Online retailer Alibaba.com issued silicon cases for an "iPad 2," sporting a larger space for the device's speaker as well as a space for a camera on the back of the tablet. The cases, which are offered in several pastel colors, prompted a blizzard of speculation on the Web as to the upcoming features of the popular gadget, a 9.7-inch wireless tablet computer that has injected new life into the struggling tablet market. Although a slew of competing products, such as Samsung's Galaxy Tab tablet, have entered the market in the past months, Apple's iPad is likely to dominate the market for some time, various reports indicate.
The iPad will command 44 percent of the total tablet market by 2012, down from the 95 percent market share Apple currently enjoys, with tablets based on Google's Android operating system nipping at its heels with 39 percent, according to researchers at Piper Jaffray. Apple sold 4.2 million iPads in the fourth quarter, but as Android-enabled devices gain sophistication and polish (Apple's calling cards), the company will be faced with impressing an ever more demanding audience of mobile device users.
A note from research firm comScore found that interest around the iPad is helping drive holiday sales and boosting overall consumer electronics sales. "Computer [h]ardware ranks as the top growing category for the holiday season to date with a 25-percent increase versus last year," read the Dec. 19 note from comScore. "Purchases of handheld devices (such as Apple iPads and e-readers) and laptop computers drove much of the growth."
The appearance of "iPad 2" sleeves added to speculation first begun in early December, when Reuters posted an article suggesting Apple is hard at work on a smaller version of the iPad with a built-in camera. The news service cited manufactures in Asia, with one source claiming the revamped model would feature cameras on the front and back of the device, 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.
Further winding up the rumor mill were reports on Dec. 9, when 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 a supposed iPad case with holes for a rear-facing camera and possible SD card.
In defying critics who said a tablet computer, even one designed by the slick production teams at Apple, would never find mainstream acceptance among consumers, Apple has also taken the clear lead in the market, while rivals must sit content and hope their competing device comes as close to the iPad as technology critics desire. While Apple is bound to lose market share eventually, investing in the company and its partners remains a safe bet, financial analysts say.
"Investing in Apple-related shares is going to be a major theme for most of next year," Bevan Yeh, a fund manager at Prudential Securities investment Trust, who manages about $230 million and owns supplier shares, told Reuters at the time. "Apple is still the main driver on most technology products, and this will help push the earnings of its suppliers even more in 2011."