2] were he planning to introduce another iPad model this summer," AppleInsider surmised.
Actually, that's exactly what Jobs would have said, and should have said. Doesn't anyone remember The Osborne Effect? If Steve Jobs had dropped any hints at all that another iPad revision would be coming so soon after the iPad 2, how many people do you think would be buying an iPad 2 on March 11? How many would buy one between then and September? Even people having only a passing familiarity with Apple news would be aware of the next iPad, soon to supplant the current iPad 2, and Apple's sales would plummet.
The entire idea of a September release of another iPad was kicked off by speculation from Daring Fireball's John Gruber. He theorized that an iPad update in September would allow Apple to make yearly releases of the hardware immediately before the highly lucrative holiday quarter, increasing Apple's sales. Gruber also said the hardware might not be so much an iPad 3 as an update to the existing hardware: an iPad 2 HD with the widely-rumored double-resolution display.
Industry rumors swirled around the iPad 2's display over the past couple months, with some reputable outlets claiming the iPad 2 would debut with a 2048 x 1536 display. For whatever reason -- cost and scalability of production being the most likely factors -- the iPad 2 still has the same 1024 x 768 resolution as the first iPad. But the rumors about the iPad Retina Display haven't gone away, and the same sources claim the next iPad will have it. But does that mean it won't come out until March of 2012? Not necessarily.
Apple could likely keep most of the iPad 2's internal hardware the same, shove a Retina Display into it in September, and still call it the iPad 2 (or iPad 2 HD, if you like). With the iPad 2's graphics hardware providing up to nine times the performance of the original iPad, quadrupling the number of pixels on the screen isn't going to be too much for the A5 processor to handle. Other hardware, such as system RAM, would likely need to be boosted to drive such a display, which could constrain production of a Retina Display-equipped iPad and drive up costs; however, to address those concerns, Apple could easily continue to offer the current iPad 2 alongside the iPad 2 HD model, positioning the Retina Display model as a "pro" iPad at a higher price in order to maintain margins.
I'm not betting the farm on a September surprise from Apple, mind you, and I'm definitely not saying you should wait for some as-yet mythical iPad 3 to come along. I'm certainly not waiting; even though I strongly suspect hardware updates later this year, I'm still getting an iPad 2 on launch day. But keep in mind that a generalized statement like "2011 is the year of iPad 2" doesn't necessarily mean the iPad 2 will stay as it is for a full year. MacBooks, iMacs and Mac Pros aren't held to an artificial yearly release schedule; they're released whenever the supporting hardware is ready and scalable for release. The same might well be true of the iPad.