Though it's unlikely to have been as surprising as Apple would have hoped, CEO Tim Cook announced the upcoming release of the iPad 4 - featuring the addition of Apple's new Lightning dock and the same upgraded FaceTime HD camera found in the iPhone 5 and fifth generation iPod Touch - during the iPad mini announcement in California this morning. While many are excited about the upcoming tablet's release, there are always plenty of Apple faithful who are feeling burned by recent decisions to buy new hardware. Fortunately, some Apple Stores are trying to ease that pain with promises of a free upgrade.

According to CNET, select Apple Stores are allowing customers to return their recently purchased new iPad with Retina display in exchange for a fourth generation iPad. Those interested in the upgrade will need to have purchased their iPad 3 in the last 30 days, and the device will need to pass a damage inspection by an Apple Store employee. Assuming that everything is in order, you'll be able to walk back out to your car with a brand new iPad 4 in no time.

While the policy is on a store-by-store basis, the lengths that many Apple Stores will go to in order to keep customers happy has been well documented in the past. If one location is offering the exchange, it seems likely that a number of other Apple Store locations are doing so as well. It's also unlikely that Cupertino would be unaware of such a policy, and likely gave express permission to some/all of the Apple Store locations to go forward with the upgrades.

Of course, if you get any pushback from Apple Store staff, mentioning the Stockton location's return policy certainly couldn't hurt, though I'd recommend mentioning it in a non-hostile manner. If you're already having to justify the return, there's no reason to do anything that might make the Apple Store staff less inclined to help you, is there?

I'd also recommend giving your local Apple Store a call before leaving home/work to try and swap out your recently purchased iPad 3. Even if your nearest/favorite location plans to honor upgrade requests, that particular location could be low on inventory, out entirely and/or might have more stringent upgrade requirements than San Francisco's Stockton Street location.

All of that being said, if you bought an iPad 3 in the last 30 days, I'd suggest give your local store a call to see if you can swap it out for a fourth generation iPad.

You can find the number here.

Have you contacted your local store about an upgrade? Had any luck? Let us know in the comments section!