One day after a handful of tech blogs leaked alleged photos of the next-generation iPad's case, a Reuters report suggested that front- and rear-facing camera modules will appear with the device, along with a higher-resolution screen.
"One source said the revamped model would feature cameras on the front and back of the device," read the Dec. 10 Reuters article, "enabling Apple's FaceTime video conferencing service. Another source said it would be slimmer, lighter and have a better resolution display than the first iPad."
Another source apparently told the news service that "a significantly smaller iPad" is also in the works.
In October, Apple CEO Steve Jobs dismissed 7-inch tablets as fundamentally inferior to the 9.7-inch iPad. That seemed to refute August rumors, courtesy of DigiTimes Research, that the next-generation iPad would feature a 7-inch screen and ARM Cortex-A9-based processor.
If 2011 rolls around and Apple still declines to produce a 7-inch iPad, it would illustrate yet again the seemingly endless cycle of rumor and official refutation that marks Apple's traditional relationship with the media and blogosphere. However, if Apple does produce a smaller tablet, it would make Jobs' October speech an example of spectacular misdirection.
Whatever the case, analysts seem to think that Apple will announce a new iPad in January, followed by actual market appearance in April-the first-year anniversary of the original iPad.
"It makes sense for these suppliers to begin delivering their goods in February," Steven Tseng, an RBS analyst in Taipei, told Reuters. "I think Steve Jobs will announce the new product in January, and we should see the new product hitting shops in about April."
On Dec. 9, the blog iLounge posted images of an alleged iPad case, produced by Chinese manufacturer Shenzhen MacTop Electronics, with a rear-facing camera hole and a slimmer body. That same day, the blog MacRumors posted another set of images, these of an ostensible iPad case with holes for a rear-facing camera and possible SD card.
A Dec. 7 article from DigiTimes suggested that Apple's manufacturers could be prepping the next-generation iPad for shipment within the next 100 days. That report sourced unnamed "Taiwan-based component makers" as citing that February 2011 date.
Whatever the ultimate release date and features, the next-generation iPad will enter a far more crowded market than its predecessor. The 7-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab has reportedly sold more than 1 million units, with other Android-based tablets reportedly in the works. Research In Motion is expected to release its 7-inch PlayBook tablet in early 2011, aimed primarily at enterprise users, while Hewlett-Packard is planning tablets that run both Windows 7 and its recently acquired Palm WebOS.
According to research company Strategy Analytics, the iPad holds some 95.5 percent of the tablet market, but that number will almost certainly change as those rivals arrive on store shelves. By upgrading its hardware and software, though, Apple could maintain its market share lead over the next several quarters.