That’s the target, according to the latest reports from Apple’s Chinese supply chain

Photo: Apple Inc.

A report in DigiTimes early Tuesday that Foxconn has been ordered to begin shipping the next generation iPad within the next 100 days — with initial shipments to reach 400,000 to 600,000 units — sparked a flurry of headlines suggesting that Apple AAPL had shortened its production cycle and might start selling the iPad 2 before the end of February.

But shipping from a Chinese factory is not the same as selling in a U.S. Apple Store, as the rest of the DigiTimes item makes clear.

“Apple currently has no plans to stop production” of the original iPad, DigiTimes reports. Its sources “expect [iPad 1] shipments to drop significantly after the end of the January as the company begins to digest the inventory across the rest of the first quarter and then launch the iPad 2 in April.” (emphasis ours)

Source: Digitimes

The report does highlight a discrepancy between the number of iPads Foxconn reportedly shipped last quarter (6 million) and the number Apple reported selling (4.19 million). That suggests that Apple went into the current quarter with nearly 1.8 million iPads in inventory.

“[DigiTimes’] sources forecast that Apple will still place about 1.6-1.8 million units of orders in January, but will start to reduce order volumes in February to allow the remaining inventory to last until the end of March.”

Which puts Apple on schedule to release the iPad 2 in early April, exactly one year after it launched the iPad 1.

[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]