[box] UPDATE: the iPad 2 arrives on April 28. Read more. Official pricing here. [/box]

For those who have been living under a rock these past 24 hours, Apple has announced the new iPad. It’s thinner and comes in two colors -ok, more than that, just Google it, the specs are all over the web.

While it will land on March 11 in the USA, a few selected countries, including Japan, will get it on March 25.

These are the known facts. Let’s get to the questions.

SoftBank only?

The iPad 2 comes in more flavors than its predecessor. Besides the white & black color options, the 16, 32 & 64GB  versions and the Wi-Fi only model, the iPad 3G will have two variants. This is new and this is where it could become interesting.

Apple will offer the first model with UMTS/HSDPA/HSUPA (850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz) & GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz) connectivity, the same technology that existed on the first Wi-Fi + 3G model and the one used by SoftBank. Let’s call it the “AT&T model”. The second, however, is new: the “Verizon model” is made for CDMA EV-DO Rev. A (800, 1900 MHz).

It means that, like the iPhone 4/5, the iPad 2 could work on au/KDDI’s network. The big question is then: is Softbank still in a sort-of exclusive agreement with Apple over the iPad?

When the iPad was released last May, many were caught off-guard by the fact that it was SIM-locked nationwide. No other microSIM card than SoftBank’s could be put in any iPad 3G sold in Japan, the only market to have this limitation. The new models come less than 12 months later and the addition of a variant that SoftBank cannot use shouts for the end of any such deal. With the chatter around KDDI negotiating for the iPhone 5 and DoCoMo’s CEO not having lost all hope on getting it -as he stated a week ago-, could it be that Cupertino’s tablet also becomes carrier-independent?

Chances are not high, it seems likely that iPad buyers will be tied to SoftBank for a bit more, but it creates room for potential competition as the general SIM unlocking debate continues to rage.

Right now Apple Japan only displays the existing arrangement, with 3G models being sold by SoftBank only and the carrier only redirects to Apple in its press release. One thing seems for sure though, tethering with iOS 4.3 won’t work in Japan -surely SoftBank’s specific requirement.

Pricing

Pricing is not known at this point, but with Apple replicating the iPad 1 price ranges in the US, Japan might very well have a similar deal, with prices being the same than last May. Apple won’t let a price war happen on the device, only data plans could see some interesting movements if another mobile operator enter the game. Note that the iPad For Everybody plan by SoftBank did end on February 28, maybe making room for an iPad 2-specific offer.

It will also be interesting to see if KDDI -or any MVDO like b-mobile- will release a dedicated microSIM for imported “Verizon-model” devices. And what SoftBank reaction could then be.

Availability

The surprisingly short pre-order period in the US and the close release date in international markets could mean limited availability. Apple has obviously planned the release well and is known for its great supply chain structure, but I would be surprised if Japan receives massive amounts of iPads, not to mention “Verizon models” -if they make it here at all- at start. Be prepared to queue.

You can be officially notified about the iPad 2 news by submitting your email at Apple. And discuss if you’ll get one in the community forums.

You know how we all thought DoCoMo would get the iPhone next? Well, time to think again. au/KDDI, the second biggest mobile carrier, might very well be the one to get its hands on the prized Apple handset. Maybe as early as this summer.

It’s not a change of heart, it’s just a technological possibility that didn’t exist: KDDI’s network is based on the W-CDMA standard. Like -you guessed it- Verizon.

The introduction of that “new” iPhone in the USA last January is giving way to a different scenario in Japan as in some other Asian countries.

iPhone in an open relationship

But wait, isn’t Apple tied up with an exclusive agreement with SoftBank? Exclusive deals are gone. As many -and we- had correctly guessed it, SoftBank’s exclusivity ran for two years. July 2008 – July 2010.

That type of deal was not unique to Japan, but the nail in the coffin was the official confirmation during the Q1 2011 earnings conference call that the AT&T deal was the last territorial exclusivity falling. Rest in peace.

More subscribers, more growth

Tim Cook, Apple’s COO and Jobs’ standing man during his leave of absence, also stated during that call that the company was constantly evaluating growth possibilities, seeking new ways to expand market share.

He couldn’t be clearer than that. No more exclusive deals + W-CDMA iPhone = growth.

KDDiPhone

Now, can the Japanese equation be: no more exclusive deals + W-CDMA iPhone + growth = KDDI?

Apple being in bed with three to four carriers in certain countries, no one can rule DoCoMo out -I wouldn’t, ever- but the chatter is that Cupertino’s would go first with KDDI who’s apparently less demanding in the negotiations -hey, DoCoMo is the big fish here, it can afford to be grandstanding a bit.

iSuppli, the market research firm, seems to be certain KDDI will lock the contract before this summer. It even computes this in in its worldwide W-CDMA iPhone shipment for 2012 –16.5m.

The official KDDI stance? A simple “no comment”, as President M. Tanaka Takashi reiterated during KDDI’s Q3 results presentation at the end of January. Well. That’s after the PR department made a blunder a few days before by implying talks were going on.

KDDI needs the iPhone

KDDI has been struggling in the smartphone wars in Japan. Although still number 2 with approximatively 33m subscribers (against 25m to SoftBank and 57m to DoCoMo), it has been lagging in new users additions and seemed unable to offer a solid smartphone strategy for a long time. The recent announcement of the Skype partnership, the Foursquare tie-in, the social gaming Gree marketplace, the IS series -although delivered with an outdated Android OS version- or the upcoming Motorola Xoom -this April- show that it’s getting something of a grip, but the iPhone would obviously be the massive boost the company needs, both in terms of sales and image.

The iPhone was the most popular smartphone in Japan during pretty much all its run. In the last six months of 2010, MM Research says that it was responsible of 60% of the smartphone segment’s shipments -the Xperia being a very distant second. That’s the phone people still talk about and KDDI needs one phone everybody talks about. The IS03 was close to it, but was drowned in DoCoMo’s Galaxy S noise.

KDDI promised that smartphones would account for the majority of its lineup this year. While not entirely true -those keitais are still hot for some-, it has revealed new high-end phones, like a nice WiMax-compatible HTC. Still, not a single one was able to cover its competitors’ noise so far. KDDI, I repeat, needs a big winner. It needs the iPhone.