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FUD Missile: Apple Plays Its Rivals With iPad 2 & iPad 3 Leaks and Rumors

According to a new survey, consumers will still buy products from Apple (AAPL) whether CEO Steve Jobs is there or not. Good news? Sure, but it's not any big surprise to the company.

Apple knows what consumers like, and it also notices competitors coming up strong. Smartphones running Google (GOOG) Android have already moved ahead. The Motorola (MMI) Xoom is the "first truly comparable competitor," according to Walt Mossberg. But Apple is a wily company and makes great use of intentional press leaks and product announcements to distract attention from the competition.

That's what the iPad 2 press announcement is next week and why there's a persistent rumor of the iPad 3 coming out in the fall. Apple has been clockwork-like about product announcements and releases. There's typically the iPhone announcement in early June and iPods in September. The approach allows Apple to concentrate its resources on fewer variations and space them out enough so that:

  • Customers don't become desensitized by too many announcements and look forward to the next generation device.
  • Apple can achieve high enough levels of innovation in new releases and have something that will grab attention.
  • The press can schedule for expected (and big! big! big!) events.
The iPad 2 announcement comes about a month early. That may seem trivial, but Apple has deviated only when it had a good reason. One example is the iPhone 4 announcement and shipment in June 2010. That was the time there was an actual inadvertent leak of an iPhone prototype. A shipping delay would have meant many people waiting to buy the new model rather than buying a 3Gs.

Such a stall would have killed Apple's numbers for the quarter, and it didn't want that to happen. (For all those who think that Apple doesn't pay attention to Wall Street expectations, reconsider. Stock price is every bit as important there as in every other high tech company.)

Now, the original iPad was announced in January 2010. But there was talk of many tablets at CES, and Apple didn't want to give others a head start. The real clue of whether the iPad 2 got an early announcement will be when the units begin to ship. My BNET colleague Damon Brown thinks that units will ship before the end of March. If so, a big reason will be the Motorola Xoom.

Continued leaks about the iPad 3 coming out before the end of the year are even more interesting. That's likely a competitive strategy, either to put off claims of competitors of what might be available later in the year or, quite possibility, to seed disinformation to throw off others. Either way, it's clear that Apple is growing more skilled at a game pioneered by IBM and later mastered by Microsoft (MSFT): Sowing FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) about your future product plans in order to disorient actual and potential rivals.

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Image: morgueFile user jppi, site standard license.