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[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.

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