Tablet wars spark online rumours over release of 'iPad 2'

Barely six months after the iPad was launched, Apple-watchers yesterday had something new to talk about: a successor to its first tablet computer.

The internet was yesterday abuzz with debate and pointers to what the "iPad 2" will look like and how it will improve on its predecessor.

Apple announced in October that it had sold 4.2 million iPads, falling short of Wall Street expectations of five million. This week, however, analysts said there was evidence of growing consumer enthusiasm for keyboard-free tablets and predicted a huge leap in sales to 26 million in 2011.

Apple devotees and technology bloggers predicted the new version would be released possibly as early as Christmas, but more likely in April or May next year. The latter date would enable Apple's Steve Jobs to dent sales of a new tablet by arch-rival Blackberry, which is due to launch its "Playbook" in the spring. Among predicted improvements to the new iPad were the installation of the same high-resolution screen seen on the iPhone 4 and the addition of cameras on the front and back of the computer to allow users to hold video calls using Apple's FaceTime software. News that a supplier of FaceTime-compatible cameras for the iPhone 4 has secured a new contract with Apple was touted as evidence of an imminent arrival.

Another suggested change was the introduction of a smaller, 7" screen to enable the iPad to compete directly with e-readers like Amazon's Kindle.

The expansion of the e-books market, which now accounts for 9 per cent of all book sales in the US but just 1 per cent in Britain, is also attracting interest from Google. The Wall Street Journal yesterday reported the search giant will launch its first e-book store by the end of the year. The Editions store, which will put Google in direct competition with Amazon, will not require a specific device or app to buy a title, so broadening its reach. But analysts said the lack of a tailored reader with a display useable in all light could limit the pool of potential users.

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