Apple May Delay iPad 3 Thanks To A General Lack of Competition

Apple's iPad 3 is currently expected to drop early in 2012, but some analysts are suggesting that the launch window could slip, mostly due to the fact that no one has managed to even dent the iPad 2's market share. The speed of the tablet's success is unprecedented. The iPod, which debuted in 2002, didn't break 20 million units per year (or achieve market dominance) until 2005.

The iPad isn't even 18 months old, and Apple is currently shipping more than nine million per quarter with an estimated 68 percent market share.

Thus far, Apple's would-be competitors have distinguished themselves only by their levels of incompetence. Motorola shoved the Xoom out the door with a buggy OS, a ludicrous $799 price point, and without key advertised features like a functional microSD slot, Adobe Flash, or 4G support (this last has yet to occur, eight months after the tablet went on sale).  The BlackBerry PlayBook has the dubious distinction of making the Xoom look good--RIM announced last week that it managed to sell just 200,000 tablets in Q2, well below Motorola's 440,000 sales during the same period.  

HP's decision to kill the TouchPad and subsequent $99 fire sale makes it an imprecise point of comparison, while sales of Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1 have undoubtedly been attenuated by the shipping injunctions and legal fire Apple has poured into the company. Not every tablet has been a flop, but much of the success has come from smaller players (think Toshiba or Asus) with more modest sales targets and fewer delusions of adequacy.

The next-generation A6 will reportedly use 3D chip-stacking technology developed at IBM, with through-silicon-vias used to connect components vertically rather than horizontally.

From Apple's perspective, there's precious little reason to push the iPad 3 to market and possibly good reason to wait. It's unclear if the iPad 3 is going to ship with Apple's A6 processor or not, but delaying the device would give Apple more time to improve CPU yields and lower its manufacturing costs. The A6 is reportedly being built on TSMC's new 28nm process and incorporates the company's 3D chip-stacking technology. The use of through-silicon-vias (TSVs) and chip stacking could significantly improve the A6's power consumption compared to conventional planar silicon, but it adds a layer of complexity that could benefit from additional ramp time.

Absent any current competitor or upcoming must-have product, Apple may opt to wait simply to see what its rivals think of next. Many of the manufacturers and developers working on tablet designs are heavy hitters in their own right. This is one reason Apple has simultaneously backed lawsuits against Android, but Apple's strategy is much more complex than a simple legal assault on ts closest competitors.

There are a number of major technologies scheduled to hit the market in the next 6-9 months, including the first 28nm ARM processors, Intel's Medfield x86 tablet platform, Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), and Nvidia's Kal-El refresh. Holding back for a few extra months would give Apple a chance to see how the competition adopts these platforms and technologies, and plan for how best to counter them.