Apple iPad Will Add Camera Module, Network Capability: Report

Apple's next iPad will add a front-facing camera and support for GSM and CDMA networks, according to a handful of new reports and analyst notes.

Apple's iPad will add a front-facing camera and the ability to operate on both GSM- and CDMA-based networks, according to new reports, which also suggest the next-generation tablet could ship by February 2011.

The second-generation iPad "is expected to be launched in the first quarter of 2011," reads a Nov. 19 report in the Taiwan-based Digitimes, which itself quotes unnamed industry sources. "Four more [printed circuit board] suppliers will be added to the list in February 2011, when shipments of the new iPads ramp up."

Meanwhile, Wedge Partners analyst Brian Blair included some details of the alleged next-iPad in a recent research note. "The new iPad is thinner than the existing model and is essentially made from one piece of metal with no pins needed," he wrote, as quoted by AllThingsD. "We understand it requires a new type of manufacturing process as a result, similar to the company's unibody approach seen in MacBooks." The new device, he added, will include a front-facing camera and support for both GSM and CDMA networks.

Blair's information reportedly came from "Qualcomm channel checks." He joins others in speculating over the past few months over Apple's next step in the burgeoning consumer-tablet space. Similar speculation colored tech blogs for months leading up to the release of the original iPad, although much of it turned out to be spectacularly incorrect.

Apple faces increased tablet competition over the next couple quarters. Samsung has begun rolling out the Galaxy Tab on five major carriers in the United States, and Research In Motion is prepping the PlayBook to retail for less than $500 in North America. Lenovo, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, and a host of smaller companies also intend to release tablet PCs, many of them running Google Android, in the near future.

Research firm Strategy Analytics estimates Apple's hold on the worldwide tablet market at 95.5 percent. "The tablet wars are up and running," Neil Mawston, a director for the firm, wrote in a Nov. 2 statement. "Apple has quickly leveraged its famous brand, an extensive retail presence and user-friendly design to develop the tablet market into a multibillion-dollar business. Android, Microsoft, MeeGo, WebOS, BlackBerry and other platforms are trailing in Apple's wake, and they already have much ground to make up."

That being said, other forecasters see the tablet PC market as less-than-burgeoning. According to Rodman & Renshaw analyst Ashok Kumar, the iPad will have trouble meeting predictions of 6 million units sold during the fourth quarter. In addition, he predicted in a recent research note that both the Dell Streak and Galaxy Tab will experience low sell-through rates.

"We do not see Tablets go the way of netbooks," he wrote. "But if current trends continue, the Tablet market may not end as much more than iPads or a tweener product between smartphones and next-generation thin-and-light notebooks a la MacBook Air."

Rumors suggest, though, that Apple is gearing up for what it envisions as a much rosier iPad-selling future.