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It’s time to play everyone’s favorite guessing game, “When Will the Next Major Apple Gadget Come Out?” The iPad 3 is on the horizon… but where exactly does the horizon line fall?

Spring” seems to be the consensus, but that’s a season, not a date. Anyone care to venture a month? Do I hear an April? I hear April. Do I hear a March? I hear March. Do I hear a February…? Anyone…? February…? I hear February.

While it would be nice if Apple auctioned off its release dates in such a fashion, unfortunately it doesn’t operate that way, keeping tight lips about when its next products come out. But two sources have caused the flurry of speculation this week: Citi, one of whose analysts issued a note claiming February as the likely date; and DigiTimes, the Asian-based outlet with eyes and ears in Apple’s supply chain. DigiTimes quoted “3-4 months” as the likely timeline, as of Monday–though its report cited the Chinese-language Commercial Times, which in turn had cited a Citigroup Global Markets analyst named Kevin Chang…

Confused? To wallow into the mires of predicting the whims of Apple is a dangerous and often frustrating business. DigiTimes alone has already written 50 pieces on the iPad 3, according to CNN Money. (DigiTimes’s track record is, in the article’s words, “to put it kindly, mixed”; its crystal ball appears to be cloudy.)

More interesting than the iPad 3 guessing game is the story of the effects of this guessing game. Whether or not people sense a refresh of a product is imminent tends to affect whether they buy a product now. If you’re impatient, you may not want to wait out the holiday season through April to get your tablet. But February? Surely you can sit tight another two measly months.

This leads some to wonder whether the iPad 3 rumors might put a dent in holiday iPad 2 sales. (The CNN Money story is called, rather bluntly, “Is DigiTimes trying to kill the iPad 2’s Christmas sales”?) When a company reaches such heights of popularity as Apple, what it actually does or says plays second fiddle to what people think it will do or say. The market behaves not according to the curve of the current Apple product lineup, but according to its first derivative.

But if Apple’s iPad 2 sales really are dented by such a tsunami of attention, I doubt it minds much. Other companies should be so lucky as to have demand for their products be dampened only because demand for their next-generation lineup is surging.

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