Analysts and Apple enthusiasts have begun a fresh round of speculation over what the next iteration of the popular tablet device will entail. Hayley Tsukayama reports:

With the new year comes a fresh burst of excitement for what products 2012 might bring. For Apple, speculation has generally centered on the company’s third-generation iPad, which most people have been referring to as the “iPad 3.”

The biggest improvement to the iPad that’s been mentioned as a possibility so far is its display. This has been a persistent rumor — remember talk of the iPad HD? — and Taiwanese technology site Digitimes reported Friday that Sharp is providing a different kind of HD display for the iPad. Sharp has reportedly refocused some of its resources for making IGZO (indium, gallium and zinc oxide) displays for smaller devices such as smartphones and tablets, the report said, citing unnamed “sources in Apple’s supply chain.”

Digitimes, as we’ve noted here before, has a spotty track record with Apple rumors, and bases most of its reporting on Asian component manufacturers.

With that in mind, consider that they are the source for a release date rumor that drew criticism from seasoned Apple blogger Jim Dalrymple.

The Digitimes report said that Apple would unveil the iPad at iWorld (MacWorld) in January — a conference that Apple stopped attending in 2009. It also hinted at two 9.7-inch models of the iPad aimed at targeting the entry-level and mid-range segments of the market.

Dalrymple’s sources discredited the report’s timing information. “I checked with a number of my sources today and an iPad 3 is not planned for release at Macworld,” he said.

Another report that’s been circulating is that the next iPad will be unveiled in February in time for late Apple founder Steve Jobs’s birthday on the 24th. That rumored release date comes from Focus Taiwan, which published a report based on reporting from the Chinese-language newspaper the Economic Daily News on Dec. 23. The Economic Daily News, as Apple Insidernotes, also has a spotty-at-best record with Apple rumors.

Analyst reports have put the release date for the iPad anywhere from February to April, with most sticking with the vague — but safer — estimate of a new iPad coming sometime in the first quarter of 2012.

Updates to the tablet computer might not be the only changes that Apple has in store for next year. As Devindra Hardawar from Venture Beat writes:

Apple apparently has a big event in store for New York City this month — though it’s not the announcement of the iPad 3, or the rumored Apple television set.

Most likely, the event will center on a media-related announcement since Apple SVP of Internet Software and Interactive Services Eddy Cue is said to be involved, reports All Things D’s Kara Swisher. Cue, who was Apple CEO Tim Cook’s first major appointment as SVP, spearheads Apple’s media properties, including iTunes, iCloud, the App Store, and iAd.

While the true nature of the event is still up in the air (if it even occurs at all), I’d wager that it would have something to do with iAd, Apple’s struggling mobile advertising solution. The company purchased the mobile ad firm Quattro Wireless for $275 million in 2010, which was then refashioned into iAd, but never quite caught on with publishers.

What else is in store for the tablet computing market this year? Sarah Halzack reports:

Tablets will continue their hot streak. Many experts and insiders seemed to agree on this point. But they differed in their assessments of whether Apple would continue to be king of the heap. According to a December report from research firm IDC, Apple has captured 62 percent of the worldwide tablet market, while Android has just 32 percent. A recent spate of Apple rumors suggest that iPad 3 could be arriving as early as February and may be accompanied by a smaller “iPad mini.” Will that be enough to ward off competition from Android-powered tablets such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab or the relatively low-priced Kindle Fire? Tech geeks and investors everywhere will be closely watching.

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