New iPad reported set for Mar. 2 debut

James Martin/CNET

Earlier today, the rumor mill had Apple being forced to delay the next version of its hit iPad. A Taiwanese brokerage house, Yuanta Securities, set off a trans-ocean mini-panic among investors with a note to clients that the next iPad would debut two months later in the seasonal schedule this year.

That was good for a 2% haircut in the price of Apple's stock. But you can file that report in the round file; Kara Swisher, the co-impresario of the All Things Digital tech blog, subsequently published a definitive story confirming that the new iPad was slated for a public introduction on Mar. 2, according to "multiple sources."

Unlike past years, when a slight product delay might not have caused many eye brows to arch, on this occasion Apple has more than the usual stakes riding on a smartly-turned - and on time - update to the iPad. For starters, Apple's rivals haven't lagged that far behind getting competing products to market.

For much of the last year, the competition was reduced to promising while Apple was delivering. No longer. Indeed, a myriad number of companies are ready with tablets that are already shipping or soon will be on store shelves. And according to the early reviews, there are more than a few potential crowd-pleasers among them.

Another reason why Apple needs to get out a new hit on time: the uncertain status of its CEO, Steve Jobs. Last month, Apple announced that Jobs would be out on medical leave, a disclosure that has fed uncertainty about a post-Jobs era - especially in the absence of a publicly-articulated succession plan. After an amazing run, Apple's stock had begun to reflect those jitters even before today's stock selloff.