Sounds as if the big iPad isn’t launching any time soon

An unannounced Apple product has been delayed, according to Bloomberg, which is reporting that production of the long-rumored 12.9-inch iPad is scheduled to start in September.

This news makes it even unlikelier that Apple will introduce its “iPad Pro” at its Apple Watch event in San Francisco next week. The report said that Apple planned to start production this month, but pushed it back because of supply issues with display panels.

The current iPad Air 2 has a 9.7-inch screen and iPad Minis have a 7.9-inch display. Although an iPad with a 12.9-inch screen has never been confirmed by Apple, there’s a lot of evidence that it exists. Questionable schematics for the device leaked in Japan late last year, and references in iOS 8 indicates that Apple has been working on a split-screen mode, which would be perfect for the device’s bigger screen.

Patents and analysts have suggested that the bigger iPad will support an optional smart stylus. Bloomberg reported last summer that the big iPad was due in the first quarter of 2015. The Wall Street Journal has indicated that the big iPad was previously delayed because of a focus on the iPhone 6, which came out last fall.

If production starts in September, it could be a tight squeeze to get the product on shelves by Christmas. Last year, Apple announced new iPad models in October and shipped them a week later. But missing the holiday season might not matter to Apple, especially if it angles the bigger iPad as a business-oriented tablet, with a possible tie-in to its enterprise partnership with IBM.

As social media gets quantified, more people use Twitter to trade

Professional investors known as quants use hard facts about companies —  share price, EBITDA, and so on — to inform the algorithms that carry out their automated trading strategies. But softer sources of information such as reports and rumors have long proved much harder to quantify.

Now, however, a major change is underway thanks to custom financial applications that treat social media discussions as data, and turn it into hard stats.

“The clear trend we’re seeing is the quantification of qualitative aspects of the world,” Claudio Storelli, who overseas Bloomberg’s app portal, told me last week in New York where he led a presentation on technical analysis applications.

He pointed in particular to Twitter, which throws off millions of data points (“inputs for black box consumption” in Storelli’s words), that can provide big clues about stock movements. Here is a screenshot showing Twitter sentiment about Apple, as parsed by an app called iSense:

Bloomberg isense app

The result is that computer-based trading tools are using social media signals not only to react to market events, but to predict them as well.

While Bloomberg has hosted such sentiment analysis tools for some time, Storelli said their use is more prevalent than ever. And this is converging with another trend in big-league investing: applications that let traders who lack a background in math or coding deploy technical analysis or academic theories that have traditionally been the purview of quants.

“Our mission is to eliminate the coding barrier,” he said, saying new applications now allow anyone with a basic knowledge of markets and statistics to apply complex technical theories to real-time events.

One example he cited is an application that lets traders integrate the theories of Tom Demark, who is known for using esoteric mathematical models to predict market timing, into run-of-the-mill financial charts.

Together, the two trends Storelli cited — applications integrating technical analysis and the use of social media sentiment — reflect more widespread access to opposite ends of a spectrum of expertise. On one hand, traders can deploy the knowledge of elite experts while, on the other hand, they can act on the collective hunches of millions of average people on social media.

In practice, of course, these approaches are still far beyond the reach of average investors, in no small part due to Bloomberg’s hefty price tag. But they may also appear to be laying the groundwork for democratizing the tools that supply inside insight into financial markets.

To learn more about how tools powered by big data are changing finance and other industries, join us at Gigaom’s Structure Data event in New York City on March 18.

iSense screenshot

Elon Musk makes peace with U.S. Air Force over satellite contracts

In a busy year where he retooled his Tesla fleet and launched reusable rockets, Elon Musk also found time to pick a major fight with the defense industry: he sued the Air Force last April, claiming his company SpaceX had been wrongfully shut out from lucrative contracts to launch satellites.

According to Musk, the Air Force had breached procurement policies by giving an exclusive deal to a consortium run by Lockheed Martin and Boeing without giving [company]SpaceX[/company] the time to navigate a complex certification process.

The contract in question, which involves sending up 36 rockets to deliver satellites and other payloads, is worth billions of dollars with Musk claiming that SpaceX can do it far cheaper than what the incumbents are bidding. Musk has also made provocative comments about the cozy nature of defense contracting:

“Essentially we’re asking them to award a contract to a company where they are probably not going to get a job, against a company where their friends are. So they’ve got to go against their friends, and their future retirement program. This is a difficult thing to expect,” he told Bloomberg.

Now, however, he appears to have won at least a partial concession. In a Friday news release, SpaceX said it is dropping the lawsuit as a result of the Air Force improving the competitive landscape for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program.

“The Air Force also has expanded the number of competitive opportunities for launch services under the EELV program while honoring existing contractual obligations,” the release added.

The resolution comes at a time that SpaceX appears to have made major progress in developing reusable rockets and booster stages, which could significantly lower the cost of sending objects and people into space.