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March 16 opening of new Houston Apple Store 'may coincide' with iPad launch

Apple's new retail store in Houston, Tex., is expected to open on March 16, prompting speculation that Apple could make its third-generation iPad available for sale that same Friday.

The Highland Village Shopping Center store's opening date was originally planned for March 17, but that was bumped up a day a few weeks ago, according to Dwight Silverman of The Houston Chronicle. The grand opening is set for just a week and a half after Apple is expected to introduce its new iPad, at an event on March 7.

The March 16 date would be consistent with Apple's launch of the iPad 2 a year ago. Last year, Apple announced the iPad 2 on March 2, and the device became available in the U.S. just over a week later, on March 11. The international launch came a few weeks later, on March 25.

With the same roll-out this year, the new iPad would go on sale Friday, March 16, and international availability would begin on Friday, March 30. One report last week suggested the so-called "iPad 3" will go on sale in Germany a week earlier than that, on March 23.

Apple's new Houston store has been draped in black cloth for months. Recent work there has included the installation of floor tiles, while scaffolding that surrounded the building for months was recently removed.

"The black cloth now covers what appears to be a glass back, front and curved roof," Silverman said. "It looks like a smaller version of a store opened in New York City last year."

The new store, located at Westheimer and Drexel, will be Apple's fourth retail location in the city of Houston, joining existing stores at Houston Galleria, Memorial City and Willowbrook Mall. After the new store opens, there will be seven total stores in the greater Houston area.