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IPad HD expected to have faster chip, sharper screen

IPad HD is set to debut. Apple will introduce its new iPad HD at a press conference Wednesday.

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— Faster wireless capabilities. IPads are available with built-in modems for AT&T's and Verizon's third-generation, or "3G" cellular networks in the U.S. The iPad 3 could come in a version that offers faster "4G" or "LTE" networks. However, most iPads are used only on Wi-Fi, so an "LTE" chip wouldn't matter to most buyers.

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In this respect, Apple is playing catch-up. Some competitors, such as Samsung and Motorola, already sell LTE-compatible tablets.

Since last fall, Sprint Nextel Corp. has sold the iPhone. But it doesn't sell the iPad. It's possible it could join AT&T and Verizon Wireless in selling the iPad 3.

— A faster processor. This is pretty much a given, since every new iPhone or iPad has improved on the computing power of its predecessor. But few users complain about their iPads being slow, so this should not be a major selling point.

Sarah Rotman Epps, an analyst for Forrester Research, said hardware features aren't that important to tablet buyers.

"It's about the services — what you can do with the device," she said in a blog post.

Apple's competitors have slowly come to realize this, but only after bringing out dozens of tablets with whiz-bang features like 3-D cameras. The competitor that's done the best is Amazon.com Inc. Its Kindle Fire tablet is cheaper than the iPad, but what really sets it apart is that it's tied into Amazon's book, movie and music stores, making it an easy route to entertainment, just like the iPad.

Still the Kindle Fire has a long way to go. Epps estimates that Amazon sold 5.5 million Kindle Fires in the fourth quarter of last year. Meanwhile, Apple sold 15.4 million iPads, and has sold 55.3 million in total.

According to Canaccord Genuity, 63 percent of the tablets shipped last year were iPads. The only competitors with more than 5 percent market share were Amazon and Samsung Electronics Co.

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