Despite the widespread belief among Apple-watchers that the next-generation iPad would launch in March 2012, a Citigroup analyst believes it could be earlier that that.

According to Business Insider, Citigroup's Richard Gardner said in a research note that he expects the device to launch in February. 

What's more, the iPad 3 will have the higher resolution display that many have been hankering after, which he says will be double the screen resolution of the current model, the report says. 

Gardner says that several of his sources have confirmed the slightly earlier release date and that "there do not appear to be any significant technical hurdles remaining". 

This contradicts earlier reports that Apple had been concerned about how to fit modified LED bars required for a higher-resolution display.

iPad 3 to be thicker, but will support Smart Cover - report

Gardner also said he thinks Apple will sell between 12 million and 13 million iPads in the final quarter of 2011.