Ahead of the Bell: New iPad expected Wednesday

NEW YORK (AP) ? All eyes will be on San Francisco Wednesday where Apple is expected to unveil the third version of its iPad, a tablet computer that is changing the way people use technology.

Apple isn’t saying much, but there’s speculation that the new iPad will have a speedier processor, a sharper screen and an option for faster wireless broadband access. Sales could begin next week.

Apple is holding an announcement event in San Francisco at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater, where Apple holds larger launch events. It is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. EST. Apple Inc. typically delays announcing the main product until close to the end of its events.

Apple has sold 55 million iPads since its debut in 2010. IHS iSuppli estimates that iPads accounted for about 62 percent of tablet computers shipped worldwide last year. Competitors include Samsung Electronic Co.’s Galaxy line, Amazon.com Inc.’s Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble’s Nook Tablet.

The upgrade from the iPad 2 to a third iPad is expected to be less significant than the upgrade from the original iPad to the iPad 2, which added two cameras while cutting down on both thickness and weight. And Apple has left no hints as to whether it will continue to manufacture the iPad 2 and offer it at a lower price, as it kept the iPhone 3GS after the launch of the iPhone 4.

Another big question is whether Apple will reveal its rumored foray into television production. Some have speculated that the invite to the Apple event, which said “We have something you really have to see,” points in that direction.

The iPad launch comes as Apple has reached a rare milestone: last week, it was worth more than $500 billion. Only six other U.S. companies have reached that plane, and none have held that valuation for long. On Tuesday, Apple’s stock fell, bringing its market value down to $493 billion, but many industry analysts believe the company is worth closer to $550 billion.