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Apple (AAPL) will unveil its next-generation iPad today, which is expected to be an evolutionary advance on the first version. Regardless of whether Apple dishes out a lot of eye-popping features, it will set the field for 2011’s great tablet race.

Among the key themes to watch for:

  1. Pricing: If Apple upgrades memory and features while holding the line on the $499 entry level model it will be disruptive. What happens if a 32GB Wi-Fi iPad goes for $499 with a front-facing camera? Short answer: The Motorola Xoom may have some issues.
  2. Carrier plans: As noted by a few analysts, Apple could have a GSM-CDMA chip so one tablet could work with AT&T (T) or Verizon (VZ). That move would open the door for an interesting duel between the two largest U.S. wireless carriers.
  3. The impact on the field: The iPad 2 is likely to impact the tablet field. Many observers expect the Android tablet field to go commodity quickly. Usually, that commoditization means lower prices. The rub here is whether prices can come down enough to dent the iPad. So far prices haven’t. The other launches to watch will be RIM’s PlayBook and HP’s WebOS tablet. Will the iPad 2 make those devices look like also-rans before they even hit the market.
  4. Any hints about the iPad 3. If iPad 2 is evolutionary, speculation will immediately surface about the next version. Will thoughts of iPad 3 restrain sales of the second iPad?
  5. iPad for business. Apple’s iPad has become a serious business tool. It is widely expected that the new iPad will ride shotgun with an SMB service effort dubbed JointVenture. On the business front, it’s worth watching how Apple’s focus on businesses locks the iPad in as an enterprise device.

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Source: With Apple's Latest iPad, the Tablet Field Will Be Set for 2011