Rumors surrounding Apple's next-generation iPad continue, with the newest ones suggesting the device-yet to be officially unveiled-will feature a USB port.
"Talked with a colleague while working with some ODM [original design manufacturer] vendors connected with Apple," Eldar Murtazin, editor-in-chief of the Mobile Review blog, wrote in a Dec. 28 Tweet reprinted on Apple Insider. "He is a research guy. According to his sources, iPad2 will have a USB port."
That echoes earlier reports from Economic Daily News, a Chinese economic and business publication, that Apple's next-generation tablet will include the port. Other rumors have focused on the upcoming iPad's supposed addition of front- and rear-facing cameras for video conferencing, a higher-resolution screen, and possibly a slimmer and lighter form factor.
Things have changed since April 2010 when Apple unleashed the first iPad into a relatively untouched consumer tablet PC market; the company faces substantial competition in 2011.
In addition to a growing family of Android-based tablets, erstwhile Apple rivals Hewlett-Packard and Research In Motion are planning devices that run proprietary operating systems. Microsoft executives have also suggested that a line of Windows-based tablets will make an appearance along with Intel's upcoming "Oak Trail" Atom processor.
According to one analyst, however, Apple continues to hold some decided advantages in the tablet space.
"Many of the brands looking to compete in the slate market are strictly hardware companies," Richard Shim, an analyst at DisplaySearch, wrote in a Dec. 28 report. "They do not usually manage, promote, qualify and support developers. Those competencies take time to properly mature, but would-be iPad rivals have to learn fast or risk Apple running further away with the market. We should not forget that Apple is leveraging the success it built up with iPhone developers for the iPad."
However, another analyst believes the iPad could potentially prove a sleek and magical Frankenstein's monster for its creator.
"The iPad has successfully integrated the functionality of a slimmed-down notebook into a media player form factor and has effectively rendered a significant portion of the Mac (and potentially the iPhone) product family obsolete," Brian Marshall, an analyst with Gleacher & Company, wrote in a Dec. 29 research note. "This presents a serious problem as iPhones and Macs generated 65 percent of Apple's total revenue in CY09."
Nonetheless, sales of the iPad apparently remained robust through the holiday season. "Computer hardware ranks as the top-growing category for the holiday season ... with a 25 percent increase versus last year," reads a Dec. 19 note from research firm comScore. "Purchases of handheld devices (such as Apple iPads and e-readers) and laptop computers drove much of that growth."
Shoppers are not dissuaded, in other words, by the idea that their first-generation iPad may be eclipsed within a few weeks by a device with new hardware additions.