Will Apple, HP release competing tablets within weeks? Or sometime this summer?

Rumors put both the iPad 2 and TouchPad around the corner... or months away. Which are right?

Wow, it's been quite a day watching the iPad and tablet rumor mills.

Early this morning, reports were swirling that the next-generation iPad (dubbed by most simply as iPad 2) would be delayed until June. Those reports were based around alleged manufacturing delays. By this afternoon, All Things D was reporting that the iPad 2 would be unveiled at an Apple event next week, though the report didn't offer any direct evidence to backup the claim. Separately, there was speculation that Apple's new iPad would include Intel's new Lightpeak port, something that's possible but pretty unlikely.

Along the way, a completely separate report began claiming that HP would launch its iPad-like webOS TouchPad tablet this spring. These claims were rooted in alleged manufacturer reports that HP was accelerating component orders and would be receiving initial shipments of its first tablet in March for an April release.

All of this completely overshadowed any news of the Xoom launch on Thursday, including the official with-contract pricing from Verizon ($600 with a two-year contract - $200 cheaper than a contract-free Xoom purchased from BestBuy).

Ultimately, there's no real hard evidence (yet) for any of these reports – aside from the Verizon pricing for the Xoom. But, the situation definitely illustrates the fever-pitch that the entire tech community has reached when it comes to the iPad and other tablet devices.

The big question is: are any of these claims likely to be accurate?

As far as the dueling iPad claims, I'd probably lay money on the report that Apple will announce the iPad 2 next week before I'd wager on a delay. Apple does have a consistent reputation for releasing certain hardware refreshes on a yearly basis. The iPhone and iPod lines are classic examples with their respective June/July and September update schedules (and the iPad is technologically very similar to both). While a delay might be possible and you could argue that Apple might want to match the iPad refresh to the iPhone for a single iOS update, I find that pretty unlikely. For one thing, Apple is keenly aware of the competition entering the marketplace over the coming months and that it will outclass the current iPad. For another, a separate report claims Apple Retail employees are being called in for a secret meeting on Sunday.

The HP rumor is a bit less easy to pin down. The demos of the TouchPad with webOS 3 have generally been pretty solid according to reviews. It is possible that HP could move up the launch date. Whether it will be able to ship with every possible feature is a separate question (LTE models and NFC support come to mind as features that might be axed to enable an earlier launch) . That would give it much better entry position into a soon to be crowded market. The TouchPad, like the iPad, can differentiate itself very well from the crop of Android tablets but it will have a better shot of success if it gets to market before most of them.

Even if HP can't make an April launch, announcing further details and managing some form of spring or early summer launch is possible and would help the TouchPad. Building some hype and creating a launch announcement could be tied to the release of HP's diminutive Veer webOS phone, which is slated for release this spring. As far as removing TouchPad features for an earlier launch, it's worth noting that one major feature the Veer lacks compared to the Pre3, which is scheduled for a summer launch with the TouchPad, is NFC (the other is a front-facing camera for video calling/chat).

What do you think? Will the iPad 2 be announced next week? Might it be delayed till summer? Will HP move up the TouchPad launch? Let us know in the comments.

Ryan Faas writes about personal technology for ITworld. Learn more about Faas' published works and training and consulting services at www.ryanfaas.com. Follow him on Twitter @ryanfaas.

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