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Can’t You Live Without an Apple Product Update? (Revised!)

Editor’s Note: Hours after I wrote the article below, Apple sent out one of its famous media invitations, announcing a special event to be held in San Francisco on March 2nd. As usual, the illustration in the invitation provides a broad hint at what it’s all about. In this case, the date is slightly peeled away to reveal what appears to be an iPad’s desktop. ‘Nuff said!

However, this week, Apple’s stock price took a dip when unconfirmed rumors arose that the so-called iPad 2 has been delayed until June as the result of production delays. Up till then, it was widely believed that the next iPad would come in April, a year after the original. And yet another rumor spoke of a delay in the iPhone 5 until September.

Understand that expectations of this sort are all about wishful thinking. Apple upgrades the iPhone annually, or has done so, except for building a special CDMA version for customers of Verizon Wireless and other carriers that use that cellular protocol. The same upgrade schedule applies to the iPod. Since two of Apple’s mobile product lines receive predictable updates (or have in recent years), you should expect the same from the iPad.

I suppose this makes sense for lots of reasons. More powerful processors, with superior energy-saving capabilities, are now available. Apple has surely learned a thing or two about designing tablet computers, and there are certain features that absolutely, positively, must be included in the next iPad.

What sort of features? Well, Apple is pushing FaceTime video conferencing, so therefore the iPad must be outfitted with a front camera to expand support across iOS and Mac products. There may even be a rear camera, although taking regular snapshots with such a gadget would seem an awkward process. But since the competition has two cameras, and it doesn’t cost a whole lot more to have both, Apple is expected to join the crowd.

At the same time, the iPad is a little too heavy for extended single-handed use. That’s a key advantage of the Amazon Kindle when it comes to reading. Certainly a sharper screen and extra freedom from reflections would help, particularly when you’re trying to use the iPad on the beach.

Despite getting a little long in the tooth when it comes to hardware and features, it’s not as if the iPad is losing its luster. It’s still the iconic product that has become a subplot for broadcast and cable TV shows. Can you beat that? Sales appear to be continuing at a good clip.

But, as I said, Apple never promised when the next iPad would come, or what features would be offered. Their internal release schedule remains a closely-guarded secret.

Maybe there is a production delay, but there will be no official confirmation from Apple or its suppliers. You’ll only know the truth if there is no new iPad come April or May. But that didn’t stop a bunch of investors from being scared off.

When it comes to other Apple gear, there are signs that a new MacBook Pro lineup is coming this week, some say to coincide with Steve Jobs’ 56th birthday on February 24th. The fact that existing inventories are rapidly disappearing without replenishment appears to indicate the channels are ready to accept the new model. This is typical Apple behavior. There’s a lesser rumor that the iMac will also be refreshed, but there’s far less evidence for that.

But if you didn’t see a new MacBook Pro and iMac this week, what’s the harm? Is last year’s version of both so far out of date that your experience as a Mac user, and your productivity on the job, are being seriously harmed? But Intel has new chips out, so there has to be an update. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.

I suppose this state of affairs is doubly true with Mac OS X. Yes, Lion, or 10.7, supposedly due later this year. You’ve already seen a brief preview at Apple’s site, although the new features don’t strike me as must-haves. It’s all about eye-candy, and I expect Apple to do a lot better in defining the need for this upgrade in the next few months.

However, is Snow Leopard so bad that you absolutely require a better version? It’s not like Windows Vista, which was bypassed in record numbers by businesses. Apple need make no apologies for making Mac OS 10.6 a glorified service pack, with mostly under-the-hood enhancements, and selling it for $100 less than a standard upgrade. Besides, it’s not as if Microsoft’s successor to Windows 7 is going to arrive anytime soon, or that there’s the promise of any seriously compelling enhancements. In fact, it seems, if you believe Microsoft, the biggest advantage Windows 7 can offer over Vista is the ability to pin your document windows at the corners of the screen. Is that really sufficient reason to dump the Mac OS in favor of Windows?

Not to the public, since Apple’s market share is on a steady roll, ahead of most PC makers. Indeed, if you regard the iPad as a personal computer — and you should — Apple is number one on the global note-book market.

More to the point, it’s not as if Apple’s customers, or prospective customers, are not going to do business with the company if a new product happens to be a few weeks late.d to announce the new iPad. So there you go!