Apple iPad 2 Cases Appear to Feature Rear Camera, Slimmer Body

Apple's next-generation iPad will feature front- and rear-facing cameras and possibly an SD card slot, if alleged photos of its case are to be believed.

Almost exactly a year after rumors about the first iPad began to reach critical mass, a fresh round of whispering suggests history will repeat itself with the next-generation iPad, widely expected to debut early in 2011.

One of the more persistent rumors is that the next iPad will feature front- and rear-facing cameras for video conferencing. As first reported Dec. 9 by tech blog iLounge, Chinese manufacturer Shenzhen MacTop Electronics has created a slimmer iPad case with a rear-facing camera hole, which it says will fit the second-generation device.

The iLounge posting came with an image of the case, which also features a larger speaker. Also on Dec. 9, the blog MacRumors posted another set of images, ostensibly of a second-generation iPad case, with holes for a rear-facing camera and possibly an 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" who indicated "that the iPad 2 will ship as soon as the end of February in 2011."

However, as with any Apple-related rumor, there exists a substantial margin of error. In August, DigiTimes Research predicted that the next-generation iPad would feature a 7-inch screen and ARM Cortex-A9-based processor. But during an October earnings call, Apple CEO Steve Jobs dismissed 7-inch tablets as inferior to 10-inch ones, such as the iPad.

Whether or not Apple eventually produces a 7-inch tablet, that particular episode illustrated the cycle of rumor and official refutation that traditionally marks Apple's relationship with the media. Apple is unlikely to comment about any next-generation iPad before it hosts an official unveiling.

Research company Strategy Analytics estimates the iPad's share of the tablet market at 95.5 percent, a number sure to change as more Android-based competitors emerge on the scene. Research In Motion, Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft are also prepping tablets that run either Windows or a proprietary operating system.

In the meantime, the iPad continues its robust selling pattern through the holiday season. "With the powerful combination of Apple's iPad, iPhone 4, refreshed iPod/iPod Touch portfolio, the new MacBook Air and Apple TV, we believe Apple is positioned for a big holiday season this year," Brian White, an analyst with Ticonderoga Securities, wrote in a Nov. 29 research note. "Regardless of the overall strength during Black Friday and the holiday season at large, we believe Apple has the products that consumers demand."

But the bigger question for the media, as always, is what products Apple has in the pipeline.