Apple's iPad 3 May Already Be Here (Update 3)

Updated from 12:40 p.m. EST to provide rumors on iPad 2 being pulled from display at Best Buy in the sixth paragraph and updated share price.

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) - Apple's ( AAPL) iPad 3 may be in the United States sooner than anyone thinks. In fact, it may already be on its way here.

As rumors of the new iPad ramp up, the Web site suggests that the next version of the iPad is already shipping to the U.S.

Shipping manifests show a series of shipments coming from Chengdu, China, to arrive in the U.S. no later than March 9, according to and the Apple Insider Web sites. Chengdu, China is the home of Foxconn, one of Apple's manufacturers in China.

Working conditions at Foxconn have come under scrutiny recently as an auditor from the Fair Labor Association reportedly found "tons of issues."

Apple is reportedly going to launch the next version of the iPad March 7 at a media event in Cupertino, Calif. A March 9 release date would get the iPad in stores in time for the weekend, leaving almost no lag time between product announcement and when the tablets go on sale, as Apple continues to improve its operations.

Also lending credence to the rumor of a new iPad is Best Buy ( BBY) offering $50 off every iPad model. This type of move generally occurs before another product is set to launch in the coming days. Rumors are also circulating that Best Buy has removed the iPad 2 from display, as all signs point to a release within the next couple of weeks.

Apple has ridden the success of its products to new-found heights, as the company's market cap has surpassed $400 billion, and shares continue to soar in 2012, up 29% year to date. Apple sold more than 15 million iPads in its most recent fiscal first-quarter.

Analyst Bill Kreher from Edward Jones believes that the next version of the iPad will do exceptionally well, as competitors have still not caught up. "Because of the lack of advancement from peers, it iPad will effectively extend the company's lead in the tablet market," Kreher said over the phone. Apple is on Edward Jones' focus list, and shares are rated buy.

The next version of the iPad is expected to be slightly different from the iPad 2. Rumors suggest the tablet will feature Retina Display, an updated processor for improved speed and computing power, a QXGA 1,536 x 2,048-pixel HD display and a longer battery life. There are also rumors that the new iPad will be Long Term Evolution (LTE) ready, capable of running on the 4G networks from AT&T ( T) and Verizon ( VZ).

There are also rumors from AppleInsider suggesting that the third version of the iPad will cost $80 more than its predecessor, starting at $579 instead of $499. The 16 GB Wi-Fi-only iPad would be $579, with the 32 GB version at $679, and the 64 GB version at $779.

Sterne Agee analyst Shaw Wu recently wrote that he expects the iPad to incorporate 4G LTE technology, which he believes will help speed up iPad sales. "We believe this significant refresh will likely help drive higher iPad sales and help further differentiate from arguably the only real competitor in the market, AMZN's Kindle Fire and not to mention the myriad of GOOG Android offerings out there," Wu wrote in a recent research note. He rates Apple buy with a $550 price target.

Wu argued Apple could sell 51 million iPads this year, and the introduction of LTE capability into the iPad could make this number "conservative." Apple has sold more than 55 million iPads since the product launched in March 2010.

Adobe ( ADBE) is also rumored to be bringing its Photoshop Touch app to the iPad.

Apple has not yet responded to TheStreet's request for comment on this story.

Apple shares were higher in Monday trading, up 0.79% to $526.54.

Interested in more on Apple? See TheStreet Ratings' report card for this stock.

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-- Written by Chris Ciaccia in New York

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