Apple's iPad 3 (HD) launch: 6 things to watch

LTE, battery life and market segmentation are a few items worth watching as Apple launches its next-generation iPad on Wednesday.

Apple launches its third generation iPad on Wednesday and the rumor mill has been in overdrive. If various supply chain checks and various reports are correct the next iPad will have a retina display, feature 4G and represent a significant upgrade for Apple.

Here are the six things to watch:

4G LTE: Although there are other tablets with LTE, Apple dominates the tablet market so a 4G iPad is significant. Apple is likely to bring a bevy of new users to Verizon's LTE network as well as fledgling 4G services from AT&T. LTE on the iPad---and likely next iPhone---will highlight how faster mobile broadband alters behavior. An LTE iPad may also be better suited for business use in the field.

Battery life: The one tricky aspect with LTE service has been battery life. Sterne Agee analyst Shaw Wu argues that Apple may have cracked the 4G battery life code. Wu said:

We view the potential inclusion of 4G LTE as key with speeds approaching that of a quality personal computer experience. We also view as a positive indicator that the upcoming iPhone refresh in the fall timeframe will likely include this key feature as well. Our industry checks indicate Apple has made notable progress in improving battery life that has plagued competitors. This is due to Apple's ownership of core intellectual property including systems design, semiconductors, battery chemistry, and software.

Price points: It has been rumored that the iPad 2 is sticking around at a lower price point. This move wouldn't be surprising. Apple has a similar set-up with the iPhone (4S, 4, 3GS). A lower-priced iPad is likely to be a threat to Android tablets, which haven't gained traction, and Amazon's Kindle Fire.

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Will the high-resolution display matter? It is widely expected that the next-gen iPad will have a high-resolution screen, faster graphics and processor. The big question is whether this screen will really be a selling point to consumers. Yes, it's the latest and greatest iPad, but the installed base for Apple is already large. An HD screen may not encourage upgrades.

Can Apple meet supply? Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster noted that the company should be able to avoid the supply issues of previous iPad launches. He said:

Apple may ship the iPad HD in mid-to-late March, with launch sales impacting the Mar-12 quarter. This scenario would follow the pattern of iPad 2 in 2011 very closely (iPad 2 announced 3/2/11, shipped in the US on 3/11 and 25 more countries on 3/25). However, we believe Apple has a clearer picture of iPad demand with another year of sales under its belt, which should help supply. Note that iPad 2 was supply constrained throughout the Mar-11 quarter, with month-long lead times at Apple's online store.

Will the iPad replace the personal computer? The next-gen iPad is likely to feature a better processor, graphics and screen. Add it up and the iPad could increasingly look like a laptop replacement. That nugget to watch will play out in the months and years to come.