Apple's Stock Set For iPad Rumor Boost (Update 2)

Updated from 9:20 a.m. EST to provide Samsung official comments in the twelfth paragraph.

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -When Apple ( AAPL) announces a product, the buzz doesn't die down soon afterwards, as it does with most companies. In fact, it gets even stronger, a trend that may cause Apple's stock to move even higher.

Apple's new iPad elicited a positive response from consumers when it was launched last week, although rumors continue to swirl about future versions of the product, and, potentially, new carriers.

Engadget notes that not only is the iPad coming to Verizon ( VZ) and AT&T ( T) as Apple announced last week, but that Sprint Nextel ( S) is making plans for it too.

Sprint was conspicuously left off the carrier list last week when Apple unveiled the product, but this does not mean the Kansas City-based telecom company will not get the new iPad eventually. Engadget obtained the screen shots from Best Buy's ( BBY) inventory system.

Thew new iPad is already back-ordered on Apple's website for both AT&T and Verizon, with the tech giant noting that "demand is off the charts." An additional carrier would allow Apple to gets its tablet into more hands. There is clearly intense demand for the product, as consumers clamor for the latest tablet from Apple.

Some 75% of respondents to TheStreet's recent iPad poll said they already pre-ordered the new tablet or would eventually buy one.

J.P. Morgan analyst Mark Moskowitz called the new iPad a quality upgrade based off the tech specs. "The improved technology specs of the new iPad should sustain Apple's market leadership, in our view, and the company's market leadership through innovation stands to continue," Moskowitz wrote in a recent research report. He rates Apple "overweight" with a $625 price target.

Barclays Capital analyst Ben Reitzes believes the iPad is likely to help Apple's earnings, due to strong demand. "We believe that Apple likely pre-sold millions of devices in the first weekend of pre-orders and believe that our iPad shipment estimate of 8.5 million units for the March quarter is very conservative," Reitzes explained, in a research note. He rates Apple "overweight" with a $710 price target.

Jefferies analyst Peter Misek noted in a research report that his own experience ordering the new iPad led to more than 45 minutes of "extremely slow web page loading, which we believe indicates heavy demand." Misek raised his price target to $699 and has a "buy" rating on shares.

As if a new carrier wasn't enough to help boost Apple's earnings, there are more rumors about the supposed "iPad Mini."

DigiTimes has mentioned the oft-rumored iPad Mini again, this time discussing a slim bezel display. That would allow the screen to occupy a larger percentage of the tablet's face than it currently does. The Mini would be 7.85-inches and be priced between $249 and $299, according to DigiTimes.

There has already been plenty of chatter about an iPad Mini, but Apple has been against the technology in the past. Former CEO Steve Jobs said that 7-inch tablets were "dead on arrival" and Apple didn't make them "...because we think the screen is too small to express the software."

Even Samsung believes Apple is likely to make an iPad Mini. An anonymous executive from the South Korean company told The Korean Times that Apple is likely to expand its parts purchases from the company, due to a new iPad Mini. "The contract with Samsung is expected to rise to $11 billion by the end of this year as Apple is planning to release a smaller iPad, probably with a 7.85-inch screen, and to sell more of its MacBook Air PCs using Samsung's faster solid state drive (SSD) storage,'' the executive said.

Companies like Amazon ( AMZN) and Barnes & Noble ( BKS), however, have shown that there is consumer demand for a 7-inch tablet, but there has been no indication of such from Apple. That may change under Tim Cook, who has shown a penchant for being slightly different than Steve Jobs with his handling of the company.

Apple's stock has ridden the euphoria of the new iPad and pushed enthusiasm for the company in general to new highs. Shares of the Cupertino, Calif.-base firm have gained 36.3% year-to-date, and 56.8% over the past year.

If the rumors about more carriers come to fruition, this can only be a positive for Apple. That's not "Thinking Different." That's thinking smart.

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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