Imminent iPad 2 launch rumoured

Touchscreen manufacturers say they are completing product validation processes with Apple, ahead of the launch of the iPad 2 early next year.

Industry rumour-mill DigiTimes quotes Taiwanese component suppliers as stating that the second generation iPad will hit the streets "in the first quarter of 2011."

Needless to say, the Cupertino-based fruit-themed company is keeping its cards close to its chest. After all, it doesn't want to harm sales of the current model of iPad, which is going gangbusters at the expense of traditional laptops.

The suppliers, named as TPK Touch Solutions, Chimei Innolux, Cando, and Wintek, have confirmed that the device will feature a 9.7-inch multi-touch display of much the same specification as the existing model - although with no confirmation of resolution, there is a growing possibility that Apple will amaze with an ultra-high quality 'Retina Display' like that featured on the iPhone 4.

However, the suppliers claim that they are also validating an "ultra-thin glass" with Apple, which will serve to make the iPad 2 significantly lighter than the somewhat hefty current version.

With ARM completing its Cortex-A15 ultra-speedy processor, it's quite likely that Apple will take the opportunity to update its own ARM-based A4 chip, too - perhaps giving the iPad 2 a speed boost, or even support for virtualisation instructions in order to run Mac OS X-based apps directly on the iPad 2.

The news contradicts earlier reports that suggested the iPad revamp would feature a smaller screen size of around 7 inches.

When the iPad 2 does finally arrive, it should also offer some insight into the direction Apple plans to take with the iPhone 5. Many users are already looking forward to the as-yet-unannounced handset, despite the popularity of the existing model.

With growing interest in the slate market comes growing competition, and if Apple wants to hold on to its impressive lead over rival manufacturers it's going to have to amaze with the iPad 2.