SAN FRANCISCO — Get ready to line up again if you want one of the new iPads that Apple is expected to unveil tomorrow.
CEO Tim Cook and his lieutenants will be in San Francisco that day to announce a slew of refreshed gadgets before the crucial holiday shopping season gets underway.
Top billing is expected to be a new iPad mini with the crisper "Retina" display that is already on the bigger tablets.
However, Apple manufacturers have reportedly struggled to make a lot of the smaller Retina displays, so supplies of the new tablet may be limited. Jefferies analyst Peter Misek reckons there may be as few as 2 million to 5 million new iPad minis available when they hit stores, likely in early November. That could produce another scramble, as Apple fans try to get one before they sell out.
"It's not a bad thing for Apple to have people lined up at their stores and have products in short supply," says Van Baker, lead Apple analyst at research firm Gartner. "It can damage the business if it persists, but for a short period of time, limited supply creates more excitement and buzz, and more people want the product."
Apple needs all the excitement it can muster, because the company's share of the tablet market has been sliding as cheaper tablets running Google's Android operating system become more popular.
Android will have 49.6% of the worldwide tablet sector this year, while Apple will have 48.6% — making 2013 the first year Android will lead, according to Gartner estimates. In 2011, Apple's share was almost two-thirds, and Android was below 30%.
A revived iPad line is crucial for Apple, because Wall Street has begun to think of the company as a "one product" story again, Barclays analyst Ben Reitzes, wrote in a recent note to investors.
Apple seemed to address this issue in the invitation it sent out for the Oct. 22 event, saying, "We still have a lot to cover." That was interpreted as either a hint that a new type of iPad cover is coming, or that the company will unveil lots of new products.
"It may be more the latter," Baker said. "There are more things to talk about."
In addition to the new iPad mini, Apple is likely to release a new version of its larger iPad. Misek expects this to be about 20% thinner and 30% to 50% lighter.
Apple may also unveil a new line of MacBook Pro laptops that will have Intel's Haswell chips inside to help increase battery life.
The company may also release details of its new OS X Mavericks operating system and roll out a new Mac Pro desktop computer.
Misek also said Apple might unveil a software developer kit, or SDK, for its Apple TV set-top box. This would let developers write applications for the platform, possibly a stepping-stone to an iTV product from the company.